Tuesday, May 8, 2012

mother's day: something for everybody

i (vickey) so appreciated my husband’s take on mother’s day.  i too, have given a lot of thought to the day.  it has, as gunther pointed out, evoked a lot of emotion over the years.  in listening to other women, i have found that for many it brings feelings of warm fuzzy, yet for others, it can be the most painful day of the year.

when a woman’s children, or her husband, do not acknowledge her care and sacrifices on behalf of her family, the truth is, it can cut deep.  the day can also be difficult for those women who do not have children of their own, or who have lost children. i personally know a number of women who hide themselves away on the day, because the reminder of their loss overwhelms them.

one of my dearest friends, who for the sake of privacy, i will refer to as beth, lost two babies.  both of her sons died in utero, and she and her husband were not able to bear children of their own.  she has shared with me the kinds of emotion that mother’s day surfaces for her, and yearly, it is a struggle.  beth has been an incredible inspiration to me, and in fact to all of the women in my family.  she has chosen to press through her own personal pain, and give herself to uplifting other women on mother’s day. 

the first year, she simply asked if the women in our family would like to come for tea on mother’s day.  if you knew beth, and her amazing skills, not just in the kitchen, but for hospitality, and design, you would grasp why all of us kriwinski gals leaped at the opportunity.  beth and her husband, who we will call steve, spent weeks planning the menu, designing the tablescape, and even selecting just the right gifts for each of the guests.  steve dressed in blacks with a red bow tie, and served as our waiter.  it was frilly, and fun, and all of us, from great grandma to great granddaughter, felt loved and lavished and spoiled.


the following year, beth invited us again, and yet again the year after that.  it was an event we all hoped for and looked forward to all year, prepared and gifted to us by a couple who chose to focus on others instead of their personal pain.  their offering, the way they decided to give rather than wallow, has inspired me to look outward at times when it would be easy to feel sorry for myself.  are there others feeling the way i do . . .  who have suffered the loss i have (whatever that might be).  what can i do to bring them a smile?

ma·ter·ni·ty (m -tûr n -t )

1. The state of being a mother; motherhood.

2. The feelings or characteristics associated with being a mother; motherliness.

motherhood is not restricted to those who have children.  motherhood = maternity = motherliness, in whatever ways that is demonstrated.

i do not have a mother to celebrate with.  since those days of mother’s day tea, she has gone on ahead.  perhaps there is a woman, without children of her own, who i can love on.  or a single mom who may be struggling and could use some support.  what about the woman who always longed to be a mother, but has never realized that dream? 

for whatever reason, is mother’s day especially difficult for you?  look around. see who you can invest yourself into, and make someone’s mother’s day brighter because you care. 

mother’s day is this next sunday.  there’s still time. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

about fathering on mother's day

mothers and future mothers in our family

i (gunther) admit it.  mother’s day and i do not have the best history.  for a long time i was in the “mother’s-day-was-just-created-to-fill-the-card-company’s-wallet” club.  i suppose my other disclaimer is that gift giving is not one of my love languages.  it is however, one of my wife’s love languages.  which, i have learned, is the point.

to say that vickey’s first mother’s day was a catastrophe is not far from accurate.  she was pregnant with our first child, and although our daughter was yet unborn, vickey glowed with anticipation, and the awareness that she was this baby’s mother.  as mother’s day approached, she quietly anticipated all of the wonderful things in store for her, and all of the ways she imagined i would express my appreciation to her for bearing our child.  as that sunday progressed, without even a nod or affirmation from me, she told herself that what was coming must be really special if i was playing it so cool.  finally, as we were preparing for bed, the realization hit her, that i was actually not going to acknowledge her mother’s day .  .  . at all.  when she asked me if i remembered what day it was, and i recognized that somehow she had expected me to celebrate her motherhood, out it came, the utterance that has lived in infamy in the kriwinski family all-time hall of stupid: “but you’re not my mother”.  that night, my wife cried herself to sleep.

we stayed married.  and over the years, through both of our blunders and sometimes thoughtlessnesses, we have learned the value of loving each other in the way that our mate appreciates.  whether or not i believe that mother’s day was created to fill the card company’s pocket is of no importance.  mother’s day is one more opportunity for me to show my wife how much i value her constant and continual sacrifices as the mother of our children. 

the truth however, is that loving your wife goes much deeper than giving her gifts on mother’s day, spending focused time with her, or whatever speaks her love language.  one of the greatest gifts a husband can give the mother of his children, is to teach those children how to love and respect her.  it’s the gift that keeps on giving. 

husbands, try this quick inventory:

1.               do you teach your children good manners?  do your children see you using good manners when relating to your spouse?

