Save a Marriage Today

My Love Dare Journal

For 40 days we challenged ourselves to draw closer to each other and to God


Editor’s note: In the fall of 2008, Mary Lebeau and her husband, Scott, took the “Love Dare”—a 40-day series (based on a book “The Love Dare” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick) of challenges and activities designed to strengthen and even rekindle a couple’s love relationship. The following is the journal Mary kept of her daily experience.

The challenge

A group of people from our church went to see the movie FIREPROOF last fall. The night was a fun one—good people, inspiring movie, and a bit of fellowship afterward. But there really was no reason to think it could be more than that.

Then the leader of our marriage ministry decided to dare the couples who attended to go through the same “Love Dare” that the lead character in the movie took. My husband, Scott, and I decided to join three other couples in accepting the challenge. And so began 40 days of focusing our marriages toward God and away from the mundane daily life and outside influences that so often lead us away from our Creator’s intentions.

My reasons for taking the dare? Well, there are quite a few. First and simplest, I support the marriage ministry in our church as much as possible; it has honestly blessed the two of us, and I want to keep it moving forward. That’s the easy answer, but of course the full answer is always more complex. I want us to draw closer to God and each other, of course, but I also need these 40 days to be a time of personal reflection.

Our relationship is complicated; we’ve experienced times of true connection and total betrayal—with each of us defining those words in different ways. I do know how much I’ve been hurt in the past, and how far we’ve come since then, but I also know that sometimes the past comes back and hits me so hard I recoil. The wounds may heal, but scabs seem to get knocked off sometimes, and this is my problem. I have to learn to accept the scars for what they are, and not allow anything or anybody to allow the past come back to haunt me.

So I’m daring myself to take the plank out of my own eye, and to step up hand in hand with the man I love, our eyes focused on the God who put us together.

Day 1: Love is patient

The Dare: For the next day, resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything.

Today’s dare was relatively simple. Just don’t say anything negative to your spouse at all.

Okay, so maybe my tongue was bitten once or twice, but I’m sure things will get more challenging as the days go on.

I’m pretty good at editing my words, except when I get angry, and I can’t hold back and I spew all sorts of craziness all over the place. (How’s that for transparency?)

Unfortunately, Scott has been on the receiving end of that spewing more than anyone else. Maybe it’s because I feel most comfortable with him, which frees me up to be downright ugly in front of him. That speaks volumes to our connection, but doesn’t do much for letting him see the love I feel for him.

So I did hold back all negativity, and our day went pretty smoothly. He did the same, and even though we were presented with a challenge (of the parenting kind, which is pretty normal in our lives), we remained positive in our words to one another. So I guess we passed this dare.

What I found most interesting about today’s dare, though, was the reading from the book that went with it. I guess I never really thought about the role patience plays in our marriage. Like the book said, patience is more than biting your lip or holding your tongue (which is what my “self editing” is all about). It’s like a deep breath—taking in fresh air and a new perspective before things get out of control. It’s waiting and watching, like the early Christians did, and believing that all things are in God’s hands.

So I can pat myself on the back for my editing skills, but I really do need to work on patience. That’s the stuff that makes a strong marriage—and a better person.

Day 2: Love is kind

The Dare: In addition to saying nothing negative to your spouse again today, do at least one unexpected gesture as an act of kindness.

Okay, Day One was a bit of a breeze for us. Day Two? Not so much.

I was feeling a bit challenged about the dare. Show a gesture of kindness? I wasn’t sure what to do with that. I wanted to clean our bedroom, which certainly would be a huge act of kindness (for both of us!), but I didn’t get to finish it. Life intervened—Scott went to the doctor because of back pain, and learned he had to be tested for kidney stones. So I took over cooking duties while he went for his ultrasound. (No results yet, so we’re praying that, no matter what it is, it doesn’t cause him much pain.)

I also got the bedding cleaned so he could rest comfortably. He did thank me for taking good care of him, so maybe he did receive my gesture (and it was kind!).

Thinking about it, I came to a revelation. My husband is really good at being kind, especially when it comes to me. He’s good at small gestures and back rubs and making the kids’ lunches before he leaves for work. He used to do the last one because I’d be up working, but now that I’ve cut way back on writing, he still does it and lets me stay in bed. That is really kind (especially because he’s more of a “sleeper” than I am).

I thank God this dare opened my eyes to a really wonderful attribute of the man I married. I pray that I show him how much his kindness is appreciated.

Day 3: Love is not selfish

The Dare: Whatever you put your time, energy and money into will become more important to you…along with restraining from negative comments, buy your spouse something that says, “I was thinking of you today.”

Today turned out to be a fun day for us, though it may have gone otherwise. Back when we were having problems, Scott used to blame things on his selfishness. I guess he was probably right. He did have the tendency to think of himself, his own wants, before anything or anybody else. And since I’m his significant “anybody else,” I was the one who was hurt by his choices. But I do know he’s been working on this and has made great strides in thinking about me first. (Of course, knowing that he wanted things that could hurt me still bothers me. I have to work on letting go.)

I think doing this together puts us at a bit of a disadvantage, because we know what the other is dared to do each day. Like today, we’re expecting a gift so it made it hard to surprise the other.

But my husband managed to catch me off guard.  The night before he bought me some caramel candy (my favorite), and I told him he was early on the gift.  So yesterday when I was getting out of work, I was totally distracted.  When I opened my car door, I found a bouquet of roses and mums and a note (along with a piece of the caramel candy).  I was so totally surprised, I almost cried.  It was sweet of him to present it that way, and made me feel really good.

Since our funds are really limited these days, I bought him a card and developed some pictures of our last trip to Disney World. I wrote a note in the card about remembering the good times past and looking forward to those to come. I also bought a peanut butter chocolate bar (his favorite) and put all three into a gold gift bag. I think he appreciated it, but it didn’t have the impact his gift did because he was expecting something.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the lessons and the verses associated with each. I think what these lessons are doing for me is making me look at myself more closely instead of focusing on how to change him.  It’s neat to take time each day and focus on what I can do to make my husband happy.

Since I’m an obsessive researcher, I’ve been looking at different sites about the dare, and on one site I found this:

“Imagine that your spouse wears an invisible sign around his neck that reads ‘Make me feel important.’  How are you making your spouse feel important?”

That touched me, because my husband is important to me and I don’t know if I make him feel that way.  I want to work on that, because he should know what he means to me and how much I appreciate the gift God gave me in him.

Day 4: Love is thoughtful

The Dare: Contact your spouse sometime during the business of the day. Have no agenda other than asking how he or she is doing and if there is anything you could do for them.

The dare today proved a little challenging, because my husband works in the type of place where he’s not allowed to receive calls unless it’s an emergency. I probably break this rule more than most spouses to begin with. You see, he leaves the house at 5 a.m., and when I turn on the news (usually around 6:30) I sometimes hear about accidents that have happened that morning on the route he takes. If I do, I call him right away just to hear his voice and make sure he’s arrived safely. (In his previous job, which was even further away, I had him ring once upon arrival, just so I could feel assured of his safety.)

So I really didn’t want to call and risk getting him in any trouble. I waited until the end of his day (around 2 p.m.) and called his cell phone. I still just got the voice mail, so I left a message saying I was thinking of him and asking if there was anything I could do for him. Of course, he must know I did this because of the dare, but it was still timely as he has been having back pains recently and is being tested for kidney and gall stones. So asking if I could do something for him was very appropriate.

He called me back after he clocked out (as he does every day) and we just chatted. We do this every day, and I do think it’s a great way to stay connected. He calls me just to tell me his day his over and to tell me how things went; I respond by telling him how my day has been so far and how much I’m looking forward to getting back home.

