Forgiveness is easily misunderstood.  We expect it from others but struggle with giving it.  And let’s not forget the struggle with forgiving yourself!  That can be the most difficult!  The burden of shame seems much easier to carry than the thought of letting yourself heal. Why is forgiveness so hard?  Why do we fight to hold on to so much hurt?

Forgiveness is hard because it cannot happen without letting something go.  It is letting go of prideful feelings of entitlement and anger for another person  and instead offering grace and mercy.  I believe forgiveness is most difficult for women because we are made to nurture everything around us.  If a woman enters conflict, she often feels disconnected.  It feels like a betrayal, like a knife to the back.

Insecurity runs just as deep for men as they experience disconnection in the relationship as failure, weakness on their ability to lead, and inadequacy.    It is no coincidence that when hurt happens in a marriage, the woman will put up a wall, the man will distance himself, and the cycle continues to spiral out of control!  If you want an answer to finding intimacy, it begins with breaking down the barriers, owning your part in the disconnection, and asking for forgiveness.  Right now I can hear hearts hitting the floor, so let’s talk about what forgiveness is, and what it is not.

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Asking Forgiveness:

  • IS about recognizing what you have done, knowingly or unknowingly, to cause hurt in someone else, then admitting that face to face with the other person.
  • IS NOT putting a band-aid on the problem by only saying “I’m sorry.”
  • IS receiving their forgiveness as an opportunity to change.

Offering Forgiveness:

  • IS NOT forgetting, we are not God and only God can choose to do that!
  • IS taking back lost territory of the space in your mind you have given to that hurt
  • IS NOT becoming, or continuing to be a victim.  On one extreme, firm boundaries might be needed, on the other it might be vulnerability and opening your heart to trusting again. Finding the right balance for your situation, perhaps with the help of a professional, is important.
  • IS taking responsibility of what that hurt is doing to you.
  • IS NOT about waiting for justice or change in the other person’s life.  Instead it’s praying over blessing instead of curse on their life.
  • IS saying goodbye to hurt we hold, and giving grace because we know the mercy of God; at the least know what it feels to be released ourselves.

Need a place to start?  I can’t tell you who should make the first move, but if you are the only one reading this, then it will have to be you. Setting the tone of your home, your words, and your heart to encourage life out of those you love will give them the security to create more intimacy that can change everything.  Join me on the Lifegiver Podcast available on iTunes for more topics like these.

 

(Written 4/10/2014) This week, I attended a Mental Health Conference Sponsored by Give An Hour on treating the needs of military members, veterans, and their families.  You may have not heard of Give and Hour, or some of the many other amazing non-profits that are working hard for military and veterans- and that is the reason I’m writing this.  We (referring to those of us in the military culture/bubble) need to have a serious discussion on the services that are available to the military and veteran community and why you don’t know about them.  Before you log off, this is not a VA/government bashing post, but a truthful effort to expose a very big problem called “endorsement”.

As a fellow military spouse and off-post therapist that is contracted with TRICARE and Military OneSource, I have committed my talents to serving the military beyond supporting my husband’s selfless service to his soldiers.  In the past several years, I have paid attention to the civilian community (individuals, corporations, non-profits) desire to love on our military families by providing free or discounted services.  We have developed a skewed perspective of the civilian’s support of us and it is not our fault.

As I advocated and attempted to be a voice for military spouses in DC, I met countless organizations (Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity, Lockheed Martin, Give an Hour, and numerous others) who were excited to tell me all they were doing for the military and how they wanted to do more.  There was a deep sadness and frustration in their eyes when I was one more military member that told them I had not heard of their efforts.

My best kindergarten description of the problem is this: “Endorsement” is when one entity specifically supports another entity.  When you see a commercial with a celebrity mentioning a specific product, they are endorsing that product.  The Military makes it a point to make sure they that do not “endorse” specific companies or corporations.  The original intention is good, in that it keeps soldiers and families from being taken advantage of.  They are very strict on for-profit companies, saying that an organization is more likely to be promoted to the military culture if they are non-profits- as they are not making money off of the military or military family.  However, when a non-profit offers to help, they refuse to refer families to them as well so as to not “appear” that they are sponsoring, or showing favoritism.  This is a big problem for the non-profits that want to be part of the solution.  That means that families are not told or made aware of any civilian services either way.  The military’s answer to the problem is, (and seems to be set on) to take care of their own- which is great… if the military funded services are good quality and can meet the demands of those who need it (that’s a topic for another day).

Let me provide a real example from my personal experience.  I worked at a non-profit organization that offered counseling to military families and even took TRICARE and Military Onesource- meaning it ends up free for the soldier and/or family.  We had open offices and counselors ready to receive.  For six months I traveled around on post to close to 30 leaders and post employees I could think of that might need to know that this resource was available just 5 minutes outside the gate.  I was hung up on repeatedly and not one person called me back- the fear of endorsement on the ground level and fear of losing their job was clearly a real issue.  Money should not have been the problem, considering TRICARE covers the costs of therapy.  They told me they would maybe get the word out if it was free, so I began to offer free education and services to alleviate the 6 week waiting list soldiers had for mental health services.  When they realized I was also a military spouse, I was told “Understand this.  You are no longer considered a military spouse to us, you are a competitor.  We will not make referrals out because all the services and money need to stay in-house.” I don’t know if I was more upset at the personal betrayal I felt or for the many families that were not going to get the referrals they needed.

