Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

A Merry Heart– March 17

A merry heart is good medicine…

Proverbs 17:22

Good morning! Get your tissues ready– this is one of the best videos I’ve ever seen.

A shout-out to Modern Mrs. Darcy for highlighting this video. Please read her article The Peculiar Sadness of Somebody Else’s Happy Video if there are sad tears. But the good news is, even if you didn’t come from a “happily-ever-after” kind of family, you can make your own. My parents weren’t; nor were either sets of my grandparents (whom I didn’t know). But I knew a lot of what NOT to do, and had a very good friend who became a counselor (Teekay), and I gave her plenty of practice!

Isaac did a proposal video before this one, which is also a feel-good fest. I have a feeling this couple does indeed have the best ahead of them.

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Substitute Blogger for Auntie Em!

Good morning Internet! This is Auntie Em’s youngest daughter, Sunshine, reporting live from Texas. I don’t know Mom’s usual posting schedule but in case she misses a regular, I didn’t want anyone to worry!

Mr. X is going to be JUST FINE, but he was in a motorcycle accident yesterday morning and is in the hospital now. Mom is there with him and Sis and I visited last night. So please, if you’re the praying kind, pray for my dad’s recovery and strength and stamina for my mom as she will be taking care of him!


An Explosive Combination

The past few weeks I’ve written several posts at A Biblical Marriage, trying to negotiate the dangerous “minefield” of holiday stresses– finances and  traditions, and unrealistic expectations so far, overcommitment and exhaustion to come. But I realized I had more to say, because when you mix it all together it can really cause explosions!

Traditions provide continuity and a fun staple of family memories, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to remain the same forever. Sandy Coughlin wrote a great post about when it’s time to change, and included this profound statement:

“Tradition is a beautiful thing if it doesn’t overwhelm you. But with traditions come a lot of expectations. And with failed expectations come a lot of stress and guilt.”                                       The Reluctant Entertainer

I was seriously upset the year my kids decided to ditch a tradition that I loved. Our first house was a small frame house on piers. We had a large gas space heater that normally kept us plenty warm in our temperate southeast Texas winters. However one year it was freakishly cold, dipping into the teens, so we left the heater on that Christmas eve, shut off Sis’s bedroom, and moved her to a pallet on the floor where Sunshine and the Boy had bunk beds. Well of course they all ended up on the floor and had a big slumber party. It was an accidental start to a tradition that lasted several years, and I just *LOVED* it. It seemed so like the Waltons!

Fast forward to 1995. We moved to a larger brick house with central heating. All the kids — ages 10, 11, and 14–had their own rooms. When I started talking about getting the music room ready for them to sleep there they all let me know really quick that they wanted no part of that lame idea! Sweet and fun as it was, its time had passed, but Mom wasn’t ready for it to go. (I did let it go, but pouted about it.)

Any time something changes– it could be the ages of your children, the height of your ceilings (We had to stop having a 9′ tree.); the time your Sunday School starts (this was a killer; we had to stop having pancakes on Sunday morning!); or family members’ jobs, you might have to change and adapt your expectations. We don’t “do our tree” with the kids on Christmas morning after breakfast anymore, but I still fix our “Christmas morning casserole” and Mr X’s parents come eat with us.

Another area we can have a lot of unrealistic expectations is in the area of finances. If you are living on a shoestring and barely making ends meet through the year, it’s silly to expect a huge haul of gifts for the children (or ourselves) at Christmas, but we still do it sometimes. Those insecurities about our parenting slip in and we can feel like parenting failures if we can’t get our kids the latest big thing. Be careful about this!

Now let’s get personal. We all have “rules,” ideas that we think should be carried out. They are the cause of many upsets in marriages. Back at A Biblical Marriage, LeRoy and Gina wrote a great post about figuring out their vacation rules in Tips for Successful Travel with a New Spouse. Scott wrote a hilarious one about choosing our battles. Sometimes we don’t realize what our rules are until they are broken; we are furious, and our spouse is bewildered! Know your rules, and figure out if they are worth keeping. Here’s a true story of my best friend:

The first year she and her husband were married, she thought they should make and decorate Christmas cookies. She mixed them up, rolled them out, and they were ready to go. He was watching football or something and wasn’t interested. She was furious and dumped them all in the trash! He was flabbergasted and didn’t have a clue what he had done wrong.

The holidays seem to magnify any weakness we have or that we see, and they make for some of the most stubborn ideas about what the rules are. Have you seen family misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and fights over these issues? I’ve seen several.

