Monday, February 22, 2016

When those you love have a Mental Illness

My dad battled Mental Illness almost his entire adult life...our mom tried to protect us from it as long as she could, but when I was about 8 years old, I could tell something was off with him.

Initially, he didn't want to get help, he didn't think anything was wrong (perhaps you are at this stage with your loved one?)...he thought we were against him, his co-workers were against him, the whole world...against him. He finally agreed to be admitted to the local mental hospital, and that began for us almost 30 years of hoping that one day, Dad would be normal again.

Some of you who will read this, know how the story ends. About 4.5 years ago, on the night of a July 4th, my dad was murdered. The young man who beat my dad to death is spending 20 years in our state's maximum security penitentiary.  I'm writing this blog because over the years I have had several conversations with people who are trying to navigate living with and walking with their loved ones who are battling a Mental Illness...

While I don't get any more middle of the night phone calls from my dad telling me that the lucky number for the day is 9, or asking for money, or degrading me, or telling me that I'm not really his son, or having him walk in our back yard at the break of dawn yelling and pounding on our door while our kids are sleeping...in some ways, I sure wish I did, because I miss him. I miss him a lot. But one of the things that lives on from his life is that I have had the great privilege in talking with a number a people over the years who also have loved one's who battle mental illness. When people call me, they aren't really sure what to ask, some are looking for hope, and others are simply trying to make sense of the crazy they are experiencing while navigating what it means to walk with those whom they love so deeply but who seemingly don't want their love.

It's hard to describe to others who have never experienced it, what exactly it's like to watch your loved one's battle their mental health condition, and to then love them well through it...there is a huge spectrum of mental illness. My dad was diagnosed with Bipolar Schizoaffective Disorder, which at best meant he had extreme highs and devastatingly low-lows and at worst meant he couldn't sleep, wandered the streets at night, had paranoid delusions, and grandiose thoughts. Often he thought people were following him, thought his phone was tapped, that Comcast was watching him through his television, that he played for the Mariners, or that he was a top secret detective working sensitive cases...then there were the times he walked into the local police department asking for his business cards, or the time he walked into a local high school classroom declaring he was the "Sub" for the day, only to be confronted by the teacher that indeed, no sub was needed.

There's also a ton of pain that comes with Mental Illness as well. How do you describe to people what its like when your an 8 year old boy and your dad asks you to leave the room because he's afraid he'll hurt you, or in the many years to follow when you go on multiple visits to the State Mental Hospital and you have to walk through a series of securely locked doors only to see him restrained in a straight jacket, or tied to a bed so he doesn't hurt himself or others or when you get there he is SO sedated that you can't even make sense of the words he's trying to say, so you wipe the drool from his lips, and when you look in his eyes you don't see anyone looking back..."Hey dad, it's me...can you hear me?" 

Mental Illness is difficult for everyone. Sadly, many people who have a mental illness ultimately alienate their loved ones because of it. Families often give up trying to help, not because they don't love them, it's because they love them so much, and they've tried SO HARD to find solutions, they are just simply exhausted, hurt, angry, and they don't know what else to do. 

I don't know that this blog will be helpful for everyone (or anyone really) dealing with someone in their life who is battling mental illness. But here are a few things I am so glad I was able to do and understand in the 30 years I experienced and lived it with my dad.

1. You'll never regret loving them as best you can, for as long as you can. One of the things that I am grateful for now, is that I didn't stop interacting with my dad over the years. It sure wasn't easy, and sometimes I had to create boundaries (like the time I had to get a restraining order against him), but over the years, my dad knew that I was there for him. He didn't know that I sometimes paid his Section 8 housing rent so he wouldn't be evicted or that his apartment manager would call me to tell me that he was walking around naked in the courtyard asking if I could come help, but he knew that I wasn't going anywhere. Some folks told me to just let him go, that I couldn't do anything to help him...and in some ways they were probably right. I knew I couldn't fix him and while I wish I could just clap my hands and see him "snap out of it', I knew that wasn't going to happen...and looking back now, I am SO GLAD I didn't let him go, or give up on him. I don't know what that will look like for you as every mental illness is different (it might even lead to some significant boundaries for your own safety), everyone's response will be different, but I can't encourage you enough...love them as best you can, for as long as you can.

2. Medicine works, but sometimes it doesn't. My dad had a great run in the 90's. He got re-married, they bought a home, he had a stable job with the state and then it all came crashing down again...when I was visiting him in the mental hospital I asked the doctor what happened. I knew that my dad had been regularly visiting doctors that he allegedly had been taking his medications, and the doctor confirmed all of this, assured me that all of his drug levels were perfect and then he dropped the bomb that re-oriented how I understood mental illness. He told me that my dad was doing everything right, but that eventually the body overcomes the medications and is only a matter of time before they have more episodes...this was a game changer for me. It allowed me to turn from anger to grace. I was told for so long that as long as my dad took his medications, that everything would be normal...and that was mostly true, but sometimes it wasn't. For some reason that allowed me the ability to stop being angry at my dad. I don't know where you are at with your loved one right now, but my hope is that your anger can move to grace. Mental Illness is a life-long battle, and there will be seasons when your loved one is doing great, they are medicated well, they are visiting their doctors, they are doing everything "right", but it's possible their medications might stop being as effective as they once were and in those times it will be good to understand that grace will be more helpful than anger.

3. Have a few close friends you can process it with. Get it out. Talk about your anger, your pain, your frustration...if you hold it in, you might go crazy. Find ways to smile and laugh again, be around people who can speak life in to you. If there's one thing you need to hear, hear this...It's not your fault! It's an illness, and it may be something you deal with your entire life...so be sure to have a couple close friends you can process with, it may be the only thing that keeps you mentally healthy.