I guess our phone calls in our courtship were more exciting and fun and full of sparks. But I like staying connected about the day-to-day things too. After all, those day to day mundane details are the stuff of our lives, and make our love seem real and lasting. We’re building a life together. It may not be exciting—and believe me, it’s work—but it’s work we’re doing together.

Day 5: Love is not rude

The Dare: Ask your spouse to do three things that cause him or her to be uncomfortable or irritated with you. You must do this without attacking them or justifying your behavior.

Now how tough was this? I go through my life so insecure I crave any kind word (words of affirmation are my “love language”!), and today I actually had to seek out criticism from the person whose opinion I value most. I found that idea a bit frightening—and and the other women in my church confirmed that I wasn’t the only one.

But Scott was quite kind in his criticism of me. (See, he is good at that.) He told me I panic too much when something goes wrong, that I push the snooze alarm button too often, disturbing his last hour of sleep with the constant beeping, and I don’t say “God bless you” when he sneezes. I had to disagree with that last point, as I do, always. He has a bit of hearing loss after an illness, and he just doesn’t always hear me.

But he was spot on in his other points. I try to be a good planner and be organized, and when something throws my plans off track, I go into panic mode, which doesn’t help things at all. And I am totally guilty on the snooze alarm charge. That’s something I can start changing right away. After all, he does have to wake up earlier than I do, so there’s no reason I can’t start my snooze alarm ritual after he rises.

I was tentative about the conversation, but everything went well and we were able to air some of those silly nuisances that can become real problems if left unspoken. Today’s dare made me more aware of how some of my actions are insensitive to others, even though it was never my intention. More important, it made me aware of how we need to have more of these conversations, so things can be settled before they go too far.

Day 6: Love is not irritable

The Dare: Choose today to react to tough circumstances in your marriage in loving ways instead of with irritation. Begin by making a list of areas where you need to add margins to your schedule. Then list any wrong motivations that you need to release from your life.

I have to admit to being a bit confused on how to actually perform today’s dare. We were dared to react to tough circumstances in our marriage with love instead of irritation. Okay, I get that. But the dare said to start out by making a list of where I need to add margins to my life.

Margins? I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, so I re-read the entire passage to see what the intent was. The book said the Bible encourages us to honor the Sabbath, a vacation from the day-to-day obligations which will cushion us from the pressures around us. Well, okay then. I’ve actually been putting a margin around my life recently, cutting back on seeking out work and allowing myself time to rest, reconnect with my family, and listen prayerfully for God’s direction.

Putting that margin in my schedule hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I worry about not making money, and sometimes I miss the work. But I do think I need this time, this break, to focus on what is really important and to discover new direction instead of allowing my life to be one assignment after another without really serving my purpose.

So how does this apply to my marriage? Well, adding those margins gives me more time to reconnect to my husband. (Also, having less money means we talk about budgeting more—and sometimes we’re pretty creative together!) Scott and I have been able to do more prayer and Bible reading together since I’m not working late into the night, and that helps me be more calming and less prone to flare up (which happens sometimes when I feel pressured and overworked).

The last part of the dare was to rid myself of my bad motivations. I do think I’m a pretty unselfish person for the most part, but I am too judgmental and have a hard time letting go of past hurts. I need to work on this area, since the past is just that—the past—and we can’t change it. And as Christians, we pray to be forgiven “as we forgive those who sin against us.” I need to forgive completely, as Jesus took on my sins and washed them away with his blood.

Day 7: Love believes the best

The Dare: On one sheet of paper, spend a few minutes writing out positive things about your spouse. Then do the same with negative things on a second sheet. Place both sheets in a secret place for another day at some point during the day, pick a positive attribute from the first list and thank your spouse for having this characteristic.

Today really required some reflection. The dare was to make two lists, one detailing the positive things about my spouse and the other listing the negative. Before I made the lists, though, I did a lot of thinking about today’s reading. I guess it hit home a bit. It said that in our hearts there are two rooms—the Appreciation Room and the Depreciation Room. On the walls of the first are written all the good things about our spouse, the things that make them special to us. On the walls of the second are all the things we don’t like about our spouse, the bad habits and little irritations and past hurts.

The theory is that the more time we spend in the Appreciation Room, the more grateful we will become for the unique gift God has given us in our spouse. On the flip side, the more time we spend in the Depreciation Room, the more we will devalue this gift. In the first, love and gratitude blossom; in the second, marriages wither and die. The book suggested the only reason we should ever return to the Depreciation Room is to write “Covered by Love” over all those nasty thoughts.

Well, I have to admit spending more than my share of time in the Depreciation Room. Scott does so much for me, but often I keep my eyes on the hurts of the past and shrug off the goodness happening now. Scott testifies that he asked Jesus to change him and He did, but I need to accept that change and not worry about the things that happened before. We’re all covered by the love of our Lord and Savior, so what right do we have to do anything different?

Anyway, I wrote my lists. The positive list started out being easier. I guess I was in a good place, because Scott’s positive attributes just flowed. At first I struggled with the negative, but then I remembered some past hurts that just opened the floodgates. I admit there was a time in our marriage I spent a whole lot of time in the Depreciation Room, sulking there while I learned things I hadn’t known about my husband.   But today, I just went there to do some graffiti of my own, scrawling “Covered With Love” all over the walls.

Day 8: Love is not jealous

The Dare: Determine to become your spouse’s biggest fan and to reject any thoughts of jealousy. To help you set your heart on your spouse and focus on their achievements, take yesterday’s list of negative attributes and discreetly burn it. Then share with your spouse how glad you are about a success he or she recently enjoyed.

Heavy sigh. I guess I’ve done a lot of backpatting during the dares to this point. But this time I have to point the finger right at myself. Yes, I have been jealous. A lot of that has to do with insecurity, but I guess the outcome is the same. I even comforted myself by highlighting the section in the book about legitimate jealousy, as I feel a lot of mine falls under this category. Still, sometimes my jealousy takes an irrational turn.

I can’t remember being jealous of Scott. In most senses, we enjoy each other’s triumphs and share each other’s hurts. I do feel a bit jealous of things or people that take him away from me. I think there’s part of me that worries if he’ll find something better and never return. I need to feel more secure in our bond, and the knowledge that God made us for each other.

Today’s challenge was to destroy the negative list I made yesterday. Destroying the list was easy—I just tossed the piece of notebook paper into the chimera and the flames blackened it to ash in the wink of an eye. Then I prayed that my negativity would disappear just as quickly. I’ve held onto hurt for a long time, but I realized my hurt has been tying us to a place we need to move beyond and rise above. I must watch that Satan doesn’t stir the ashes to try to spark the fear.

Some positive things about Scott: He’s hardworking, smart and kind. I want him to know how much I appreciate these attributes and, most of all, the love he shows me.

Day 9: Love makes good impressions

The Dare: Think of a specific way you’d like to greet your spouse today. Do it with a smile and with enthusiasm. Then determine to change your greeting to reflect your love for them.

Today’s dare is tricky in its simplicity. I am indicted on this one too.  This is another area where my own self worth (or lack thereof) manifests itself.  I have always been shy, and feel like I’m more of an annoyance to others.  As even my friends have experienced, I will enter a room and stand by myself and just observe, not because I don’t want to be part of a conversation, but because I feel like I’m intruding and don’t really belong.  Yes, I realize this is on me—my own impression which I’m placing on others.  It’s definitely something I need to work on.  (So if I don’t greet you next time I see you, call me on it, please!)

Scott and I usually do well in the morning, talking for a couple of minutes before he leaves for work.  We do start the day together, and we say ”I love you” (I always add “Be careful”) when he leaves.  Other times, though, I fall short.  I’m sure I don’t always sound enthusiastic or even connected to the conversation when he calls after he finishes work.  And I don’t always seek him out when I enter the house and he isn’t right there in the room.  (I like my solitude, but that doesn’t show him that I’m happy to be back home to him.)