  • I have to cook ALL the food, from scratch. (Result: I’m exhausted, and if you don’t eat it all I take it as a personal affront and am mad at you.)
  • My sister got a diamond necklace for Christmas and I want one too. (Oops… didn’t budget for that, so I guess we go into debt, or have a resentful wife and a husband who feels inadequate because he can’t get his wife what she wants, which can both spiral into bigger problems.)
  • You stayed with your in-laws LAST Christmas.. it’s our turn! (Keeping score is a sure way to result in family strife.)
  • I’ve got so many parties to go to, programs to decorate for, rehearse, and perform in, that when I finally get home, I’m too exhausted to give my husband and children the attention they need. (What is my first priority supposed to be?)
  • We have to eat Thanksgiving dinner ON Thanksgiving Day at noon. (Oh well. The Boy works in a Country Club restaurant and holidays are some of their biggest days. If we stuck to that rule, we would miss out on him.)
  • We have to have a whole turkey and Grandma’s dressing. None of that new-fangled Food Network stuff!

You get the idea. Avoid Holiday Explosions! Examine yourself and figure out your rules. See how they measure up to THE rules. Adjust yours if necessary. Be flexible and understanding. Extend grace! Remember the Reason we are celebrating, after all, and pray that everything you say and do will point people TO Him and not AWAY from Him.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

2 Corinthians 9:15


Tradition…. Tradition!

(Are you like me and hear Tevya singing?)

Tevye Tradition

Mike Burstyn as Tevye



Do you have timeless traditions centered around the holidays at your house? Certain foods you eat, fixed a certain way? Meeting and gathering on a certain day? Traditions give wonderful continuity and security to families.

But when you marry, or have children who marry, traditions sometimes have to change or at least adapt, and this can cause lots of conflict for everyone! Visit me over at A Biblical Marriage to read some tips to avoid stress over changing holiday traditions!

Holiday Stress

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What I Know Now

I’m visiting my friend Kelly at Exceptionalistic and guest posting there!

Ever wish you knew what you know now, way back when? I wrote a letter to my 28-year old self sharing exactly that. Hopefully, if you are a parent with young children and wonder if you’ll ever have an adult conversation; if you will ever have enough money to spare; if the unending discipline and teaching will pay off, this letter is for you.

It will be worth it!


Don’t Play

What did your mama tell you to do when a playmate was being mean? “Don’t play with them.”

Even though the ways of being mean change as we become adults, your response should be the same. Don’t play. I’m talking today about people with manipulative behavior and unrealistic expectations. Manipulators have their own set of unspoken rules, and they want them to remain unspoken! But nobody has the right to make your life miserable. You’ve been playing by their unspoken, changing-with-however-they-feel rules. I’ve seen so many of my friends beat themselves up with guilt and misery, when they are not the ones misbehaving. It’s time for YOU to quit playing!

Steven Covey, in his WONDERFUL book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said a situation should be “win-win or no-play.” In other words, emotionally healthy, effective people strive to create situations that are good for everyone, not just themselves. Manipulators are self-centered, usually insecure folks who need to control others in order to feel good about themselves. But they can win this game only if you agree to play.

Parents can be the worst about not playing fair, I think because they miss the “…man shall leave his father and mother, and become one flesh [with his wife]…” passage in Genesis 2. Scripture clearly indicates that, even though we still honor our parents, they are no longer our priority relationship. The rules are supposed to change as the children grow up, and, as parents, it’s sometimes difficult to let go and adjust.

  • Exhibit A: Marie Barone, from Everybody Loves Raymond, whom we all recognize as over-the-top control-freak mother-in-law.
  • Exhibit B: the mother who eases into a tradition (maybe it’s lunch every Saturday, or visiting every weekend, or something else NICE) that you feel like has you in a stranglehold.

Now, honestly, many times we just imagine that we might rock the boat and cause a shipwreck if we change the plans, and they would be fine with it– they are just doing whatever it is because they are able to and you all enjoy it. But when they EXPECT you to do it because they think you OWE it to them, and you begin to resent it, and want to do something else once in a while, it’s time to do just that. If you think she might freak out, give plenty of advance warning: “Hey Mom, on the 20th we’ve been invited to xyz, and I wanted to let you know ahead of time so you can make other plans.”

Look for these types of red flags in parent/child relationships– I’ve actually seen both parents and children be the manipulators in different situations:

1. Your parent (or child) asks for money but refuses to discuss his spending habits. Healthy relationship: Don’t lend money. Give it if you can and want to, and if they need it more than once, step in and work out a budget with them. For heaven’s sake, don’t cosign a loan.

2. Your parent demands that you provide transportation for all doctor visits, arrange medication, perhaps provide household help or coordinate services, but refuses to do what the doctors order. Or refuses to allow you access to medical records, or to talk to the doctors, so that you can have an accurate picture of the situation. Healthy relationship: If you are a partner in part of their health care, you are a full partner.

