The Beaver in the Basement and Other Unexpected Pitfalls of Marriage


When you’re young and in love and looking forward to marriage, people who have been married for awhile flash you a knowing smile as they warn you about some common post-honeymoon irritations--men leaving their socks on the floor, women nagging husbands to take them to the ballet, and the like. But there are some things they don’t warn you about. I’ve gathered here for you a collection of unanticipated pitfalls of matrimony, based on three and a half years of field research, i.e. marriage to my husband, Greg. You may find comfort in identifying some parallels to your own experience, and if you’re not married and would like to be, knowledge is power, my friend. To be fair I’ve given an equal number of “his” and “hers” trials and tribulations, aided by my assistant, Greg, of course.

1. Hers: Backhanded Compliments

While discussing women and makeup, my husband says to me, “Your no-makeup face is a joke!” I blinked. Do I want my face to be a joke? Is this a good thing? Should I say “thank you?” He means, of course, that he thinks I look great without makeup. It just takes a bit of generous listening and suspension of offense to get to the actual compliment.

2. His: Food Sharing

When we go out to eat, no matter what I order—steak, pizza, tacos, pasta—or how hungry I am, she wants to taste it. “Could I just try a little bite of that, please?”, she asks sweetly. “You can have a bite of mine!”, she adds enthusiastically, as if that makes up for it. In what universe is a bite of arugula salad with goat cheese for a bite of bacon cheeseburger an even trade?

3. Hers: Startling Noises

I’m minding my own business, lost in a quiet reverie, when a noise so ear-splitting it has to be an explosion cuts through the silence. I’m so startled I immediately burst into tears (a reaction to sudden fright I’ve only experienced since being married, by the way). A split second later I realize that our Kansas home is still as it ever was. My husband sneezed. I hear that men’s sneezes grow louder and more powerful as they age, and I’m more than a little concerned about where this road ends for me.

4. His: Safety Precautions

My normal turbo speed work mode is hampered by her insistence that I wear chainsaw chaps, “put on some leather gloves if you’re going to be moving tree limbs around all day,” and “be careful!” She says she’s prolonging my life, but these safety shenanigans are costing me time in the present, so I guess it’s a wash.

5. Hers: Under-communication

He says in passing, “Hey, Babe, are we good to go on that thing I signed us up for/thing I need you to make food for/thing we’re going to?” “Huh? This is the first I’m hearing about it!”, I say. “I told you about it,” he says confidently, and then realization dawns on his face as I bore holes into him with my eyes…He did tell me…telepathically.

6. His: Over-communication

She’s talking, and I’m listening. I’m interested in what she’s saying, but I’m trying to determine if there’s a main point here, something I should be latching on to. My eyes are starting to glaze over, and she raises a skeptical eyebrow at me, letting me know she noticed and that there will be a test at the end of this monologue. I refocus in hopes of passing the test, but there are just so…many…words…

7. Hers: Strange Possessions

Thanks to my husband's lengthy childhood Daniel Boone phase, I am now the proud owner of a giant taxidermy beaver, who was most assuredly roadkill in his former life before his fortune changed and he became a much-loved Christmas gift. Justin Beaver, as he has been affectionately dubbed, lives in the laundry room, keeping me company while I work and terrifying unsuspecting guests who open the door to throw their sheets in the washer.

8. His: Personality Fluctuations

She might be the sweetest girl on the planet, but if I accidentally wake her up in the middle of the night, I meet her evil twin. She’s spitting mad, and sometimes I’m tempted to flip on the light to make sure this is the same woman! But that would send her through the roof, and it’s just not worth it. I hold my breath and hope she’ll go back to sleep soon.

9. Hers: Extreme Heat

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in an arid desert.

10. His: Extreme Cold

Sure, we compromised on the nighttime thermostat temp. Nonetheless I’m sleeping in the Arctic tundra.

11. Hers: Tone of Voice Misinterpretation

On the rare occasion that I call him at his office, he answers the phone with such a somber tone of voice that I’m instantly preparing to receive really bad news. “Are you okay? What’s going on?”, I ask, gathering steam. “Did something happen?” He chuckles, and I realize—again—that nothing is awry; he’s simply using his “office tone of voice.” Apparently the animated and affectionate tone with which one greets a beloved wifey is different than that used to greet a farmer who’s calling his banker. Go figure.