So I have my work cut out for me here.  Fortunately, I think this dare will be a bit easier than the application of yesterday’s.  Rushing to him as soon as I walk in the door will be a fun habit to get into!

Day 10: Love is unconditional

The Dare: Do something out of the ordinary today for your spouse—something that proves (to you and to them) that your love is based on your choice and nothing else….demonstrate love to them for the sheer joy of being their partner in marriage.

Well, yeah. As Shakespeare once wrote, “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” In simpler terms, if our love is based on the superficial, it will surely fade away. Be it beauty or money or that rush of romance, all of these will change through the years. But if we want our marriages to go the distance (and I do!), we need to have something more than just the superficial. In fact, we need the unconditional—the agape love shown to us by our heavenly Father.

Since Scott’s main love language is acts of service, I tried to speak to him by cleaning up around the house. With our brood, there’s always clutter. I’m not the type to be bothered by it, but I know Scott is pleased when he comes home to a clean home (after all, life in the world is cluttered enough).

I think that, in the beginning of our relationship, our love was phileo—a friendship. It wasn’t a bad beginning, to tell the truth. In Scott I found someone I enjoyed spending time with and talking to, and that grew into romantic love.

But I do believe our commitment now is based on unconditional love. Things have changed a lot since the beginning, but we are committed to each other and love each other even through the hard times (which have been tough in the past two years, when he got sick and then lost his job). What he had or how he looked had nothing to do with the love I had for him. I pray that we continue to keep our commitment uncluttered – even when the world piles up around us.

Day 11: Love cherishes

The Dare: Choose a gesture that says, “I cherish you” and do it with a smile.

I filled today’s dare with just four words: “It’s okay. I’ll go.”

Scott often is our family’s go-to guy. If our little girl wants to play, she’ll call for her daddy. If my glasses are missing, he’s searching them out. Dog needs walking? My husband is holding the leash.

I know these things sound small, but they add up. They take a lot of time and energy and, though I don’t always think about it, I realize now these are his ways of saying he cherishes us and wants to put his time and energy into making life easier for us.

So when we needed milk for dinner, he grabbed his car keys and headed toward the door. Then I spoke up. “It’s okay. I’ll go.”

Sounds simple, but it was my way of saying “Take a break, sweetie. I know you work hard at keeping this life good and happy and strong. Sit back with the paper and have a cup of coffee. I cherish you and realize you deserve it.”

“Cherish” always sounded like an old-fashioned ideal to me. I’m not sure I’m worthy of being cherished, but today I realized my husband does cherish me in his sweet imperfect way. And in my equally imperfect way, I want him to get the same message, no matter how many words it takes.

Day 12: Love lets others win

The Dare: Demonstrate love by willingly choosing to give in to an area of disagreement between you and your spouse. Tell them you are putting their preference first.

To paraphrase Dorothy to the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: “I think this one will hurt most of all.” I hate to lose. I always have. This does have benefits, as I often will stay out of an argument unless I’m assured of a win. But when I do have a position on a topic, it’s pretty hard (read: almost impossible) to change my mind.

So I turned to today’s dare with a bit of trepidation. “Demonstrate love by willingly giving in….” seemed almost oxymoronic to me. Willingly giving in? Is that like surrender?

But something in today’s reading jumped up at me. It was this line: “You’ve already lost the fight by making this issue more important than your marriage and your spouse’s sense of worth.” Bam! There it was—I was making winning the argument more important than my marriage. That had to stop because I’m smart enough to know that, if I won every single argument but lost the gift of Scott that God created especially for me, I would be the big loser. (No argument there!)

So when Scott decided to okay our daughter’s bedtime snack even though she hadn’t eaten her dinner, I bit my tongue. Okay, I admit that wasn’t much of an argument, but we do have a lot of disagreement about parenting, and this was the only issue that came up today. I’m going to have to remember to keep doing this beyond today, as I’m willing to surrender my pride to keep my marriage healthy and strong.

Day 13: Love fights fair

The Dare: Talk with your spouse about establishing healthy rules of engagement….resolve to abide by them when the next disagreement occurs.

Time for a bit of irony: We actually fought about today’s dare! Yes, the one in which we were to establish rules of engagement for future fights.

This one should have been really easy for us, as we just came back from a Weekend to Remember marriage conference which had an entire session on “Rules of Engagement: A Conflict Survival Guide.” The session was great and gave us lots of suggested rules for keeping a fight fair and on focus, so naturally we took out our Weekend to Remember books to refer to it as we wrote our own rules.

We started out pretty well, agreeing to keep our fights to just the problem at hand (instead of drudging up everything that happened in the past) and to keep our fights behind closed doors, particularly being sensitive to our children. We were cozy and content, almost in complete agreement, when Scott suggested we air our problems as soon as possible after they happen, instead of letting them brew and bubble over.

Well, that makes sense, right? But my husband has the habit of telling me I’m imagining things when I voice concerns, so I usually wait until I have three solid examples before I say anything. Now on one hand, this is good—we have a third less disagreements. But he’s right in that by the time I have stoked my arsenal with three examples, I’m pretty upset about something that could have been nipped in the bud by speaking up immediately. We bickered a little about this (okay, it became pretty heated) but I think we came to the understanding that I should speak up immediately, and he will give careful consideration to my concerns (even if he does think I’m imagining things).

I guess we had to try out the new rules sooner or later. At least I kept in mind one important lesson I learned during the Weekend: “The relationship is always more important than the issue.”   Now I’m challenging myself to remember that truth whenever an argument starts simmering.

Day 14: Love takes delight

The Dare: Purposely neglect an activity you would normally do so you can spend quality time with your spouse. Do something he or she would love to do or a project they’d really like to work on. Just be together.

It’s funny how I think things should just happen in a marriage. While we were dating (and especially when we were a long-distance couple, him in Massachusetts and me in New Jersey), we planned every phone call, emailed at the same time each day, coordinated meetings midway and celebrated every minute of togetherness. So how come, now that it’s easy to be near each other every day, it’s not one long celebration? When did being with each other become mundane, ordinary, not something to plan and look forward to and relish?

That’s my spin on today’s challenge, which was to put aside a regular activity and spend that time with your spouse. The main idea is that love is a choice, and you can choose to receive your spouse joyously (the way I did way back when). Sure, we’re all told we should follow our heart, but as the reading points out, we need to lead it, too. So a good wife will choose to treasure her spouse—warts, snoring, remote hogging and all—and will plan time to get to know him better, taking joy in the whole process.

So guess what I gave up today? Sleep! Scott is a night owl and I’m a morning person, but tonight I stayed up with him just to talk and hold hands and get to know each other. Sure, it’s been a long time since we’ve first shared secrets, but there’s a part of each of us that still wants someone to share things with. I cherish the time we shared, and I look forward to making more time for “just us” in the days to come.

Day 15: Love is honorable

The Dare: Choose a way to honor and respect your spouse that is above your normal routine…show your spouse that he or she is highly esteemed in your eyes.

I think if you ask a man what he wants from his wife, you’ll often hear those typical answers: a good homemaker, a decent cook, an angel in public and a wildcat in the bedroom. But deep down, I believe there’s another answer lurking as well—one  more important than the dinner menu or nighttime activities. Most men really long for respect from their spouse.

Yesterday, I kiddingly mentioned some of the typical husband’s shortcomings (hogging the remote, snoring, and so on). But too often we focus on these annoyances and don’t give our husbands the respect they thrive. After all, I didn’t come into his life to change him. He has Jesus for that, and Jesus does a better job than I can ever aspire to. And, after all, there’s already enough changing I have to do—of me!—to spend too much time working on him.