2.       do you instruct your kids to be respectful to their mother? are you respectful when you speak to her?  or do you speak harshly to her, or in a manner that is demanding, brusque or demeaning?

3.       when there is conflict between the mrs. and the children, do you back her up?  or do you override and undermine her authority? 

remember, when training our offspring, more is “caught” than “taught”.

spend any length of time with any father’s kids, and it will be obvious how things are between mom and dad.  do the children treat mom poorly?  it’s a pretty accurate barometer of how dad treats her. 

men, teach your children by example to honor their mother, to respect her, to use good manners always (not just in public, but in private as well).  let your sons see you open doors for her. . . and for their sisters.  

it is as counter cultural today as it was 2,000 years ago – elevate your children’s mother to the rightful place she has been given by God, serving and loving her through the power of the One who did that for us.  your children will learn how to regard their mother with dignity, love, and respect to the degree that you lead by your example. 

Special thanks Cameron Ingalls for the use of your photographs!  And check out Lisa Leonard Designs for some great gift ideas!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

10 myths about marriage counseling

the secret’s out: no marriage is perfect. that said, if every marriage has its problems, why do we put off getting help when we need it? truth is, many couples don’t recognize the value of good marriage counseling. so we’ll cut right to the chase and take a look at [what we think are] ten of the most common misconceptions about marriage counseling:

myth # 1 - “counseling is too expensive. we can’t afford it.” it is true that private therapy can be pricey, but there are alternatives to private therapy. many churches offer some level of counseling that is either free, or provided at a minimal cost. in addition, there are a growing number of counselors who offer group and/or private sessions on a sliding scale (including “married for keeps”). consider the alternative: a divorce is very expensive. your first hour with a divorce attorney would cost about the same as several sessions with a marriage counselor.

myth # 2 - “it won’t do any good.” a good counselor is trained to help identify what is happening in your marriage, and to assist you to take the right steps toward resolving your issues. basically, it boils down to only one thing – are you willing to do what you need to do? regardless of what issues you and your spouse are facing, if you are both willing to get help, then a counselor will be able to help you.

myth # 3 – “it will be two against one, a counselor will take sides.” rarely, and we mean rarely, is a marriage struggling because of the fault of only one of the partners. usually, both spouses have contributed in some degree to the decline in the relationship. a counselor will help you to focus on your part, and help you to face up and deal with whatever that is. in the same way, that counselor will provide the same service for your mate.

myth # 4 – “a counselor will solve all my problems.” there’s an old cliché that works here. “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” the thought is that you can provide someone the help they need, even the sustenance they require, but there is no way you can force them to partake of it, unless they want to. in order to get the help you and your spouse need, you must be a willing participant. a counselor can help you identify your issues, and equip you with the tools you need to make it, but you will need to apply and practice what you learn. it is up to you to get help, and up to you to walk it out. nothing will happen if you are merely a spectator in the process.

myth # 5 – “we don’t need counseling; we can do this ourselves.” our western culture has taught us that we are independent creatures, completely self reliant and self sufficient. other cultures don’t seem to struggle as much with this roadblock as we do. around the world, it is a common belief that we were created to live in community; that we need each other. somewhere it says “there is wisdom in many counselors”, the thought being that we all need guidance from time to time. would you seek out the advice of an investment broker before you invest? do you get the aid of a real estate broker when you sell your home? what if your child is having trouble at school? would you talk to your child’s teacher or administrator? seems to us that your marriage is at least as important, if not more so.

it is also much more difficult for us to recognize our own blindspots. we all have them. the wisdom in looking to an unbiased third party is that they are not blind to our issues. they can more readily identify unhealthy practices and give us a different perspective on what is happening in our marriage relationship.

myth # 6 – “a counselor just listens, they don’t talk. i can get the same results if i talk to my friends.” some folks have the mental picture of the patient lying on the sofa, and the counselor writing on a pad while commenting “mm hmm” now and again. not so. a skilled counselor will ask you key questions, invite your input, discuss issues with you and present proposed solutions. a counselor will equip you with the tools you need to improve your marriage and assist you both as you gain skill in using those tools.

myth # 7 – “counseling will last forever.” the goal of a responsible counselor is always to bring a couple to health in their relationship so that they can finish the course. it’s true that the number of sessions may vary depending on your needs. when you need a marriage tune-up and some help overcoming your obstacles, you can probably expect to meet with a counselor for a pre-determined length of time, and then be released. your counselor can discuss this with you at the beginning. don’t be afraid to ask those questions.