12. His: Wardrobe Takeover

Despite her insistence that she’s “expanding my color palette” by introducing shades of jade, emerald, and chartreuse, I know what’s really going on here: She’s replacing the pre-existing variety in my wardrobe entirely with her favorite color—green.

There’s one more aspect of marriage I didn’t see coming, and that’s how absolutely wonderful it is to share life with my husband! Our differences keep things interesting, amuse us, and make us one heck of a great team. There’s no one I love, respect, and like more than my husband. Even though there’s a beaver in my basement.

Did you identify with any of our pitfalls? What would you add to this list? Want more day-brightening content like this from me? Subscribe to my email list here.

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Hi, My Name Is Rachel, and I Laugh at Inappropriate Times

I’ve noticed something disconcerting about myself: I laugh at inappropriate times, and I can’t even help myself.

Last evening as we were preparing to enjoy a walk around the pond in our neighborhood, I asked my handy husband to take a look at our mailbox. It had become warped and nearly impossible to open due to a recent ice storm and subsequent death-blow dealt by our annoyed mail carrier who was clearly so over these frozen-shut mailboxes. (I don’t blame him.) Hubby wrestled with it for a bit, as I had done earlier in the day, only his scuffle ended in a cry of pain, a furious glare at the offending mailbox, and blood. He immediately took off walking at a brisk pace to release some angry energy. I caught up with him and took a look at his bleeding thumb…and then I laughed. Out loud. I became the next recipient of an enraged glare.

You don’t need me to spell out for you that laughing at your husband’s pain does not, in fact, foster marital bliss. You might, however, need me to assure you that I’m normally a sensitive, considerate, and empathetic person. Why, then, are situations like this just so darn funny sometimes?

I’m tempted to blame it on my mother. When I was a little kid, she would regularly make me eat prunes in order to—how do I say it?—make me regular. I hated those nasty things; they tasted bad, and their texture was even worse. So I’d inevitably start gagging, which Mom thought was hilarious. She’d start laughing, which prompted my six year-old self to get mad and run out of the room. This whole scene was not nearly as amusing to my dad, which ironically seemed to make the whole thing more amusing to my mom. We repeated this entire spectacle weekly for about ten years. (Don’t worry; my parents are loving and compassionate people, and we all have a great relationship now. I even eat in front of them...everything except prunes, that is.)

I don’t actually think that my tendency to laugh at inappropriate times is due to unresolved mommy issues. (You’re off the hook this time, Mom.) I do believe, however, that in tense situations the brain seeks relief, and for some of us oh-so-fortunate individuals, this frequently spills over into nervous laughter…in the face of our not-so-fortunate loved ones who aren’t sure how we can be so nice normally and yet so maniacally amused by their agony occasionally. Consider another similar instance that happened recently:

I was cleaning the bathroom while my husband was in the kitchen slicing sweet potatoes into fries. I heard an exclamation of pain, followed by yelling for me to bring a bandage. In my brief dash to him, I mentally prepared myself to secure a temporary dressing on his hand, load him into the car, and place the portion of the finger he’d cut off into a baggie and then put that into a cooler to take with us to the ER…because these situations are not unheard of, and I’m a farm wife, and this is what we do. When I saw that he was still in one piece, though with a deep gash in one finger, you guessed it…I laughed. Hubby once again didn’t see the humor.

Laughing at inappropriate times isn’t limited to tense situations caused by someone’s physical discomfort. Another trigger for me is being on stage. Go with me for a moment to my sophomore year of college. I was standing at the front of a crowded banquet hall with several other students. We were being inducted into an honor society, and we were holding lit candles while we listened to a professor talk about the rich tradition of academic excellence of the society, etc. etc. Maybe it was the crowd, or maybe it was the flashbacks I was having to burning my fingers on hot wax at Christmas Eve church services past. (Those cardboard drip-catchers are worthless.) In any case, I was feeling a bit anxious. I was handed a lapel pin, and the prof began to explain that at campuses across the country new inductees would wear their pins proudly for a full week to identify with other members of the hallowed society, crossing the normal social boundaries of campus culture. It was too much for me. I laughed—one of those laughs that sort of bursts out of your nose because you’re trying so hard not to make any noise. Everyone heard, and everyone looked at me, and I was horrified. But come on. This was the 21st Century, and I was not going to wear that lapel pin on my t-shirts for a week. This college girl had an image to maintain, for heaven’s sake.

