Silk Embroidery and Secret Codes

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As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, one of my favorite pastimes back when we lived in Dallas was frequenting home shows. This may have been, as one friend suggested, my way of escaping the fact that at the time my husband and I were ourselves living in a miniscule apartment, together with a growing brood of small children. My friend couldn’t imagine how supremely happy we were in those modest surroundings, despite the fact we could sit at our dinner table and retrieve milk from the refrigerator, answer the back door, or switch on the bathroom light—almost without leaving our seats.

But the truth is that I enjoyed walking through other people’s houses because doing so gave me such grand ideas for decorating my own. We were blessed with an accommodating landlady who let us paint walls, hang curtains, add shelves, and plant flowers to our heart’s content, so our little hole-in-the-wall became more pleasant, warm, and inviting with every home tour we attended.

In reality, our humble abode bore little resemblance to the lavish residences we toured. The sum total of our living space would have fit into one of their walk-in closets with room to spare. But our home was characterized by a spirit of love and joy that I suspect was lacking in at least one of the sprawling mansions we visited.

What makes me think so? A sign in the master bedroom told me as much.

Lifestyles of the Rich

This bedroom wasn’t just a bedroom; it was an entire wing of the house. Such opulence you wouldn’t believe. An exquisite Persian rug covered the floor and felt lush beneath our stocking feet (visitors had been asked to remove their shoes at the door). The walls were adorned with priceless works of art—all original oil paintings or signed and numbered prints. Two overstuffed armchairs flanked the marble fireplace, a gleaming silver tea service perched atop an antique tray table between them. A beveled mirror in an ornate frame hung above the mantle to camouflage the high definition television built into the wall behind it.

Beyond the fireplace, a chaise lounge stood in front of floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows through which we could see a pristine blue granite pool shaded by potted palm trees and bordered by well-tended beds of trailing lantana, bright impatiens, and fragrant gardenias. Atrium doors in the master bedroom opened onto a wide veranda that overlooked the pool, granting the couple easy access for late-night dips in the attached Jacuzzi.

Of course, the focal point of any bedroom is the bed, and theirs was no exception. Centered on the wall opposite the fireplace was an enormous reproduction of something straight out of Princess and the Pea. It was so high that a stepstool was needed—and provided—just to climb into it. Four massive mahogany posts supported an ornately carved canopy that brushed the ceiling. Heavy curtains of silk brocade hung at each corner. The thick mattress was buried beneath a sumptuous duvet, its topmost edge folded back to reveal smooth satin sheets beneath, and the towering headboard was fronted by ranks of ruffled, tucked, and tufted pillows and bolsters in an array of complementary patterns, textures, and designs.

It was here that I spotted, upon closer inspection, the telltale sign that something in this home was amiss. There, standing prominently at the head of that army of cushions, was a small needlework pillow bearing the sentiment,


Keep in mind that everything (else) about this room whispered romance: A pile of logs crackled in the fireplace. Sweet violin music wafted through the speaker system. Scented candles flickered on the nightstand. And that luxuriant bed beckoned, “Come. Drink your fill of love until morning.”
It was enough to quicken the pulse of any husband still in possession of half his senses—but all for naught.

Should the pitiable man dare think of approaching his wife with tender words or ardent hopes, The Pillow stood sentry, ready to quench his passion with icy water. What a cruel trick! What a slap in the face! Did the heartless wife hide the cursed thing on that rare occasion she was in the mood? Did her husband’s heart lift when he noticed it missing?

The Corner of a Roof

The book of Proverbs speaks of such a home as this. It tells us unequivocally, “Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it. Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Prov. 15:16-17). And again, two chapters later, it declares, “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1).

Whence does all this strife and tension and turmoil come? I’m convinced that in many instances, the root source is a wife’s negativity. Proverbs 21:9 tells us: “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” When most of us hear that verse, we picture an embittered, demanding nag who is impossible to please. That sort of faultfinding person might be described as being actively contentious, but for the purposes of the present discussion, I want to focus on the flip side of this problem: that of being passively contentious.