myth # 8 – “our marriage isn’t that bad. we don’t need that kind of help” – see myth # 5. when is the best time to take your car in for servicing: before or after the engine light comes on? think about it. one characteristic of a healthy marriage is that the couple will occasionally visit a counselor for tune-ups. counseling isn’t just for those in crisis. we encourage couples to take advantage of every marriage conference and seminar they can, whether or not they are in trouble. we do. it keeps us on track. reminds us of what it takes to stay healthy. we consider it an investment. it has been said “the more you invest in your marriage, the more valuable it becomes”.

myth # 9 – “i don’t need the help, my partner does.” we tell couples “if your mate has a problem, then you have a problem”. as we mentioned in myth # 3, it is very rare that both spouses have not contributed in some manner to the problems in the marriage. but, for the sake of argument, if your partner were sick, would you refuse to take him or her to the doctor? in the same way, if it would be helpful to your spouse that you attend counseling together, then in the interest of a healthy relationship, wouldn’t it seem reasonable to do that? frankly, in our experience, this is mostly a male issue. very few women refuse to attend counseling when their husbands request it. so men, perhaps it’s time to demonstrate your love in a practical way and just say yes.

myth # 10 – “if we get counseling, everyone will know that we’re seeing a counselor.” an ethical marriage counselor would never disclose the issues of your sessions, let alone that you are even a client. in addition, there are privacy laws that prevent those kinds of disclosures. you can rest assured that the only people who will know you are going to counseling, are the people you tell.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


it has almost become a national pastime. everywhere we go it’s a topic of conversation. even corporate america is downsizing. for many reasons, be it economics or the need to streamline, businesses and individuals are trimming back.

for a couple of years we had been feeling the urge to simplify our lives. at times our schedules would get so busy they would crowd each other out. our house filled with all the stuff we had accumulated over the years. as our family grew so did our possessions. with the passing of each of our parents, much of their households were assimilated into ours. when the grandkids started arriving, vickey kept a stash of toys, games, and creature comforts. her intent was that there would be enough to keep every grandchild occupied, and each of their parents comfortable.
for us the equation was “more stuff + more busy-ness = more maintenance + more time and less energy”. the question remained, begging an answer . . . “will you simplify?” although attracted by the idea of downsizing, our dilemma was not knowing how or where to begin.

all of that changed when we were offered an office/home in the historic village of arroyo grande, one that would give married for keeps a more noticeable face in our community. available space in the village is rare, and we knew instinctively that we needed to grab it. the catch? we would need to live in the new office/home for awhile, and that meant decreasing our living space by two-thirds. suddenly “simplify” took on a whole new meaning.

overnight, we had to get ruthless about what we would take with us and what, as gunther began to say, would be “jettisoned”. in classic kriwinski fashion, gunther’s list of “keeps” and vickey’s list were entirely different. it got emotional on many occasions. some of the items had historic and deep sentimental meaning to one or both of us. we had to ask each other and ourselves some hard questions. it meant re-evaluating what we could have available for family visits – a tough bridge for vickey. the recliner we got from gunther’s dad had to go – a tough crossing for gunther. there were hundreds of decisions and a lot of letting go.

when gunther had heart surgery last year, vickey remembered saying “i don’t care where we live or what we do. it’s you and me babe, and i’m just thankful that you’re still here”. it was a chorus that echoed in both of our hearts and minds through the process – bringing us back to the now, forcing us to determine what was important.

in the process of discovering the excess “baggage” that we were carrying in our house, we found a lot of excess “baggage” in our hearts, and our marriage. getting in touch with our attachments to our things, somehow revealed some places where we had taken on some dead weight. we got into the spirit of unloading, and uncovered some issues we needed to talk about, some things that needed resolution, some areas where we had stuffed when we could have discussed. it took us on a journey of deeper discovery of each other. the give and take of the process has allowed us to touch each other’s hearts at even deeper levels and to strive to understand our spouse more completely, rather than to be understood. we found a correlation: the more we off loaded, the deeper our mutual bond. we were rediscovering our reliance and trust in one another.

slogging through our emotional baggage became more of an ordeal than the actual move itself. it was a fatiguing process, and but it was freeing. it forced us to face our own inflexibilities and learn (again) how to be more adaptable, not just to our living situation, but to each other.

operation downsize has prompted us to reclaim simplicity, to live less encumbered, to move more readily to the place of discussing issues when they are fresh. not to allow them to become the litter that fills the closets of our hearts and minds, or to clutter the living room of our relationship so that we can’t see or enjoy each other as fully as we desire.