There’s simply not enough time to elaborate on all the other occasions in which I’ve laughed at inappropriate times, like the time a gleeful tail-wagging dachshund raced past a solemn wedding ceremony, causing tears to run down this maid of honor’s face. Or the time I took the age-old advice to combat nervousness by imagining the audience in their underwear when I had to speak at a Sunday night prayer meeting—yeah, that didn’t go as planned… I wasn’t nervous anymore! I just couldn’t stop giggling long enough to offer a coherent thought at the microphone.

Whatever the situation, it’s simply a fact that something that’s funny under normal circumstances is ten times funnier when you should not laugh. If you suffer from the same particular ailment that I do, please know that you’re not alone. And if you suffer from being in close relationship with someone like me, please reassure yourself that they love you, they are not in fact making fun of you, and if you just give them a moment, they’ll get right back to being understanding and serious.

Have you ever laughed at an inappropriate time? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Oil Your Back

The other day my husband and I had one of those “discussions”—my diplomatic reframe of arguments—in which he just wasn’t getting it, and I wasn’t getting it either! Neither of us had a clue what the other was trying to say, as if I were speaking Swahili and he Klingon. Nevertheless we were back on the same planet, understanding each other and coexisting peaceably within twenty minutes, thanks largely to Greg’s patience, calm spirit, and refusal to emotionally escalate at the breakneck rate towards which I tend. I’ll admit to being as sensitive as the next woman, if not a little more, so my husband’s steadfastness is an asset to me personally and to our marriage.

I told him as much following our argument—I mean discussion—and thanked him for not being easily offended. He said, “I keep my back oily,” to which I wrinkled my nose and said, “Eww! TMI!”, then, “Wait…What are we talking about here?” He said, “You know, like a duck.” I didn’t know—I guess duck facts fall into the unfortunate 90% of sixth-grade science class learning that didn’t make it to the present day—so he explained to me that ducks have glands that produce oil that causes water to easily roll off of their backs; this means that they can swim around all day without being wet and weighed down. (He’s a farmer; he knows these things.) In a similar way Greg keeps his figurative (Thank goodness!) back oily so that many of the things he could be offended by simply roll off.

How? I think there’s a secret in Proverbs 19:11, a verse both Greg and I have sought to epitomize, though this is easier said than done. It says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” Let’s examine this verse more closely. First, it’s wise to be patient; this isn’t rocket science. The wiser you are, the more patient you will be when people misunderstand and offend you. And guess what? God gives wisdom to anyone who asks for it (James 1:5). Next, when I overlook an offense, it is to my glory!—not in a weird, “worship me” sort of way but rather as an indication of who I am, my character, which ultimately points back to whose I am, Christ's! The definition for the Hebrew word for “glory” (tiph’arah) includes beauty, honor, and bravery—I love that! It takes bravery to let someone off the hook who has offended me.

Finally, let’s explore the part of this verse with which I have the most difficulty: overlook. I bristle at the thought of “overlooking” an offense because to me this seems to carry the idea of pretending the offense never happened, saying it didn’t hurt even though it did, and basically being in denial, of which I'm not a big fan. Once again the Hebrew definition is helpful; to “overlook” (‘abar) something is to pass over, by, or through it, and this is the same word used to describe how the Spirit of God passed over those doorframes painted with blood that fateful night in ancient Egypt (See Exodus 12:12, 23.). Those homes which were passed over were spared from death and "overlooked" by the Destroyer in response to the presence of lamb’s blood, which foreshadowed the death of Jesus, the satisfactory payment for all offenses throughout history. In other words, to 'abar something is not to simply ignore it for no reason but rather to make an intentional choice to move on from it for a good reason.

The good reason we can make the difficult and even crazy choice to overlook others' offenses against us is that Jesus has taken all offenses upon Himself (1 Peter 2:24), and it's His job, not ours, to deal with them (Romans 12:19). He is just, giving mercy freely but only to those who make Him the Lord of their lives (Romans 9-10), and He does not remove the consequences of sin (Galatians 6:7-8). Let's take our hurts to Jesus and trust Him to deal with those who hurt us because He is more than capable! Let's pick our battles carefully and examine our motives when we’re confronting an offender. Some offenses need to be addressed, and some need to roll off our backs. Let’s keep our backs oily through a steady intake of the Word and output of prayer so we can swim around freely and unburdened by offense like we were created to do.