No, I came into his life to love him, to lift him up and comfort him, to stand by his side and accept him as he is. Because—and here’s the truly amazing part of today’s reading—in our marriage, we are called to be holy. As the book defines it, “Holiness means they are set apart for a higher purpose – no longer common or everyday but special and unique.”

So today, I pushed myself away from the computer when he came home and I sat down to really listen to him, in a way that shows how much I respect him. After all, he is the special and unique person sent by God to be my partner. I want to honor this partnership and let Scott know, through my undivided attention, that he is truly “set apart” in my heart.

Day 16: Love intercedes

The Dare: Begin praying today for your spouse’s heart.

Ah, yes, the power of prayer.  Today’s dare is an important one, and I wanted to give it some reflection. I recently asked Scott if we could pray together before he leaves for work, and so (even though it’s 5 a.m.), he leads us each day. In that prayer, we usually thank God for another day of life and ask Him to keep us all safe throughout the day. So often I pray about what troubles me, for the problems of the world and the problems in my life, and for answers. Even when giving thanks, I seem to forget to thank God for Scott. I guess we really do take things for granted.

So today I prayed. I prayed that Scott finds his walk with Jesus to grow closer, that he becomes a more powerful spiritual leader in our household, and that the Lord continue to work the changes He already has in my husband’s heart. And, since I was on my knees already, I asked that my heart yield to my husband in all things, that I respect the person he is now without clinging to that dead self I seem unable to let go of. The Lord has done great things in his life, and I need to respect that. I pray that I can show that respect in all I do.

I also wrote down my prayer and emailed it to Scott, so he knows I am praying for him and lifting him up while he goes about the day.   Of course, he later told me that he didn’t check his personal email account until two days later, but still my prayer touched him and was “beautiful.” Although I appreciate his kind words, it was more important for me to establish a routine of lifting up my husband and asking for God’s guidance as he fills his role of spiritual leader in our family.

Day 17: Love promotes intimacy

The Dare: Determine to guard your mate’s secrets (unless they are dangerous to them or to you) and to pray for them. Talk with your spouse and resolve to demonstrate love in spite of these issues. Really listen to them when they share personal thoughts and struggles with you. Make them feel safe.

In many ways, today was a toughie. After all, we’re talking about intimacy—not the kind that happens between the sheets, but the kind that comes with bearing your soul. I have always been guarded, as I’ve had hurt in my past that seems to affect the present. Then, as I have alluded to in previous entries, Scott had kept some secrets from me when we were first married that caused some damage later on, when revealed. In the aftermath—because he was determined to do anything to save our marriage—he came to Christ and has allowed Jesus to change him completely.

So in a way, the ugliness we went through led us to a very positive outcome … but unfortunately, it did leave me a bit scared too. There are times I don’t feel confident of his transparency, which makes it hard for me to “be naked and unashamed” emotionally. We’re working on this, and I think this whole Love Dare experience has helped. We’ve had conversations I would have been too frightened to initiate before, and with each I become a bit more confident that the things in the past will remain there.

What are they? Well, that’s where the dare comes in. I will keep them secret, just between us and our God. And in the same spirit, I have asked my husband to “approve” what is written here before anyone else reads it. I want him to have confidence in me and my love for him, so he can be my ultimate editor. I know God will guide the two of us as we decide what to keep and what to share.

Day 18: Love seeks to understand

The Dare: Prepare a special dinner at home, just for the two of you. The dinner can be as nice as you prefer. Focus this time on getting to know your spouse better, perhaps in areas you’ve rarely talked about. Determine to make it an enjoyable evening for you and your mate.

We had to tweak today’s dare a little bit. The challenge required that you make a special meal for your spouse, then sit down over the meal and get to know each other better. Well, since both of us are doing the Love Dare and we only need one dinner a day (though Scott could certainly eat more!), only one of us was going to prepare the meal. And, since my husband enjoys cooking almost as much as he enjoys eating, he decided that he’d be the one preparing dinner. (He didn’t have to twist my arm on that one!)

I do have to say, my husband rose to the occasion on this one. He prepared a seafood pie, which is something I first tried when we were on our honeymoon (while my more adventurous spouse dined on buffalo). I love seafood, and this particular dish has that tie to one of the happiest times in our history as a couple, so it was a great choice for this particular meal and I was touched that he put so much thought into it.

Keeping in that mood, we reminisced about our honeymoon and those early days of our marriage. Then we talked a bit about how things have changed, but how the love we felt back then remains. I learned a little about his childhood, and we talked a bit about where I felt moved to go with my writing. It was a wonderfully intimate dinner. Now comes the real challenge: finding opportunities to have the same type of conversation while dishing out hamburgers to the kids!

Day 19: Love is impossible

The Dare: Look back over the dares from previous days. Were there some that seemed impossible to you? Have you realized your need for God to change your heart and to give you the ability to love? Ask him to show you where you stand with him, and ask for the strength and grace to settle your eternal destination.

I read the title of today’s chapter with a bit of a chuckle. “Oh great, now you tell me I was destined to fail all along.”

But the reading set me back on track. Of course love, the unconditional agape love we have been aspiring to, is totally impossible for sinners like us. As we read in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Only God can love unconditionally. But if we walk close to him, he will let us show that unconditional love to others. His love, not ours.

Remember what it was like when you first opened your heart to Jesus? You wanted to learn all about him, to be in the word, to stay in prayer constantly and only grow closer to him. But—just like in our marriage—our lives get in the way. Somehow we put that most essential relationship on the back burner.

Recently I believe the Lord has been telling me to slow down. In fact, I felt called to stop pursuing paying writing jobs for awhile, and to prayerfully wait for what the Lord will have me do next. Now, this may sound like no big deal, but my writing has pretty much defined me. It was like someone asking me to hold back on breathing for awhile. But I feel led to pray and wait, just as the early Christians did back before the Pentecost. I want to be filled with a renewed spirit so my time is not wasted in worldly pursuits, but in walking more closely with my Lord and acting as a true member of the body of Christ.

After all, that’s the only way we can experience and share that agape love, the true and perfect love that calls me to the cross, even when in my sin I turn away.

Day 20: Love is Jesus Christ

The Dare: Dare to take God at his word. Dare to trust Jesus Christ for salvation. Dare to pray, “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. But you have shown your love for me by dying to forgive my sins, and you have proven your power to save me from death by your resurrection. Lord, change my heart, and save me by your grace.”

And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

Once, when I was a younger Christian, I was pondering how I could ever be worthy of God’s kingdom. After all, I was a sinner, and God detests sin. He can’t even look at it – so how could he look on me with eyes full of love?

Then a friend explained it this way: Think of yourself as a card, and Jesus Christ is the envelope. When you accept Jesus, you are in Jesus—that is, the card is placed in the envelope. Your sinful nature still exists, but it is wrapped in Christ’s love, so when God looks upon you, all he sees is the perfect Love of his only begotten Son.

Now, that may be a bit simplistic, but the idea appeals to this simple woman. I want to be signed, sealed and delivered to God’s doorstep in the enveloping arms of my perfect Savior. And I want to help others come to that love, to understand their sins are forgiven completely, washed away at the cross. Where better to start than at home?

So today I renewed my commitment to Jesus, the Lord of the Universe who shed His blood for a “wretch like me.” I know I fall short, and I always will, but He never does. And He will use me to show His perfect love to His imperfect people, including my wonderful imperfect husband. What an honor that is!

Day 21: Love is satisfied in God

The Dare: Be intentional today about making a time to pray and read your Bible….as you do, immerse yourself in the love and promises God has for you.  This will add to your growth as you walk with Him.

Today’s dare brought to mind one of my favorite Bible verses: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Of course, “all these things” refers to the things we need and so often worry about—the basics, like clothes and food and shelter. God isn’t saying He’ll supply every whim or satisfy every earthly desire, but that in seeking his kingdom we will find our needs—and our souls—satisfied.