You see, a wife does not have to continuously harp on her husband in an irritating voice to be a thorn in his side. In fact, she can be absolutely insufferable without ever opening her mouth at all. How? By practicing the art of manipulation. She can sulk and pout or cry and carry on until she gets her own way or—what’s worse—she can simply withhold sex until her husband gives in to her demands out of sheer desperation. This is contention in its most insidious form, for her husband has no recourse. He must either capitulate or be driven mad.

If you habitually put off your husband’s sexual advances, if you routinely insist that he wait until some remote time when you are “in the mood” before you give him what he so desperately desires, then you are by definition being contentious. A good synonym for the verb “to contend” is “to resist,” which is precisely what you are doing when you refuse to have sex with your husband.

According to the Bible, a man would be better off inhabiting a corner of the roof — exposed to what? Scorching heat? Gale-force winds? Torrential rain? Anything would be more tolerable than sharing a house with a contentious, resistant, vexing wife. For the sake of your husband, for the sake of your children, for the sake of your home—please do not allow a lagging libido to limit the frequency with which you make love to your husband. Otherwise, you may exchange what could have been heaven-on-earth for something far inferior.

Sending a Different Message

I sometimes think back on the little “headache pillow” which first caught my eye during that luxury home tour so long ago. I’m sorry to report, that wasn’t the only time I’ve noticed such a hateful thing being used to accessorize an otherwise beautiful bed. In fact, I’ve seen so many “Not Tonight” pillows over the years that I’ve completely lost count. (There’s obviously a bigger market for needlepoint excuses than I realized.)

Every time I spotted a new one, I felt an intense urge to showcase a drastically different “message” on my own bed. I admired the exquisite needlework, but wanted my pillow to say something along the lines of “Tonight and Every Night” or “I’m Ready When You Are” or maybe even “Bring It On.”

Two things prevented my acting on this impulse. First was the knowledge that our parents, children, friends, and houseguests might consider it in poor taste for us to adorn our bed with such a straightforward reminder of why we share it. Second was the fact that, regardless how earnestly I searched, I could never find a store that even sold pillows with such sentiments stitched upon them. Go figure!

Still, it was an idea that refused to die. Although I could sidestep the second issue by sewing the pillow myself, the first concern still presented a problem. How could I phrase what I wanted to say in a way that others wouldn’t find offensive or embarrassing?

The solution came to me unexpectedly about twelve years ago when my husband and I were at a Sunday school class dinner. One of the other couples in attendance knew about the commitment Doug and I had made early in our marriage to always pray together before having sex, so when we tried to slip away from the party early, they couldn’t resist teasing us a bit.

“Are you guys going home to pray?” they called to us across the parking lot.

My husband answered back with a grin, “Well, we’ve already prayed together once today, but we might decide to pray again.”

“You know what they say,” the couple laughed. “You can never pray too much!”

And there I had it… the sentiment I would stitch on my pillow.

If you were to visit our home today, you would find a spacious master suite, complete with plush Persian rug and four-poster bed. The dust ruffle, duvet, and a mound of pillows were custom-made by me in complementary colors, textures, and patterns. And there in the center of it all, you would find a beautiful little velvet cushion, hand-embroidered with silk ribbon roses and tiny glass beads.

To the rest of the world it simply says, “You can never pray too much.” But to my husband, who can decipher my secret code, it sends another message entirely. To him, it clearly reads, “You can never have too much sex… and I’m ready when you are.”

The choice is yours. What message will you send to your husband?

The above article was adapted from my book, LOVE YOUR HUSBAND/LOVE YOURSELF: EMBRACING GOD’S PURPOSE FOR PASSION IN MARRIAGE, pp. 61-74.

How Do I Love Thee? A Devotional Journal for Wives

0 thoughts on “Silk Embroidery and Secret Codes

  1. Sarah

    While I agree that those pillows are bad for a marriage, I’m confused by the conclusion you draw from it.

    First, many translations of of Proverbs 21:9 use the words “quarrelsome” or “nagging”, NOT “contentious.” I’m not sure that the logic you apply to the word contentious would be the same as what you, or any other reasonable person, would apply to the other words that appear in that verse. It stands to reason, then, that you are missing the spirit of the statement. Besides, since David had hundreds of wives, I think his circumstances were a little different.