How about you? How do you keep your back oily? Let me know in the comments.

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My Life Is Not a Hallmark Movie

I’d like to talk to you about my favorite Hallmark Christmas movie, The Christmas Card. I hesitated to write about Christmas since we have not yet celebrated Thanksgiving, but then I remembered that the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” movie marathon begins each year on Halloween, so I think I’m in good company. Oh, and I won’t be offended if any of you holiday purists would like to save this article for your December reading.

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The Christmas Card tells the heartwarming story of a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who receives a Christmas card from a small town charity project. The card becomes a lifeline for him and takes him to charming and hospitable Nevada City, California, on his next leave just in time for Christmas. Enter a classic Hallmark Channel love triangle with a predictable juxtaposition: girl must choose between long-time-nice-guy-city-slicker-boyfriend and mysterious-new-yes-ma’am-manly-man. In The Christmas Card, it’s Faith choosing between Paul—a wine broker with bad hair—and Cody—our kindhearted and studly soldier. We all know there’s no contest here.

Several years ago The Christmas Card was serendipitously on TV on Thanksgiving Day, so my family and I watched it. Why was this serendipitous? The character of Paul—yes, the one with the bad hair—and the obviousness that Faith should not choose him gave my family a personification of their feelings about the boyfriend I’d brought home for the holidays. Like Paul, he was a decent guy but a bit disengaged and very different from me. For these reasons and others, that this boyfriend and I were a mismatch was as clear to my family as the Hallmark viewer’s knowledge that the girl should always choose the masculine newcomer. My family told me as much—though they did so gently and expressed confidence in my ability to make a wise choice. I’d already begun to have a few concerns about this boyfriend myself, so my family’s confrontation simply forced me to face them head-on.

Up to this crisis point in my story, I’d been feeling like the heroine in my own Hallmark movie. All the necessary elements were present—holiday traditions, loving family, cozy fireplace, visiting boyfriend. As the reality of the decision before me sank in, one simple fact harshly reminded me that my life was in fact not a Hallmark movie: I had no Cody. While Faith had to choose between Paul and Cody, I had to choose between a decent-though-not-quite-perfect-for-me boyfriend and no boyfriend, a much more difficult choice. I could imagine a man who’d be a better fit for me—thanks, Hallmark—but there was no guy in my life who fit the bill, much less one in my immediate circle, conveniently around for the holidays in case I decided I needed a boyfriend upgrade.

Over the next six weeks I thought and prayed and talked to wise friends, and then I ended my relationship with this boyfriend. I knew it was a risk to forego “Paul” in hopes of finding “Cody” because the real world doesn’t deliver happy endings as frequently or as quickly as Hallmark—but I decided it was worth it. Almost three years later, my risk paid off in the appearance of my Cody—my husband, Greg. He is just as handsome, genuinely goodhearted, and amazing as Cody—and even more so because he is a real person. I’m so thankful that I didn’t allow my immediate desire to have a boyfriend keep me in a mediocre relationship that would have cost me my wonderful husband down the road.

I don’t believe that if we’re simply willing to wait long enough, every circumstance will end happily. Life is complex and messy and hard. However, I do believe that many areas of our lives—relationships, career, spirituality—remain less than what they could be because they go unchallenged. Good enough supplants best. This principle is applicable to every person in every stage of life, but I’m thinking specifically of the girls I’ve mentored over the past years, most of whom are now ages 18 to 25. They are going to college, dating, getting their first “real” jobs, getting married, and moving across the country. I hope that they’ll have the courage to ask hard questions, take risks, refuse to settle, and live with a little ambiguity.

By the way, those who have a relationship with God through Jesus (John 14:6) will receive the ultimate happy ending—heaven (Revelation 21)—as well as numerous earthly blessings (Psalm 31:19), like peace (Galatians 5:22), comfort in hard times (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and answers to prayer (Luke 18:1-8). God even promises to give wisdom to those who ask Him for it (James 1:5), so we can be confident that we don’t have to navigate difficult decisions alone (Matthew 28:20). Maybe life isn’t a Hallmark movie, but with God it can be even better.

If you haven’t seen The Christmas Card, do yourself a favor, and make time to watch it today!

