November 19, 2018

Dirty Diapers and Fresh Hearts

Gary Thomas — 


As most of you know, I’m married to an organic loving, buy local, GMO free, do-all-things-the-healthiest-way-possible wife. All the way back in the 90s she decided that there was no way we’d let plastic diapers “with all those chemicals” ever touch our children’s precious bottoms.

So we used cloth diapers.

There were actually two other families in the United States that used cloth diapers at the time, but I think we were the only ones within a hundred miles of Washington, D.C.

In our pursuit of preserving the purity of our children’s posteriors, we put their dirty diapers in a large trash-can-sized diaper pail filled with water, and then waited until it accrued about fifty pounds of diapers (so, about twelve hours), and then dumped it into the utility sink, where they could be rinsed and then washed.

Guess who got the job of dumping the fifty-pound bucket?

You’re welcome, Allison, Graham, and Kelsey…

One night I was particularly tired. The last thing I wanted to do was lift up that diaper pail and try to get the contents into that sink without splashing my clothes, but I had an early flight the next morning so it had to be done or we’d run out of clean diapers while I was away. As I balanced the plastic diaper pail on the edge of the sink, my oldest daughter started tugging on my pants.

“Watch out honey!” I warned our oldest daughter Allison, but she was insistent.

“I made you a picture for your trip,” she said.

And apparently I needed to see it right now.

“See, it’s two hearts,” she continued. “This one says, ‘I love you,’ and this one says, ‘I’ll miss you and want you to come back right away.”

Maybe it was the pungent fumes.

Maybe it was my level of exhaustion.

But suddenly my tears were mixing with the nauseating diaper water. That one simple picture from my daughter, when I felt tired and unappreciated, is one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received. It nourished my soul. I would have dumped a hundred diaper buckets just to get another moment like that from one of my kids.

Years passed and Allison became old enough to walk to the store and buy things for herself. We lived in Bellingham, Washington at the time, which meant catching early flights out of Seattle, and that often meant leaving the house around 3:30 a.m. The whole family would be sleeping for at least another three hours and I was feeling, once again, a little taken for granted. Our resolve to keep our kids in Bellingham rather than move closer to a major airport felt like it was killing me. When I unlocked my car, I saw a big bag of Life Saver Mints—the individually wrapped kind that don’t make you feel like a kid for eating them.

I took one look at that bag and knew it was from Allison, and sure enough, it was. “You work so hard for us,” the note read. “I hope this makes your trip sweeter!”

The 90-mile trip to Seattle felt like it took about five minutes that day. I’m sure the sun wasn’t really shining, but it kind of felt like it was.

Many of us are making all sorts of plans about how to feed ourselves and our families on Thanksgiving Day. Let’s pause to consider how we can feed our marriages with thanksgiving.

Old time preacher Clovis Chappell once said, “Gratitude is a child that we must watch and train and develop. Gratitude must be cultivated. It must be tended and watered and watched over or it will die.”

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally. On the contrary, the way our brains work, we tend to stop noticing the commonplace. For instance, if you live by the railroad tracks, trains won’t keep you up at night. Your brain will learn to ignore the sounds.

The same can be true, unfortunately, of marital blessings and our spouse’s strengths. The very things we once most admired about our spouse soon become commonplace; we literally stop noticing them. If you’re married to a spouse who values fitness, a spouse with a great sense of humor, a spouse who has a deep faith, or a spouse who is an incredible parent, eventually your brain won’t register these strengths as something new but rather as “that’s just the way things are.” They no longer count as “extra credit.” They’re more like, “been there, done that, so what?”

Here’s the spiritual trap. When gratitude dies we start expecting these things instead of being grateful for them.

Thanksgiving Day is a time to pause and thank God for the many blessings we take for granted, but it’s just as appropriate to also use the holiday as a time to pause and start thanking our spouse for everything they do that we take for granted and fail to mention.

When we treat our spouse’s character qualities and hard work as expected facts of life, we overlook the strengths but notice the irritations and disappointments. What we notice is what we usually talk about. Which means, even if you have a great spouse, your brain’s natural drift is to remain silent about the positive and to mention each disappointment and frustration. Our spouse won’t hear “thank you” a tenth as much as they hear, “how could you?” or “why won’t you?”