    Second, regarding this point: If you habitually put off your husband’s sexual advances, if you routinely insist that he wait until some remote time when you are “in the mood” before you give him what he so desperately desires, then you are by definition being contentious. A good synonym for the verb “to contend” is “to resist,” which is precisely what you are doing when you refuse to have sex with your husband.

    I’m at odds with the suggestion that wives are contentious when uninterested in sex, but (based on your June 27th post on How to Handle a Disinterested Husband) when husbands are, they deserve our patience. Perhaps I’ve missed a post where you suggest that men should practice patience with their wives’ own disinterest, but if not, I find this a little unfair, especially since 1 Corinthians tells us, “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” “In the same way”–these words speak volumes to me. Physical and sexual intimacy are a very important part of a marriage, but I think the rejection must sting just as much for either partner experiencing it.

    So what message will I send to my husband? I certainly don’t want him to believe that I am obligated to fulfill every sexual desire he has–nor do I think that of him. I think part of the beauty of marriage is that we can respect those boundaries and explore other forms of intimacy. Besides, Mary remained a Virgin, and I suspect that Joseph did not call her contentious for it.

    1. Jennifer Flanders Post author

      I appreciate the questions you’ve raised, Sarah, and will try to respond to all of them.

      First, translating the word “quarrelsome” still works, as sex makes every “top ten” list of “things couples argue about” that I’ve ever seen.

      Second, I agree that rejection stings just as much for either partner experiencing it. The reason I tell disinterested wives not to snub their husband’s advances in this post, yet tell snubbed wives to be prayerful and patient with disinterested husbands in my other post, is because I’m writing for women, not for men. If I were writing to husbands, I would tell them the same thing: be patient when your wife is not in the mood, but be willing when she is and you aren’t (which is essentially what my husband advised in 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife — see #11 and 17). Each person is responsible for their own actions/responses/attitudes. We have little or no control over the actions/responses/attitudes of anybody else, including our spouse.

      And last, Matthew 1:25 tells us that Joseph kept Mary a Virgin until Jesus was born. I know that the Catholic church teaches that she continued in her virginity afterwards, as well, although scripture neither states nor implies that this is the case. But even if it were — even if Mary never once had relations with her husband, the father of Jesus’s brothers — as you said of David, I think her circumstances were a little different than ours. For those of us who are not the Mother of God, we are told very clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 that wives are not to deprive their husbands of sex (nor husbands their wives) and that to do so is to render your spouse vulnerable to temptation.

      Hence, my attitude, as showcased on my pillow.

  2. Roberta

    That is a lovely story. I feel your disappointment in those stupid little phrases like that. I especailly don’t like the ones that impy your husband is stupid or has to fix his own supper. Your story was a neat way to start the day.

  3. elaine moehring

    not what i expected! i was truly laughing when i got to the end, what a wonderful story! good job on the pillow. ( i quilt, so i thought “embroidery” right up my alley) this is a very good message, love it!

  4. Chantel

    Jennifer- Thank you for sharing this story. The pillow is lovely. And such a sweet and personal gift for your husband. I love your attitude on life and love for your husband.

    I burst into tears when I read that you and your husband made an agreement to pray together before you have sex. That is such an amazing expression of your love for each other, as well as a perfect acknowledgement that what you are about to do is a gift from God. It’s just beautiful.

    I changed my gravatar to a picture of the embroidery that I did for my boyfriend. I didn’t know how else to share it with you! lol. It looks a little sloppy because it is done in my handwriting, which unfortunately, is a little sloppy. But, it felt more personal to have it in my own handwriting. 😉

    1. Jennifer Flanders Post author

      That was a very smart way to show me, Chantel. And you are right, it is more personal in your own handwriting. It’s also more challenging to stitch, I think. I have a tablecloth I used to have guests sign when they shared a meal with our family, and I’d later embroider over all the names. That was tough! You did a lovely job, as I can clearly read every word. I love it and am sure your boyfriend treasures it as well.

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  6. Brytni Jade

    Great Post! Always a good reminder for wives to give their husbands (and vise versa) due benevolence! Thank you for the practical teaching of things you can do to be a better wife! I am not a wife currently, but when I am I want to be the wife in the Song of Solomon! Thank you for sharing the ways that you please your husband, encouraging wives and future wives to be creative and thoughtful too!


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