someone once said “it’s hard to move forward in your life when your past is crowding your present”.

we downsized, and we’re so glad we did. we extend the same invitation to you . . .will you simplify?. jettison the baggage in your home, your heart and in your marriage. clean out those emotional closets. dump the dead weight. if you need outside help, get it. the freedom it will bring you and the life it will infuse into your marriage is worth it. you are worth it, and so is your mate.
(just could not resist adding this image of one of our little guys with baggage of his own)

Monday, June 13, 2011

in sickness and in health . . . handling life’s wild pitches

have you missed us cyberspace? it's been much too long. sometimes life has a way of throwing you a wild pitch, and it can take you awhile to get back your swing.

for those who are not already aware, gunther had open heart surgery last october. the support and care shown to us both has been overwhelming. we are happy to report that gunther came through the surgery healthier than ever, but his recovery, and the effect of that event on many other areas of our lives has been significant. since the end of the year all of our focus has been first, on his health, and then, on keeping up with our counselling commitments. blogging has taken a back seat.

here he is at Christmas, not long after surgery. looks pretty good doesn't he?

our experience, difficult as it has been, has not been as rough as it could have been. gunther lived. he is not suffering. in contrast, many couples are living with the kind of suffering and ongoing heartache that comes from a long term, debilitating illness or injury. even the kind of "illness" that results from an addiction of some kind can test the depth of anyone's commitment.

in the light of the last months, we have given a lot of thought to the preciousness of the gift we have given each other: the gift of commitment. "i will stick with you through thick and thin, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. it's you and me babe . . . until death."

think for a moment and appreciate the magnitude of the commitment your spouse has promised you; a promise to stand with you, no matter how ugly you can be, no matter how ill, no matter how destitute . . . and only the interruption of death can come between you.

have you thanked your mate for that immeasurable gift? take a moment, preferably today, and put language to your appreciation. let your partner know that you recognize the scope of that promise to you, and that you love him (or her) for it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

time to take out the trash

imagine what your house would look like if you never took out the trash. picture the piles of refuse growing in your kitchen, decaying and putrefying; your wastebaskets overflowing onto the floor around them. visualize the mess spreading to other parts of your home. as time moves forward, the smell of garbage permeates not only your home, but spills out onto the street. anyone who passes by your house can smell the stench before they reach your front door.

once there is no longer any room indoors, and the refuse spills outdoors, your front yard is littered with old appliances, newspapers, and filth of every kind. critters begin to build nests and burrows in and amongst your leavings, and other infestations soon become a real problem. finally, imagine yourself at the breaking point. when you can take the burden of the chaos and filth no longer, you make the decision to do something about it. but now, the problem is almost too large to address. where do you begin? it’s overwhelming because the issue of taking out the trash is no longer the only issue. now you must deal with the pests and their nests. you will need to sort through the piles, organizing what to keep, what to trash, and you will need to re-learn how to live without the clutter. you will need to learn how to take out the trash. you are also ashamed by the realization that your trash has affected your neighbors and has created an eyesore in the community. all of this will take a supreme amount of time and energy to confront the enormous task ahead. got the picture?

neglecting to take out the trash is one of the most common causes of failure in marriages. it starts out as a very small problem, almost unperceivable, but over time, it’s fatal.

i’m talking about the trash of bitterness: the little offenses, the slights, the unsolved issues that exist in every marital union. it seems so much easier to ignore them, to stuff them. they’ll go away . . . riiii - ight?

consider these scenarios:

#1 she’d always been controlling. at first he saw her as a “go-getter” . . . outgoing. eventually she seemed merely controlling. no matter what he did it was never right. she corrected and nattered at him all the time. he tried to talk to her about it, but usually backed down. it’s wasn’t worth the hassle, so he ignored it. over time he realized that he too was becoming more and more critical of her. he didn’t voice it as she did, but it was there. he found that he preferred the company of his buddies more than that of his wife. more and more he made excuses to come home later, and after awhile, he just didn’t care.

#2 he had a history of drinking. while he was drinking he neglected his wife, neglected his children, and generally lived the life of a drunkard. but she loved him, and waited for him through all of the pain and the financial fall out. finally after years of begging, he checked into rehab, and he came out sober. she had great expectations for him to take the helm and be the head of the household. it was a slow process and things didn’t move along the way she’d hoped. she found herself resentful but she maintained a stiff upper lip. resentment eventually grew to criticism, and then disdain. before long their home had become a boxing ring, where ugly things were thought and said and thrown like punches. neither one wanted to stay with the other any longer. it was just too hard.