Okay, so what does this have to do with marriage? Well, too often we (and of course, by “we” I mean “I”) look to our spouses for wholeness, completeness, satisfaction. But no matter how terrific they may be, our spouses are just like us—only human, sinners, unreliable, broken. Only God is there for us at all times, in all ways, every single step of the way. He’s even there for us when we hide from Him, ignore Him, or walk away from His outstretched arms.

I do try to read the Bible daily because it helps me stay focused and, to be honest, it makes me feel good. So I did my reading today, but I tried to immerse myself as the dare challenged—to feel the love God has for me and to have faith in His promise. I hope that, by not just going through the motions but really seeking that kingdom, the kingdom of love my Abba Father has created for me, I can learn to be a better follower, a more obedient child, and a more active part of the body of Christ. (And, of course, a better wife and mother, too!)

Day 22: Love is faithful

The Dare: Choose today to be committed to love even if your spouse has lost most of their interest in receiving it. Say to them today in words similar to these, “I love you.  Period. I choose to love you even if you don’t love me in return.”

Does your husband ever give you a look that says he thinks you’re absolutely nuts? That’s the way Scott looked at me today when I made my proclamation: “I love you. I choose to love you even if you don’t love me back.” (I may have even added something like he was stuck with my love. I was a bit, well, enthusiastic about my proclamation.)

He answered, “Of course I love you. I tell you that all the time.” This told me two things. One (the obvious) was that he hadn’t read today’s dare yet, so he had no idea what I was talking about. (He’s fallen behind recently, with all the medical tests he’s been going through and that unidentified pain he’s been having.)

The second was a reminder that yes, he does tell me all the time. And do you know how I usually answer him? I ask, “Why?” I don’t really understand why someone would be that committed to me. I have a hard time accepting love. I want an explanation—what is lovable about me?

I guess Gomer might have felt the same way about Hosea. Why did he love her, when she was unfaithful to him and hurt him so? Then I started thinking about why I allowed Scott back into my life even after the times he had become my enemy. God always takes me back, even though I fall away, backslide and even give priority to worldly things at times. Since Scott is my gift from the perfect gift-giver—and my Abba Father—why would I ever refuse him my love? After all, it’s just a reflection of the perfect love that God gives each of us—the love we’re commanded to show everyone.

God gave us the perfect example of love by sending His Son to die for us, even while we were still sinning, still backsliding, still turning away. Once we ask that Son, that love, to dwell in our hearts, forgiveness and acceptance become more than duties. Giving them becomes downright joyous, so do it with enthusiasm!

Day 23: Love always protects

The Dare: Remove anything that is hindering your relationship, any addiction or influence that’s stealing your affections or turning your heart away from your spouse.

This one was tough for me. First, I couldn’t really identify anything I do or have that steals my affection from Scott. So I asked him what he thought I had in my life that hindered our relationship, and he said I don’t give the relationship priority when it comes to time.

When I write professionally, I spend a lot of time on the computer, which I sort of justified to myself as work (just like Scott’s job is work). But he’s right – there are times when I sit down at the computer just to read other people’s blogs, search out good deals at the grocery store or play word games online. None of these things are hindering my relationship in and of itself, but the time I use doing these things should not interfere with the time I have with my husband. Okay, guilty as charged.

So I’m going to establish “working hours” even though I’m at home. And when I don’t have real work, I’m going to stay away from the computer altogether. But that move is pointless if I don’t use that time to strengthen my relationships with Scott, with the family, and with God. I’m going to pray that God grant me the wisdom and the ability to use my time more wisely, knowing that I’ve already wasted so much and will have to be accountable for that. I want to live more purposefully, instead of just letting life happen as I so often do. Tonight, my prayer will be that I protect the greatest relationships of my life, and that I invest my time wisely so these relationships can blossom and be a thing of beauty for all who see them.

Day 24: Love vs. lust

The Dare: End it now. Remove every object of lust in your life … it must be killed and destroyed – today – and replaced with the sure promise of God and a heart filled with his perfect love.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall … or a bookmark in Scott’s book. But, of course, it’s time to take the plank out of my own eye, no matter how curious I am about his.

In the movie, this dare led up to one of the most dramatic scenes, when Caleb realized his flirtation with online pornography was killing his marriage. In response to this revelation, he destroys his computer, thus alleviating the temptation which seemed to “just pop up” innocently enough.

Except for the poor use of time I mentioned yesterday, I couldn’t come up with an area of lust in my life. Oh, I do want some things—I’d love to have a larger home, or be a stay-at-home mom, or live on my writing income—but I’m pretty content with what I have.

Funny, though, that for most of my life I have been surrounded by people who struggle with lust of all kinds. Sometimes I have felt compassion for them, and other times I have been judgmental. Since their battle wasn’t mine—and often seemed to be one they chose—I have judged them harshly. (Which may be why God has placed it in my life so often; I needed the opportunity to grow and show God’s love to the addicted and afflicted, not just those who chose to walk in the light.)

Since I don’t have a lust to end right now, I’m going to pray that God helps me end my judging way. Let me come to a full realization that no disobedience is worse than my own, and that I need to depend on my perfect Lord to heal me and help me.

Day 25: Love forgives

The Dare: Whatever you haven’t forgiven in your mate, forgive it today. Let it go… unforgiveness has been keeping you and your spouse in prison too long. Say from your heart, “I choose to forgive.”

Well, talk about flipping the coin. Yesterday, I couldn’t come up with a single thing I lusted over. Today, however, is a different story. I fall short, big time, when it comes to true forgiveness, the kind I need so much myself.

If people knew all that Scott and I went through in this marriage, how much pain and betrayal was involved, they’d probably come to the conclusion that I was pretty forgiving. I would have had to be, to allow us to get past all that and lead us here, in a relatively healthy and happy marriage. But the truth is my forgiveness hasn’t been as unconditional as it should be. Yes, I have put things aside, but too often I allow the past to come up, rearing its ugly head and cursing at the future. I have accused Scott of forgiving himself too easily, making it even harder for me to let go.

But the truth is this is my problem, not his. He has allowed Jesus to come into his heart and change him. He has confidence in the strength of the Lord, and that lets him move forward without fear of the past returning. (Except, of course, when his wife brings it up.)

Me, on the other hand … well, I’m always one argument, one suspicion, one hurt away from ripping open old wounds all over again. Why? Well, I guess the truest answer is that it hurt – it hurt to be betrayed by the person I trusted most.

But as a Christian, I believe I am forgiven. I have confidence that the blood of my Savior has washed away my sins—not just covered them with red, but cleaned my soul white again. So if the perfect God is willing to do this for me, how can I deny forgiveness to a fellow struggling sinner?

So today I’m choosing to unlock that prison, the bars of the past that have kept my relationship enslaved. I put my trust in Jesus, because he is always there and always reliable. Even if I’m hurt again, I have the everlasting love of Jesus to sustain me and help me through.

Day 26: Love is responsible

The Dare: Take time to pray through your areas of wrongdoing. Ask for God’s forgiveness, then humble yourself to admit them to your spouse.

Well, after all that self-searching yesterday, it seemed only fitting that I confess to Scott my reluctance to let go of the past. I had to tell him I’ve been insulating myself by holding on to the problems we had, problems that have been dead for a while. I convince myself that these problems are still just a thought away, so that all the layers of past hurt cover me and make it impossible for me to be hurt that way again (since part of the pain came from being so totally blindsided).