3. Your parent demands phone calls, visits, or other attention in such an amount that your husband and children complain about not seeing you. Healthy relationship: God, your husband, your children are your top priorities. (Again, as I’ve said before, I’m not talking about special seasons of illness; I’m talking about normal everyday living.) You shouldn’t neglect your family for your parents.

4. Your mom says you are don’t love her and are a selfish daughter because you neglect her, or don’t do what she wants you to do. Healthy relationship: If you are honoring your parents; you communicate regularly; they are well cared for; your OBLIGATION is done. You might ask, “What would you like me to do? How can I show my love for you?” You might just be not speaking her love language, but then again she might want you to quit your job, leave your family, and move in with her so you can wait on her hand and foot. But I bet she won’t say that. If she says she wants you to come by every day, that might be unreasonable. You can tell her that you can’t, but that you can on Mondays and Thursdays, and you will call to check on her the other days. If she gripes and complains, say, “I’m sorry; I’ll talk to you when you are in a better mood,” and cut the visit short.

Coworkers and other adults can play the same kind of controlling games; only the details are different. This can be tricky to spot– it’s all about the attitude on both sides. Sometimes, somebody else making all the decisions is a good thing! They might just be people that like to take care of things, and be perfectly open to suggestions, only nobody has said anything to them. It becomes a problem when the one in charge is doing it to get a feeling of power, and the other is unhappy with the choices. Do you recognize these people?

1. When you travel, she chooses the hotel, restaurants, activities, and gets first choice of the bed EVERY TIME.

2. If you have a manipulator in your book club, she will choose the book. In your music group, he’ll pick the songs. In any group, he’ll monopolize the conversation and always have better–or worse!– stories than you, smarter kids than you, and a more spectular illness than you! In your supper club, she’ll choose the menu and tell you what to bring. In the office, she’ll set the thermostat and choose the coffee creamer, and never ask anyone else’s opinion about anything.

3. Somebody in your church knows which guilt buttons to push to get you to do whatever job is empty. (HINT: Jesus never used guilt as a motivator and neither should His people.)

So how do you not play?

  • Be prepared. They won’t like your changing the rules. But you are going to be playing by THE rules, not THEIR rules.
  • Pray about it. Ask God for wisdom. (James 1:5)
  • Get counsel from healthy people who have good relationships.
  • Read some good Christian books dealing with healthy relationships. One of the life-changers for me was Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud.

One of my old pastors said, “No control equals no responsibility.” I think he was talking about grown kids, but it works with parents as well.

1. If your grown child calls asking for a bailout, say no. If you’ve established a pattern of bailouts, you might say, “I will do it this time, but if you ask again [either NO] or [we will work out a budget and I’ll need access to all your accounts.]” Don’t say it’s not your business. If they are asking for your money, it’s your business.

2. If your friend does any of those manipulative actions, decide what matters to you. (If the brand of coffee doesn’t matter to you, let them “win” on that one. It won’t hurt you.) Then take a stand. I like the plan-ahead strategy; it takes emotion out of the equation. “Hey, when we go out to eat next time, I’d like to try xyz,” or “We’re burning up in here! I’m turning down the air!” If the manipulator has a cow, offer her your jacket.

3. When the committee chair calls to ask if you’ll do xyz, say you’ll get back after you pray about it. Then do. And talk to your husband. God does not call you to neglect your husband so you can serve other people.

4. You might have to put some distance between the manipulator and you, at least until he has become “retrained” to play by healthy rules. Don’t feel guilty. He might talk about you behind your back, or tell lies about you. Oh well. People did that about Jesus too. You’ll be in good company.

Please share how you have dealt with these difficult people in your life!


Revive your Marriage- Pray for your Husband

I believe in marriage! I believe that today we have more cultural things fighting against marriages than ever before, so if we want to have healthy, happy marriages, we have to fight harder than ever before. Fortunately, for those who will look, there are myriad resources and opportunities to help. And (Here’s the truth) it will probably fall on the wife to start the ball rolling.

Four really inspiring bloggers (Sheila at To Love Honor and Vacuum, Courtney at Women Living Well, Jennifer at The Unveiled Wife, and Darlene at Time-Warp Wife) invited all the rest of us to join them in the “Revive your marriage” challenge every Monday in September. Mr X and I attended a Family Life “Weekend to Remember” marriage seminar, and it was so eye-opening. While there, we were introduced to the “at-home” version of it, called “The Art of Marriage,” and we are facilitating an Art of Marriage event at our church in October. (See if you can find one in your area; if not, call Family Life and HOST ONE!)

For today, the challenge is REVIVE YOUR PRAYERS.

Think about how to pray for your husband. I’ve decided to pray for all the roles that he fills, all aspects of his life. Remember that the enemy would like nothing better than to destroy your marriage. He hates any godly thing, and the more visibly Christian you are, the more he rejoices in the failure of a marriage, because it gives the world one more excuse not to believe.