This is an epidemic issue, friends.  There are non-profits and small businesses outside your door step that are suffering because they want to serve military families, but no one is walking through their door.  Even worse, they are discouraged and considering not offering those services anymore because the system doesn’t work- there is great need, but no way to direct those in need to the services. Did you know that Habitat for Humanity has a non-profit connection that will help you budget and buy a house within your price range?  Did you know that they provide a service where a veteran can call and speak with another veteran and spouse speak to another spouse to get financial/budgeting advice for free?   Did you know that veterans have to hand write their resume rather than be educated oh how to develop a LinkedIn page because it is endorsing LinkedIn? Did you know Give an Hour has a network of 7,000 mental health therapists waiting to donate free weekly counseling to you, your soldier, and even your mother-in law without the red tape of TRICARE or getting permission from post?  Thousands of civilian volunteer their time and energy to reaching out to veterans and families, but you will not here about it, or often hear them thanked for it, because it could be seen as endorsement/sponsorship.  Meanwhile, we feel like America has forgotten us.

    Let me give you a few examples of how this affects you:

For those of you who have a soldier struggling with Combat Stress and PTSD, it means that you will not hear about the new, amazing, techniques and treatments that are making huge strides in reducing symptoms and restoring families.
It means that your soldier may be forced to wait on a waiting list on post if he needs counseling and finally decides to ask for it
It means that when the community wants to welcome home our soldiers, they won’t be allowed on-post so they can say “thank you”
For those of you who are getting ready to get out of the military, you won’t hear about the hundreds of organizations that are waiting to hire you both or help you transition into the civilian world.
For those of you who feel alone, you may not hear about the non-profits who are making an app to help locate other veterans close to you.
If you are a spouse struggling with employment, you won’t hear about the non-profits that want to help you promote your business.
It means that when you finally leave/retire from the military, you will be likely to go out into the world feeling like “unicorns” as if you don’t belong because you thought no one noticed you were gone- when in fact, they were trying to tell you they loved you all along.

Just as much as we need to know the amazing supporters that exist out there, we also need to be told which supporters to stay away from.  This is just as important as a few years ago there was an issue of some schools taking educational funds from soldiers and not giving them the education they were expecting.  Yet, I’m not sure I remember being educated on any of those either.  So here is how you can be part of the solution.  (UPDATE 9/10/15:  Former United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has now encouraged posts to allow non-profits better access to families in order to support their efforts and military families.  It is still a lengthy process and will likely be decided on a case by case basis).

#1 Care- Open your eyes to see that there is possibly quality treatment and services available for you and your family and ask for them.  One size does not fit all.  There are civilians and organizations that specifically care about military spouses. I am determined to find them and share them with you because I know spouses need to be tended to.  The military is not required to care for the spouse, but America is standing in line waiting to.

#2 Share without fear– We (spouses) are not limited by regulations.  The military may currently have a rule about not endorsing/sponsoring, but we are not held to that rule.  Join me in finding them and sharing them with your fellow spouses.  Spread the word so families can get the unique services their family needs.

#3  Get involved with your Community. Whatever you are passionate about, get involved outside the gates.  Local businesses need the education and support that you can offer.  Once you know what is available, you have influence in sharing those resources with your Commanders and family members.

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America does care, let’s start spreading the word.

A military couple sat on opposite ends of my couch.  I asked what was going on and how I could help.  The wife said she felt weary from the responsibilities at home and felt taken for granted.  He snapped back at her about how hard he had been working, providing for her, and that she was ungrateful.  I asked (for her benefit) if he loved her.  “Of course I do!” he said, “I just feel she has to have me roll it in sugar for her to hear it.”  I asked her if she was grateful for what he had provided (for his benefit), “Of course I am!” she said, “but it doesn’t make me feel loved.”  Deep down, he loved her but was too angry to try harder.  Deep down, she was grateful, but was too hurt to show it. Both had a valid need for their spouse to make changes.

Often I see a relationship where there is love, but the unmet needs are so great they only experience tension. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how this couple parallels with our relationship as spouses with the Military.  “Needing” often gets a bad reputation in our culture, leaving families feeling angry with unmet needs on the inside when told they should be grateful for benefits.  Military leadership acknowledges the need for strong families to build a strong military force, but struggles when families don’t trust them.  I’ve heard spouses say that “needing” their service member too much is seen as weakness.  The biggest one is that if I don’t “need him” then I will survive if something ever happened to him. In reality, the Military and families need each other just as much as a couple does, and there is nothing wrong with that need.