But being insulated doesn’t allow real love, real joy, to ever really reach me. These are the gifts of a good and thriving marriage, gifts that will bring me closer to my spouse and nearer to the Lord. I know Scott thought we had moved on a long time ago, and that everything was good between us. I can’t say he was surprised at my confession, but I don’t think he realizes what an impact I’ve allowed my thinking to have on the relationship we’ve developed.

Of course, the real challenge comes now. Sure, I’ve told him I’m sorry and I’ve prayed that I’m able to shed the insulation and be totally real for him. But I need to act that way. I cannot act with suspicion or worry. Instead, I’ll have to trust in the Lord and in my husband, and let the hurts of the past become scars. (Yes, I’ll still be able to see them – but with God’s help, I’ll never choose to rip them open again.)

Day 27: Love encourages

The Dare: Eliminate the poison of unrealistic expectations in your home. Think of one area where your spouse has told you you’re expecting too much, and tell them you’re sorry for being so hard on them about it … promise them you’ll seek to understand, and assure them of your unconditional love.

Once upon a time, I wanted more than anything else to be a stay-at-home mom. When our little girl was born, my employer allowed me to work part time until she was a year old. It was one of the happiest years of my life. But then she turned one, and I had to make a decision—to stay at home or to return full time.

I wanted to stay, but the truth was we couldn’t swing it financially. We could have gone on with the part-time income, as tough as it was, but no way could we do without my paycheck. Scott’s company had declared bankruptcy, and financially it was only going to get tighter. It would have been foolish for me to leave my stable, relatively flexible position, so I returned to work. Each year I vowed would be my last, but I’m still there—and still need to be, at least right now.

But I guess in my heart I’ve always expected Scott to find a way to make it work. And when we both knew it wouldn’t, I blamed him or tried to make him feel guilty for taking away that dream.

Now, there was nothing wrong with the dream. My desire to parent my children full time was a good one, and I admire people who can make it work. I still hope that someday I will. But I was poisoning my marriage by expecting my husband to make my dream come true, when I know that he already works hard and does without and would do anything in his power to help make this happen. I need to encourage him to continue on the path he’s taking instead of wishing his path was more financially prosperous.

I’m going to pray that God find a way to help me nurture my children while accepting my need to work, without placing blame on Scott. We’re fortunate to have work at all in these times, and I should appreciate what has been given to us instead of longing for something else and pouting when I don’t have it and poisoning the gifts we have.

Day 28: Love makes sacrifices

The Dare: What is one of the greatest needs in your spouse’s life right now? Purpose to do what you can to meet the need.

Scott is not a needy person. He prides himself on being the “fix it guy,” the one who can figure things out, find what’s lost, re-wire the circuits and keep us going. He’s handy, and he’s hard-working, and all he ever asks is for our appreciation. (Well, that, and for us to take better care of things the next time!)

But I do know there are other needs he hasn’t spoken about because they seem small and not worth mentioning in the scheme of our busyness. Most of all, my husband wants my ear, my attention. He loves to come home and tell me all about his work or the drive home or the other mundane details of his day, but I often shut him down by not being available. I’m too busy with writing or the kids’ homework or shuttling this one to work or that one to soccer … none of it overwhelming, but all of it time consuming.

Yet I know my calling is to be there for him, to listen and understand and be on his side through the hard times and the good times and even the painfully mundane times. I need to close my book or turn away from the monitor and focus my undivided attention on him, so he knows he always has my support. I’m going to practice asking, “How can I help you?” while thanking God for the gift of a man who takes pride in doing just that—helping me—even without my asking.

And, even though I’m writing this as an act of sacrifice, I realize that it could easily grow to be my joy. I do love Scott dearly, and it seems to take so little to make him happy. He just needs reconnection, someone to listen and understand and be on his side.

Isn’t that why God gave us to each other to begin with?

Day 29: Love’s motivation

The Dare: Before seeing your spouse again today, pray for them by name and for their needs. Whether it comes easy for you, say “I love you” then express love to them in some tangible way. Then thank God for giving you the privilege of loving this one special person unconditionally.

Today’s reading brought an “aha!” moment for me, a moment of sheer revelation that helped this whole exercise fall into place. The Rosetta Stone of clarification for me was this simple sentence: “The love between a husband and wife should have one chief objective: honoring the Lord with devotion and sincerity.”

I often wonder what brings people together, what joins them as partners on the winding road of life. Okay, maybe that’s a bit poetic, but the bottom line is I’ve been curious. What gets people together? What keeps them together? What inspires them to love through the bad times and the beautiful, the struggles, the sorrows and the sensational? I like hearing people’s “how we met” stories, but I realize they don’t tell the whole story. Most of us have pretty decent beginnings. But what is that glue that keeps us together? What keeps love alive when we’re angry and the dinner is burnt and he’s commenting on some movie star and romance is, if not dead, barely on life support?

If a marriage is going to go the distance, our motivation has to be something more than whatever the superficial things were that brought us together. Our togetherness needs purposefulness, and that purpose has to be bigger than the both of us. In short, honoring God with our togetherness is what keeps love alive long past the initial attraction.

Sure, I could love Scott because he’s a good man, but what about when he isn’t? And he can love me because he’s attracted to my humor and hangs on my every word. But what about the days when I’m sad and speechless, or the time when age steals away my memory and wit? No, the core of our relationship has to be to glorify the Lord, who created us for each other and gave us marriage as a formalization of the relationship we’re intended to have—one that reflects his love for all people.

Of course, you may have known all this before. I’ve always been a late bloomer, and a little slow on the uptake. But this realization was like a light switching on in my heart. The love Scott and I share will never fail, because at its core is the unfailing love of our Father. That’s the only true “happily ever after” any fairy-tale (or messy human) marriage could ask for.

Day 30: Love brings unity

The Dare: Isolate one area of division in your marriage, and look on today as a fresh opportunity to pray about it. Ask the Lord to reveal anything in your own heart that is threatening oneness with your spouse. Pray that he will do the same for them.

Coming up with an area of division was actually pretty tough. We usually agree on most things, and each is pretty easy going on the things we disagree on. Although major issues have divided us in the past, we’re in a pretty healthy place right now. We have issues, sure, but none are “threatening oneness,” at the moment.

So I prayed that we become more in sync when it comes to our parenting. I know we see things differently in this area, and it could become a problem down the road even if it isn’t presently. We need to become more proactive at deciding things together beforehand, instead of waiting until something happens then reacting emotionally (and divisively). We must carry our unity as a couple on to unity as parents.

I also thanked God that we could be in such a good place right now. Our marriage hasn’t always been as strong as it is now, and I know we only came this far because we both turned ourselves over to God and asked for his forgiveness and guidance. I pray that our spiritual life takes preeminence in our lives, so that our walk through this life always be hand-in-hand, with our eyes and our focus on God’s wonderful plan for us.

Day 31: Love and marriage

The Dare: If there is an issue about the biblical command to “leave” your parents, confess it to your spouse and resolve to make it right. Follow this with a commitment to your spouse and to God to make your marriage your priority over any other human relationship.

I guess I always had an easy time with leaving my parents (Genesis 2:24). After all, my mother has been dead for ten years and my father is remarried and investing his time and energy on his new life. Oh sure, we still are in touch, and I love him and respect him as my father, but he certainly has minimal impact on my marriage. Scott will remind me that the fact my dad left my mom when I was 12 may be the root of all my insecurities and fears that he’ll leave. Okay, that may be true to a point—I probably do worry about being left more than most wives—but it really doesn’t apply here, when we’re talking “leaving and cleaving.” I’ve been pretty independent for a long time now. (Of course, my issues may make the “cleaving” part a bit more difficult.)

So I had to tell my sweetie, in the kindest, most respectful terms possible, that this one is his. Although he lives hundreds of miles away from them, Scott still feels the need to have his parents’ approval on some issues. There had been times when he’s done things outside his regular character because he felt it was the way they wanted things done. He’s moving in the right direction on this, and learning that he can still rightfully honor his parents while leaving them and cleaving to our relationship instead.