#3 he didn’t like the dinner. he told her so. although he was well-meaning, it hurt her feelings. she chose not to talk to him about it, after all, it was such a small thing. yet she found her heart cooling toward him.

little offenses, no matter how small, will become big ones, when not dealt with.

in order to keep our marriages free from the clutter of bitterness, we must take out the trash, and do it regularly.

i know one couple that makes a practice, every night, of taking a few minutes and touching base with each other. “did i do something today that hurt or offended you?” they choose to be honest with each other. they disclose, and they offer forgiveness. when that question has been answered, they follow with “did i do anything today that made you happy?” at first, this practice may take longer than a few minutes, but you will find that as the garbage can is emptied regularly, it becomes easier and easier, not only to take out the trash, but to prevent the creation of garbage in the first place.

for this practice to be effective you must agree to be honest with each other. do your best to state your case in terms that are not accusatory, but rather focus on how your spouse’s behavior affected you. then, when your spouse is sharing, own it. don’t make excuses, don’t rationalize. if you hurt your partner, whether intentional or not, apologize. and mean it. when your mate apologizes, forgive. true forgiveness is more important to your own well being than to theirs (another issue – probably for the next blog).

of course, this approach assumes that there isn’t much trash to take out. if your trash has accumulated and you find that your relationship is characterized by contempt and criticism, it’s time to get help. get help and get it fast. check your local church or city chamber to get some referrals for a marriage counselor. ask around to see who’s good. some churches offer free counseling, others are fee based. whatever the price, it’s worth it. consider the alternative – divorce is a messy and very costly “solution” when the trash build up has gotten out of control.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

the box

his ashes were scattered under the old oak tree he loved so much. he had died first. ironically, she had always been the fragile one, the one with all the health problems. but his struggle against alzheimer’s had taken him before her.

they met during oktoberfest. they married and he went off to the war. they had shared 56 years together. and together they faced the korean war, lived in ten houses, worked through her 30+ surgical procedures, had three children, gained and then lost a small fortune, celebrated six grandchildren and five great grandchildren. they faced his illness with their usual resolve – they would see this through together. and they did. no matter what life brought them, or took away from them, it was the two of them, and their family, that they treasured the most. fidelity, loyalty, and commitment were the foundations of their marriage.

when the small but solemn family gathering ended, she wanted to keep the container that had held the cylinder with his ashes. one last keepsake of a life that had meant everything to her.

in the two years after his death, her health had deteriorated rapidly. no longer needing to be strong for him, she relinquished the fight, and allowed her bones to fail at last. she had been bedridden for most of that time, and in constant pain. she remained ever cheerful, and grateful for the life they had lived together. surrounded by her children and her grandchildren, she relished the warmth of the family that had started as they used to say “with just the two of us”.

on our last visit to the nursing home, she talked about the pain, and its constant torment. she was done. and she was tired. the three of us held hands and we prayed “Lord, if she’s ready, please have mercy and let her go”. she nodded her head in silent agreement, and as always kissed us goodbye with a smile. again she repeated, how thankful she was for their family. there were so many in the nursing home who had no one, yet the two of them had been so rich. they had a loving and caring family, and that meant so much.

just a few days later, we got the call that she had followed him into eternity. it had been quick. one minute she had asked the nurse for something, and the next she was gone. just like that.

we made our way to the nursing home and had our moment. later that day, as we began to gather her things, we found it – the box. she had taped pictures on it: a picture of him, another of the two of them with all of their grandchildren.

sensing that this was something sacred, the container was opened very tenderly. in it she had kept her most prized possessions: cards she had received when he had died, pictures of the family . . . and his letters. years of love letters he had written to her. she had kept them all. “to my sweet valentine”. “to my loving wife” “to my only girl in the world”. each letter recounting his love for her, his devotion, and his continued commitment to weather every storm at her side. she had kept those sweet memories as her last link to him.

next week we will scatter her ashes, just as she had hoped, under that same oak tree. and the family that they began almost 60 years ago will be gathered together to pay tribute, to support each other, to bring comfort to each other with our stories and our memories.

theirs was a legacy and a lifetime of constancy, forged through years of “ups and downs, tears and laughter, smiles and frowns”, as he had described their life together, for better or worse, for richer or poorer. thanks mom and dad, for honoring your vows and for the family you built out of your love for each other. you have left us an inheritance much more precious than money.

there’s a bench that sits under that oak tree. the perfect place to remember, and to be thankful.