Take charge of your brain. The Bible encourages us, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (Philip. 4:8). You can control your mind. You can choose to notice and mention a positive quality you’ve noticed and mentioned a thousand times. Come on—do it a thousand and one! The more you thank, the less you’ll complain and the more your spouse will feel…cherished.

Lisa recently had a challenging weekend. She has been a superstar mom for thirty years, so tireless and zealous for our kids’ spiritual and emotional health. If they’re on the phone and so much as sneeze, it’s, “are you gargling with salt?” Sore from a workout? “Taking your arnica?” So when I knew she was willingly going through another tough weekend away from home to be with one of our kids, I didn’t want to take it for granted. The day after she got back, this arrived:

Lisa sent me a text message with that picture and wrote:

“What??? Just because?? So pretty!”

Just because? She really didn’t know?

Here’s the thing. My wife was taking herself for granted. She’s so used to being such a good mom, she didn’t even know why I’d want to thank her.

Would you take a moment to thank God for whatever excellent thing is praiseworthy about your spouse? Whether it’s their faith, their humor, their commitment to your family, their loyalty or their work ethic, remind yourself that amidst all you wish they might do differently, there are some areas where they excel. And after you’ve thanked God, thank your spouse. One little thank you from a family member can turn a stinky diaper pail into a trail of happy tears, or a long, early morning commute into a five-minute joyride.

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9 responses to Dirty Diapers and Fresh Hearts

  1. Another great post, Gary. I especially appreciated the part about driving to SEATAC from B’Ham with those Life Savers in the seat next to you. Man, I bet you almost floated to the plane!

    Keep up the encouraging words. Gratitude is so important! We can never get enough which means we can never give enough!

    I trust you had a great Thanksgiving enjoying your precious wife and family. Blessings to you all!

  2. Great reminder!
    I’ve been working with my heart as my husband and I recent switched roles to him being the stay at home and me working after we’ve immigrated.
    I wanted to give advice all the time. I realised that it was causing a lot of conflict and doing damage. I started praying for God to help us in our new roles and to show me a new way. And God is faithful: he’s been changing my heart and feeding my soul. This is the second inspirational and guiding message I’ve received this week.

    Thank you for that!

  3. Thank you, Gary. A much needed reminder in the middle of one of the darkest valleys our marriage has ever been through. (After 38 years. Some of us are VERY slow learners.) I wish I had found your writings years ago. Keep preaching the message of the cross. BTW, we were one of the other two families that used cloth diapers.

  4. Thank you Gary about the reminder that Gratitude needs nurturing and that the little, unnoticed blessings are the ones that keep us Thankful for God’s touch on our lives in so many ways.
    Happy Thanksgiving to your family!

  5. Oh how quickly the routine of life can render what we once found attractive into the commonplace. I am reminded to be grateful. Thanks for this post! Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. This soooo resonated with me. I need to get my brain on the gratitude train of thought! Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Gary, I will always remember the story you shared about keeping a journal, writing a note each day with a reason you’re grateful for your spouse, and then presenting it to them at the end of the year. This will be my second year to do the same. I will admit I haven’t been perfect at it, we are incredibly busy, but the greatest result coming out of this practice is how quick I am to forget and forgive a mistake and how easy it is to remember even the smallest act of good character from my husband on a daily basis. Sometimes I sit and play “catch up” in my journal, with the calendar in front of me to help remind me what we were doing that day, and with a flood of memories, I thank the Lord for the blessing of a great marriage…the words pour onto the pages easily.
    Thank you for your words of wisdom and always pointing to the Word for the Truth.
    Wishing you and the family a Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Amazing, Skye, you’ve just entered the marital hall of fame. I was impressed with someone keeping a cherishing journal for a year. But two in a row? Wow!

    • I attempted to start doing this as well, but opted to try and do something nice for my husband at least twice per week to let him know he is appreciated.

      We will be celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary on December 16th!