I have to be fair, though. I’m sure if Scott was the one who was writing this journal, he’d have other issues—Mary issues—that may not be in this category but are dangerous to our marriage nonetheless. (For example, I’m the only one who has ever, ever considered divorce as an option. I’m ashamed now that I was so quick to offer an easy out, instead of truly working through a problem. But I need to be fair. Leaving may be his issue; cleaving, at times, is mine.)

Still, I know that both of us have the same goal now—oneness—and we’re taking the steps we need to truly become as one flesh and live this life, this marriage, the way the Lord intended. I know Scott is the most important human relationship in my life, and I believe he feels the same about me. I feel very blessed with this relationship, one that allows me the joy of loving a wonderful man and honoring the God who gave us to each other.

Day 32: Love meets sexual needs

The Dare: Initiate sex with your spouse today. Do it in a way that honors what your spouse needs from you. Ask God to make this enjoyable for both of you.

Oh, yay, something we’re good at!

So how do I say this? Scott and I have never had a problem sexually. In fact, it might be one area in which we’ve always come through for each other. Sex has never been a tool or a weapon; we respect each other’s needs and enjoy each other’s, er, company. In other words, it’s all good … even when other aspects of the marriage weren’t.

Now, I do admit I don’t often take the initiative, even though I know he’d like me to. It’s that “fear of rejection” thing I carry around with me, that stands in my way of taking the lead, even when I’d like to. But since I was dared, I decided that I would do this today—one way or the other.

Fortunately, it ended up being pretty easy. We were in church waiting for the Wednesday night worship and Bible study to start. Scott leaned over and whispered, “When this is over, I’m going to take a soak in the hot tub and head straight to bed.”

I must have panicked, because I responded right away with, “No, you can’t. We have to have sex!”

It took him a second to realize this must be today’s dare, but only a nanosecond to say, “Well, okay, if we have to!” We held hands during the service … and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Day 33: Love completes each other

The Dare: Recognize that your spouse is integral to your future success. Let them know today you desire them to be included in your upcoming decisions and that you need their perspective and counsel. If you’ve ignored their input in the past, admit your oversight and ask for forgiveness.

Ouch, talk about convicted. Earlier this week, I took pride in our unity. It’s true, we do almost everything together. But another truth is that we seem to make a lot of decisions independently.

I do try to talk to Scott before most major decisions, but often his input doesn’t go beyond, “Sure, whatever you want.” I’d like to think that means he’s totally supportive of whatever decision I’ve made, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that there are times when it may just be easier for him to go along. He may support me, but it isn’t always whole-heartedly. Maybe he’s resentful, not because of my decisions, but because I didn’t give him a chance to be a part of the decision making.

And I think it’s true the other way around, too. We let each other know, so we don’t blindside each other, but we really don’t ask for input or carefully consider the other’s opinion before going ahead with our own plans. And you know what? I would really like Scott’s input, his insight, before going forward. Yes, it’s been nice having someone rubber-stamp my ideas, but I think it’s time I looked for honest feedback, not some halfhearted approval.

A married couple is more than the sum of two individuals. We are a unit, one flesh, and we can accomplish more (and more happily!) when we turn to each other before moving forward, instead of moving ahead and hoping the other guy keeps up.

Day 34: Love celebrates godliness

The Dare: Find a recent example when your spouse demonstrated Christian character in a noticeable way, and verbally commend them for this.

Looking back on my words to this point, I wonder if I’ve made clear just how far Scott has come in his Christian walk. When we first came together, we both believed in Jesus, but it was almost an afterthought. We went to church rarely, if at all, and never read our Bible or sought the Lord’s way.

Then he admitted some of his problems to me, and I thought our marriage would fall apart. Who was this man? How come so much was kept secret? I was hurt and despairing and ready to walk away, but Scott wanted to fight for our marriage. When I asked how, one of his suggestions—his best suggestion, really—was to return to God and start attending church.

Since that time, we have both grown so much as Christians. Although we recognize that we are sinners and will always fall short, we try our best to dedicate our lives to God in all things and trust in him. For example, Scott’s job situation in the past few years has been shaky at best. But he has purposely turned down jobs that would involve his working on Sundays.

He’s also become good at recognizing other people’s needs. The recent example I chose to commend him on today had to do with a man at his work. The man’s wife recently had a baby who is very sickly, and the man has missed a lot of work taking his new son to the hospital for treatment. Now, money is always tight at our house, but Scott decided to take some money, buy a gift certificate for diapers and groceries, and send it anonymously to this man’s house in a card wishing him God’s blessings.

It seems so often when we do charity work in church or through organizations, it’s a “look at me, I’m so good” type of situation. I often question my own motives. But my husband demonstrated true giving, the way Jesus gave to us: motivated by love, compelled by our need, without thought of commendation, recognition or praise.

Yes, he’s one of the good guys. It’s my job to recognize the strides he’s made on his Christian walk, which will encourage him to continue to move ahead.

Day 35: Love is accountable

The Dare: Find a marriage mentor—someone who is a strong Christian and who will be honest and loving with you. If you feel counseling is needed, make the appointment.

When I started this Love Dare journal, I mentioned that we first saw the movie FIREPROOF as an activity of our church’s marriage ministry. This ministry was an offshoot of a class on marriage given by our church’s Sunday school. It was the first class I ever took at the church (we went back to church to save our marriage, remember, so this just made sense). The class was taught by a young couple who was committed to each other, to God, and to being transparent about their struggles in keeping all this together. It was this couple who reached out to all the married couples in the church and invited them to the first Weekend to Remember conference.

I guess I’m starting to sound like a commercial, but if I’m selling anything, it’s this: In this world, you need to surround yourself with other couples who are working to keep God in the center of their marriage. We’ve been a part of the marriage ministry at our church since the very beginning, and I cannot explain in words what a blessing it has been to gather regularly with a group of married couples who all want their marriage to glorify the Lord. Some of the couples are newlyweds, and some have been married almost 50 years. Some are in the throes of parenting, others are empty-nesters, and one couple is counting the days until the arrival of their first little one. Despite being in different stages of our lives (or maybe because of it), we can encourage each other, share with each other and learn from each other.

If your church has a marriage ministry, get involved. If not, start one! You and your marriage will be so very blessed by it.

Now, as for counseling, we’ve been there and done that too. I’ve had counseling for depression when my mom died, and Scott went to a counselor when he was struggling with addictions. Counseling has also been a blessing to us, but I know we were fortunate to find counselors who were also Christian and didn’t buy into the mores of the world. We all need help from time to time, and it’s a wise person who reaches out to be lifted up, instead of falling on his own.

Day 36: Love is God’s Word

The Dare: Commit to reading the Bible every day…If your spouse is willing, see if they will commit to daily Bible reading with you. Begin submitting each area of your life to its guidance and start building on the rock.

Scott and I were raised Catholics. There was always a Bible in my home growing up, but it was just a large catalog where my grandmother would record the family births, marriages and deaths. We never read it, and we never saw our parents read it either. In fact, I always had the feeling that the Bible itself wasn’t for us – that we needed some sort of interpreter because the Bible was way over our heads.

My parents sent me to Catholic school, where I aced my religion classes without cracking open a Bible. I learned the classic Bible stories through my religion books; I prayed using the words in the missals in the pews at church. Sure, the Bible was quoted regularly and we heard the Gospel, straight from the New Testament, every Sunday, but no one ever encouraged me to pick up the Good Book and read it.

Once we came to Christ, we realized how remiss we had been. We read of the Bible and about the Bible, but we never really read the Bible. But, as baby Christians, we were eager to learn all we could about the Lord. We chose a “Bible in a Year” program that started with the New Testament (my logic was that if I was to die before we finished, I wanted to know all about Jesus first). And we plunged in.