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15 Superficial Things for which I'm Super Thankful

This is the month of thankfulness, and I have so much for which to be thankful. Today I sat down to write a deeply passionate post about the people and experiences for which I am profoundly grateful, and, well, I just wasn’t feelin’ it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling quite grateful; I’m just not feeling very deep.

Allow me to take a rain check on that passion and share with you some things of which I am similarly fond and yet in which I am not nearly as emotionally invested. In keeping with my “water your own grass” philosophy, I’ll narrow my focus and explore only those causes for thankfulness that have come into my life in the last year and several months, since I got married and moved to Kansas. So I present to you 15 Superficial Things For Which I’m Super Thankful:

1.  Puppies at True Value-Our local True Value Hardware Store typically has a few puppies for sale, putting “cuddle a puppy” on my list of go-to mood-lifters. Their marquee conveniently displays the breeds currently in house, allowing me to discerningly stop for golden retrievers and pass on the maltipoos.

2.  Abundance of country radio stations-Here there are six local country radio stations, meaning I can fill all of my car’s presets with my favorite tunes.

3.  Grocery shopping at Dillon’s-In Missouri I did my grocery shopping at WalMart, so Dillon's simply dazzled me with its clean floors, organized shelves, personalized coupons, and fuel points—it’s magical.

4.  Gilmore Girls on Netflix-Gilmore Girls came to Netflix immediately following my move, so Lorelai and Rory were my first friends in Kansas.

5.  My Kitchenaid mixer-Since my newlywed realization that I married The Cookie Monster, I always make a double batch, and my mixer helps me get the job done quickly.

6.  Town Facebook page-One evening I answered the door to a guy selling security systems, and because I am naturally suspicious, I thought he was casing the place. Thanks to a lengthy discussion about this very salesman on the town Facebook page I determined that he was indeed legit, though not getting anywhere with the also wary residents of my neighborhood.

7.  Driving my husband’s truck-If you think this is about a little woman getting on some kind of power trip from driving a giant vehicle then, well, you’re exactly right.

8.  Super Pretzel accessibility at my grocery store-My old grocery store frequently disappointed my craving for these tasty bread pretzels as they were located on the top shelf in the freezer section and vastly popular, typically leaving one taunting box in view and out of reach for this just-too-short girl. At my new grocery store Super Pretzels are kept on the bottom shelf. Score.

9.  Free shipping from my Mary Kay lady-My long-time Mary Kay lady ships my makeup to my new home in Kansas for no extra charge. You’re the best, Mindy!

10.  3-minute drive to work-Yes, in Missouri I only drove 5 minutes to work, so this isn’t quite as revolutionary as it may seem at first, but if you know how I do with mornings, you know that every minute counts.

11.  Thinking face emoji-The iOS 9.1 set of emojis includes the “thinking face” emoji, which in my opinion looks a bit skeptical with its raised eyebrow, perfectly expressing how I feel about numerous situations… Text from Greg: “Babe, will you help with the pasture burning tonight? I’ve got a wet gunny sack for you to use.” Text from me: [Insert thinking face emoji.]

12.  Perpetually clean windshield-My husband can’t stand a dirty windshield, so my windshield is always sparkling through no effort of my own.

13.  ibotta-No, I am not a crazy coupon lady. This handy app gives me rebates on items I already buy, and before I know it I’ve got enough fun money for a new book from Amazon!

14.  Cultural obsession with planners-I’ve always been very attached to my day-planner, but in the past year I’ve discovered via Pinterest an entire community of people who have taken it to the next level. They've given me some great ideas, and their stickers, washi tape, cleaning schedules, and budget binders make my color-coding seem normal by comparison.

15.  My husband’s fried okra-We grew okra this summer, and Greg makes delicious lightly-breaded, crispy fried okra. Yum!

This list was intentionally superficial and did not scratch the surface of the mountain of more substantive things for which I am grateful. However, these “little” things should not be underestimated—they are small but mighty in their ability to bring me joy and turn my day around.

I believe that every good thing that comes to us is a gift straight from the hand of God (James 1:17) because He loves us (John 3:16) and loves to give good things to us (Matthew 7:11) because He is good (Psalm 136:1). God, thanks for all Your gifts, superficial and otherwise. I think You’re super.

What are some superficial things for which you’re thankful? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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