A thriving relationship must involve some level of need, just as fire needs oxygen to create warmth. Each of us needs something on the outside to be fulfilled- water, food, shelter, sex, human connection, etc. Neediness, on the other hand, is when we begin to feel entitled to having our needs met and in turn begin to need more to remain “happy”.  Abandoning their expressed need was not the answer for the couple in my office, it was seeing the need of the other first.  It was just as important for him to “roll his words in sugar” as it was for her to express her gratitude.  It is just as important for Military leadership to find new ways to support families as it is for us to remain trusting and positive of their efforts. We can do all of this while still asking for change.

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My husband and I often say in conflict, “I am for us, not against us.”  How would the tone of your marriage change if you began to meet the needs of your spouse first?  How could our relationship with leaders change if we say, “We are for us, not against us?”

Sometimes it feels like fear and anxiety go hand in hand with the life of a military spouse.  No matter what branch your family serves in, it seems that worry sails the ship when we are faced with so many unknowns. “How will my kids handle the transition?” “Where will we live next?” “When will he get called away?” “Will I be able to handle it?” “How can my marriages stay strong through this?”

Fear and I have a love-hate relationship.  On one hand, it has a fascinating way of motivating me when there is a real cause for concern.  Like the time I knew my son was about to fall down the stairs and I was there just in time (I love having a mom’s sixth sense!). Other times it serves as a real and present driving force of conviction that must be there to promote change in our life.  As much as I hate being wrong, when my husband points out something that must change in me, fear of real and possible consequences motivates me to do something new. My deep appreciation for him and desire to have a stronger marriage steers me towards the humility I need to begin the hard work.

Other times, fear can get out of control.  Left to feed on our insecurities and old wounds, fear can grow dangerously like a cancer- spreading throughout our relationships and robbing us of joy and intimacy.  Without exercising self-control of our thoughts and feelings, fear can cripple our ability to stay connected and intimate with our spouse.  When he communicates hurt, it is my fear of being wrong or misunderstood that temps me to selfishly choose protecting myself over addressing the hurt he needs me to heal.  I fool myself into thinking that control over my surroundings (and my marriage) will somehow manage my fear of so many unknowns (I can’t control the military, but I can control everything else). In reality, it can become a destructive force that only causes more problems for me to address.

Courage appears to be the antidote for fear.  When there is something to protect- it is my courage that says what I desire to protect is more important than my fear.  But to have the courage to choose my spouse over my own selfishness is the ministry of marriage.  By choosing selflessness when I have the opportunity to choose me, I in essence choose us.

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What about you?  How do you handle fear and anxiety in your life?  How have you seen selflessness and self-control of your thoughts and feelings make a difference in your connection with your spouse?  What can you do today to find freedom from misdirected fear in your life?

It was two days before our first deployment and the anticipation was nauseating.  It was our last chance for a date before he headed off to Afghanistan.  There were so many unknowns, so many emotions and not enough words to convey them all.  We had no idea what that deployment was going to do to us, but we made a promise that has shifted our marriage ever since-  “Thrive, don’t survive.”  In that little booth, we verbalized individual and couple goals we would work on while we were apart.  “By the end of this year, we will be better than we started,” we promised.  We could not have known the stress we were going to face in the years to come, but that promise continues to shape how we do life together.

Military life can often put you in survival mode before you know it.  As I sit in a hotel room waiting for housing, it has taken everything in me to not just survive the last two weeks and it will be months before we are fully settled.  Constant change, or the anticipation of it, has a way of making a person feel crazy.  All the personalities in your family can leave you wondering if the moments of joy will ever catch up to the stress.  Add deployment, reintegration, relocation, drills, and other stressors to the mix and it is a recipe for marital destruction.

Choosing to be proactive instead of reactive is one of the most powerful tools you have in your pocket.  It can change your marriage, parenting, determine your path to reach goals, and prevent apologies later.  It is simply taking a breath, a pause, to remember that while there are many things over which you do not have control, you do have control of yourself.  7 Habits of Highly Effective People has one of my favorites metaphors to explain what it means to be proactive. In one hand, shake a water bottle and in the other shake an unopened Coke bottle. During stress, if we react without pausing, we will explode (or implode) like opening the shaken Coke bottle. Imploding is equally destructive.  It is a quiet internal explosion in the form of depression and/or anxiety.  Personally, I would rather “be” the water bottle.  Choose to be someone who not only remains calm during an escalating argument with your spouse, but models mature, adult self-control.  When you feel your patience wearing thin with your child be proactive…take a breath, stop, and think about who has ability to handle the moment.

Thriving in the chaos of constant change demands that we not wait until we are in the midst of stress to become proactive.  We must proactively set goals and put self-care options in place before the day starts.  For me, getting up early and having a moment of quiet makes a huge difference.  This can also involve seasonal goals where you read and discuss a book with your spouse, start a fitness goal, or begin counseling before life feels unmanageable.  This simple concept, can result in a better you when the chaos subsides.

Thrive, don’t just survive- it’s your choice.

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