I cannot explain in a sentence or two what a blessing this has been. I feel myself growing as a Christian as I read the wise words and take them to heart. We haven’t always stuck to the “daily reading” program; sometimes we’re too busy and we find ourselves playing catch up. But we’ve worked hard to make sure the reading is meaningful—if we get to a place when we’re just reading to cross off the day’s assignment, we stop. And the Holy Spirit has been good to us, as the words haven’t been hard and the messages become easier as we immerse ourselves in God’s Word. (Another bonus–whenever I’m feeling low or discouraged or weary of battling the world, I’ll just say to Scott, “Want to read?” We turn to our Bibles and I find myself immediately uplifted, strengthened and blessed. Seriously! Being in God’s word helps the rest of the world melt away.)

Another benefit is that the kids see us reading regularly. Sometimes they sit in and listen; usually they respect what we’re doing and give us some quiet time. The Bible has become the true living Word in our household—not just a record keeper, but a guide and a counselor, a map for the life between the birth and the marriages and the deaths.

Day 37: Love agrees in prayer

The Dare: Ask your spouse if you can begin praying together.

Today’s challenge reminds me of a line in one of my favorite hymns, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The line is this: “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.” I do feel so privileged to be able to turn to God with my cares and concerns, my thanks and my sorrows. Sometimes I feel lonely and I think I have no one to listen to me, but the Lord of the Universe is waiting for me to talk to him. How awesome is that?

Scott and I pray together in the morning before he leaves for work, and (if we remember) we try to pray together before and after we read the Bible each day. I know I pray often during the day, and I hope he does too, but I would like to find “deliberate time” to pray each day. I am going to talk to him about praying with the children before bed, and then praying together before we go to sleep as well.

Every Christmas season, we make a chain for our daughter so she can visualize the number of days until “the big day.” This year, I prayed about how to make my Advent more meaningful, and I was led to this idea: Make this a “prayer chain.” Before I joined the links, I wrote a prayer prompt inside each, so that when my little girl tore off the link, we would have something to keep in prayer each day. Of course, because she’s so young, the ideas were pretty basic (praying for “our teachers,” “the homeless” or “your big brothers”). But it gave us a starting point for a prayer, and I think it helped her learn to pray with someone else—intentionally and out loud. I plan to make the prayer chain a tradition.

But I don’t want to wait until next Christmas to cultivate our prayer life. The Lord has given so much power to Christians joined together in prayer. I am going to make a conscious effort to ask my husband what he’d like me to pray for each day, then ask him to pray with me. I want to do the same with my children, too. They may not be as comfortable, but over time our prayers will help bring all of us closer to God, who is so patiently waiting to hear us call His name.

Day 38: Love fulfills dreams

The Dare: Ask yourself what your mate would want if it was obtainable. Commit this to prayer, and start mapping out a plan for meeting some (if not all) of their desires, to whatever level you possibly can.

Here I am, in the home stretch of the Love Dare, but I found myself stopping short. Something “obtainable”? I wasn’t sure what Scott would want. I even asked him (go to the source, right?) and he said, “A house at the shore.” But I know that was his answer for me—I’ve always wanted to live at the shore, and Scott is pretty content wherever he is.

So I had to figure out what to pray for … something beyond the things we always pray for, like health and safety and a closer walk with the Lord. Then I remembered a couple of weeks ago, when my brother asked my husband if he wanted to go skiing. Being from New England, Scott was practically raised on skis, but he rarely gets an opportunity to hit the slopes. In fact, it’s been a couple of years—our last trip to Maine, three or four years ago. I knew he wanted to go, but my first response wasn’t encouraging. “How much will it cost?” I asked. The conversation ended there.

Now, I realize money is often an issue, especially now, when I’ve cut back in pursuing writing for monetary gain. I can console myself by reminding him we’re saving for our trip to Disney World this November, but this truth nags at me: Scott left his life in Massachusetts behind to become part of my life in New Jersey. If a couple of hours on the slopes will bring him joy—a taste of home, if you will—then why should I let mere dollars stand in his way?

So I’m going to pray about this, and start planning a way to get Scott back on the slopes. I’m not a skier, but my brother goes often enough. And if he doesn’t, one of our kids really enjoys the sport too. I’m going to try to budget some money to surprise him with this – and I’m going to pray that I become more aware of the things he dreams of, and the part I can play to fulfill them.

Day 39: Love endures

The Dare: Spend some time in personal prayer, then write a letter of commitment and resolve to your spouse. Include why you are committing to this marriage until death, and that you have purposed to love them no matter what.

We’ve heard it over and over, so often that maybe we peg too many hopes and dreams on its promise: “Love never fails.”

So, does that mean you meet and fall in love and it’s all happily ever after from then on out? Yeah, right. After all, you can’t “fall” in anything without getting a bit bruised and beat up.

No, true love never fails because it never gives up. It’s unconditional, it’s unrelenting, it’s solid. Love, true love, is forever.

I do believe I will love Scott forever. So why do I find this dare so frightening? The answer can be found in the last three words of the dare: “No matter what.”

“No matter what” opens you up to all sorts of hurt, all sorts of disappointment, rejection and pain. If I put that sentiment into words, am I giving Scott a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to my heart? Am I saying, “It’s okay, walk all over me … I’ll be your doormat forever”?

As I’ve shared, I have issues. I’ve been hurt and I’ve been deserted; I’ve felt abandoned and rejected and alone. But, as Jesus showed me as he shed his blood for me, it wasn’t love that hurt or rejected or abandoned. That was failure, human failure. Love never fails.

So the only way to become truly one is to trust in the Lord, accept this wonderful scary gift He has given you, and open yourself up to its possibilities. Yes, there is the possibility that I’ll be hurt again, but there’s also the possibility that we’ll grow together and glorify the Lord by living the life of love he intends for us. I can only fully live that love by opening myself up completely.

I picked up my pen, with a great deal of trepidation but overflowing with love. “My dear Scott,” I wrote, and I committed my life—warts and all—to my husband. God gave me the courage to write through my tears, and filled my heart with hope of a love without boundaries or expiration. The hope of the love of God.

Day 40: Love is a covenant

The Dare: Write out a renewal of your vows and place them in your home. If appropriate, you can make arrangements to formally renew your wedding vows before a minister and with family present. Make it a living testament to the value of marriage in God’s eyes and the high honor of being one with your mate.

This one, the last dare, will take some time. I do so want to get it right.

When we first saw the movie, my husband felt moved to renew our vows, the way Caleb did. Back when we first were married, he had carried a lot of secrets with him, secrets that hurt our marriage as they were revealed in time. Now, we can look each other in the eye; we know the secrets and the shortcomings. He wanted to stand before the Lord, free and clear, and take our vows again – this time with each of us knowing that love never fails.

Well, he had planned to do this, but he wanted to surprise me with it. Unfortunately, I became aware that he was doing something secretly, and it scared me. I confronted him, and the whole wonderful plan spilled out.

We let it go then; I guess my suspicion choked the joy out of the idea. But now, with all these dares behind us, I’m going to ask him to revisit his plan. I want to hold his hands and look into his eyes, before God and all those we love, and ask for blessings on this journey. During this time, I’ve come to realize that our marriage is more than a happy partnership between the two of us. It’s a true covenant, with God at the head. I want to commit our marriage to God’s plan, and take every step, every day, enveloped in the gift of God’s love.

So I’m daring myself to go back to Scott and ask that he revisit this idea.   I pray that God leads every marriage to this place, and to the realization that our marriage should be a testimony of God’s love in our lives.

© 2008 by Mary Dixon Lebeau. Used by permission.