As a Christian: (John 13:35) If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.

The Christian life is hard for us mortals! Commandments to love and forgive go so against the grain of our selfish human nature. Ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen your husband, and to keep his heart soft and obedient. I think this can be particularly hard for men, who are also by nature, leaders and providers.

Father, help my husband show Your love to his coworkers and everyone he comes in contact with today. Help him lead the people in his sphere of influence TOWARD and not AWAY from you.

As a man and husband (1 Cor 16:13) Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be brave, be strong.

(Col 3:19) Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.

Try to see the world for a minute how your husband sees it. TV shows and modern culture paint him as a buffoon to completely unnecessary. Marriage is ridiculed. Biblical marriage, where the husband leads the home, is portrayed as abusive and barbaric! Sexual temptations are literally everywhere he looks. Network, prime time TV? Watch the commercials. Youtube? Look at the sidebars. Newspaper and radio websites? Many have teasers to visit the “NFL Cheerleaders” gallery or worse. Here’s the truth: “men are visual,” means that they like to look. They are so wired to look (I believe it’s part of the survival instinct) that they have to fight not to. **Disclaimer: Skip to the prayer if I gave birth to you!** Be sure you are filling his head with appropriate images (that would be of YOU, so he will have some to fight the inappropriate ones! You are the only one God allows him to look at, and if you’re uncomfortable with that thought, read Song of Solomon, pray about it, and get counsel from a wise, godly woman who has a great marriage!

Lord, help my husband be a godly husband, one who stays close to You, who shows Your wisdom in every decision, who leads with Your servant heart and love. Help me to follow his leadership and to be easy to love. Please protect him from the temptation that surrounds him.

As a father (Eph 6:4) …Raise your children with Christian discipline and instruction. (Psalm 103:13) As a father is kind to his children…

I’ve read some statistics about children who are brought to church by dads or by moms. When Mom takes them and Dad stays home, 3% end up attending church regularly, but when Dad takes the lead, that percentage shoots up to 33% (See “Influence of men on church attendance”) His role as a dad is so very important to so many aspects of development in a child’s life, from spiritual to academic to social.

Heavenly Father, help my husband remember that as an earthly father, he is Your representative to our children. Strengthen him to teach by example and by words. Help him temper his instruction and discipline with compassion and kindness.

As a church leader (1 Tim 3:2-5) A church leader must be without fault; he must have only one wife, be sober, self-controlled, and orderly; he must welcome strangers in his home; he must be able to teach; he must not be a drunkard or a violent man, but gentle and peaceful; he must not love money; he must be able to manage his own family well and make his children obey him with all respect.

Right up there with ruining Christian marriages, I believe that our enemy cackles with glee when a church leader falls publicly. I believe that the more visible, or the higher “up” in church hierarchy a person gets, the bigger the bull’s-eye on their back becomes. We need to pray always for all our church leaders.

Heavenly Father, help my husband to remain faithful to you always. Speak to him when he needs direction; strengthen him when he is tempted; comfort him when he is weak. Keep his knees bent and his heart broken for you.

As a worker (Col 3:23) Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.

I love reading Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite monk from the 15th century, writing about Practicing the Presence of God. (It’s available for free here). He said, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen… I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.” It can be so hard for a smart man to do work that, many times, seems pointless or inefficient.

Lord, keep the mind of Christ in my husband’s mind. Many times at work we feel unappreciated or frustrated. Help my husband remember that he is working for you, and that he is Your vessel at work.

As a provider (1 Tim 5:8) But if any do not take care of their relatives, especially the members of their own family, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever.

Until Mr X graduated from college 17 years ago (13 years into our marriage), he was a carpenter/contractor. There were periods of days or occasionally weeks, where he didn’t work because of the weather, or having no jobs. He always kept busy at home, and at that time he wasn’t a big “let me tell you how I feel about this” kind of man, but I got some insight into how he felt when an older man told me, “When a man isn’t working he feels like less than nothing!” I believe God wired men to take care of things. When they aren’t working, for whatever reason, they feel like failures.

Father, please bless my husband as he works for our family. Help him to work well, to honor you, and to receive the recognition and compensation that he earns. Lord, I know many families are out of work now. I ask your grace and mercy to carry them through this period. Help their wives to minister to their husbands who many times won’t say how bad they feel. Show us where we can help care for those who need our financial help.

Also, look for a “life verse” for your husband. In 1995, I found Psalm 1:1-3.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers: but his delight is in the law of the Lord; and on His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.

And since we’re asking God to revive our marriages, find a marriage life verse too: I like Matt 19:5.

…For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. is a great resource for finding Scriptures for particular topics.



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