I am so sorry you are going through this with your loved one. Trying to have a rational conversation with someone about getting help for their mental illness can feel about as successful as a rational conversation with a toddler during a tantrum. I pray that one day, some where, there will be a cure for all mental health issues, but until then; love as best you can, for as long as you can, work towards grace if you are able, and have some close friends you can process it all with. Hang in there...you are not alone.





Monday, March 30, 2015

4 Reasons Why I've Stopped Marketing and Promoting Easter

Happy Easter Everyone!!

As many of you know, I pastor a local church in our community...I love it, and it is such a gift to be a part of people's lives from birth to death...to help a community of faith pursue life that is really life.

I absolutely love what Eugene Petersen says about the church;

"The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God." 

I love this! Biblically, there are no "successful churches"...rather a community of sinners trying to stay attentive to God and that's the primary question that shapes my pastoral identity; "How do I help these people in this place (city, county, state, the world) stay attentive to God?"

What I find through out the year though is that I have to constantly squash the possibility that American Consumerism is creeping into the life of our community.  So, before I address that as I prepare to critique the American Church...let me say this;  There are a ton of great churches out there who are doing amazing things for the kingdom of God, I'm just not sure that the ridiculous amount of money churches spend on marketing is what Jesus had in mind when he said, "Go and make disciples."

I'll have to look up the Greek text, but I'm pretty sure "Go" has more of a relational sense to it then, "Go" having anything to do with spending thousands of dollars branding your church and creating a bunch of high powered programs and events that will attract people to a show rather than to Jesus.

So here are 4 reasons I've stopped trying to market our church or promote our "big" holiday services (ex...Christmas Eve, Easter, etc...)

1. It teaches consumerism, not Christianity
As Americans, we are good at this.  I wrote more about this in an earlier blog where I addressed the issue of entitlement:

http://exploringlifeandfaith.blogspot.com/2014/02/entitlement-number-one-killer-of.html

The deal is, when we aren't happy with what we have or don't have, we work to be happy...and in many aspects, this is good, but it has crept into the church as well. I just can't wrap my head around the notion that the Creator of the Universe, who became flesh for our sake who took the punishment we deserved, who was abandoned, forsaken, beaten, humiliated, crucified, was buried and then conquered all of that through the resurrection, did it so we could send a mailer out or build a social media marketing presence. When we live the Gospel out through our marketing...we are teaching people to be consumers.  We are teaching them to come to our churches to "get something" out of it (What is best for me or my kids instead of what is best for God) not to see what they can give to it. When we live the Gospel out through marketing, one of the dangers is that we are saying, "Come to our church, we are bigger and better, and can meet all of your needs..." People are saturated with marketing...they don't need more stuff, they need Gospel centered lives. Each week at church, I meet new peeps who come to "check out" our church, you know the kind of "pick up your cross" kind of life that Jesus is calling us to (read that last line with my most gracious sarcastic tone). Our marketing attempts only feed this consumer mentality, and I want to work harder at helping people pursue deep roots in community for the sake of the Gospel and it's impact in a hurting world, not just celebrate that we had more attendance than last years Easter service.

2. We are stealing an opportunity for people to live missionally.  When we market our churches, we are basically saying, "Don't worry about it...we sent a mailer, we have a huge social media presence, our website is off-the-hook (Yes, I grew up in the 80's and 90's...I know "Off-the-hook" was retired at least a decade ago, but you get the point) so don't worry about it, don't invite your friends, we already have...we've spent thousands of dollars to reach them."

This is crazy thinking...we should be constantly challenging the church to build relationships, not steal their opportunities to do so with our budgets. I get it...I hear you saying through your computer screen, "... I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." I don't think Paul meant, "brand and promote" when he was writing to Corinth...he was talking about real, authentic COMMUNITY that live the Gospel out through their WITNESS, not their advertising. The American marketing tail is waving the biblical dog on this one.

3. We are exhausting our people and staff.
Each year when large church staff get together, they begin to dream and think, "How can we make this bigger and better than last year?" The intention is good..."We want to reach more people", but this kind of thinking is exhausting your people and staff.  Your new Worship Pastor now has to think about how to impress the people with how great the Holy Week services were, how big the choir was, how incredible the song selection was, what people will think compared to last year...and your choir is thinking, "Between rehearsal and actual services (or "shows")...I won't see my family this week." Well done church...we've just replaced discipleship with performance, it's no wonder people are leaving the church in droves. The pastoral staff is thinking, "Okay, last year we lowered Jeff down as Jesus using fog machines and carabiners...this year, should we think about having him zip line in on a donkey with lasers and palm branches?" For the life of me, when I think about what the Gospel calls us too...I just don't think this is it.

4. It's actually bait and switch at best...
...and hinders the biblical view of community at worst. We aren't showing guests what we are really like or how to live the Gospel out in our every day lives. We work so hard to promote, and promise what an incredible experience you'll have on Easter Sunday and then the following week we all get to go back to normal. I wonder if we did a poll, what the percentage of pastors is that take the Sunday after Easter or Christmas Eve off? Why? Because they are too tired from the hoopla from the week before, but even more so, too tired from the weeks of build up before that. What if we just trusted that the Holy Spirit was actually at work in our everyday lives and as God gather's His people each week, trust that the work God has begun will be a work that God will continue even without (or perhaps in spite of) our mass marketing appeal.


So, I'm done...I'm done promoting and advertising and working so hard to convince you that if you come to our church, we will wow you...cause you know what, WE WON'T! I can't change your life, I can't meet all of your needs, sometimes my sermons will suck, and sometimes your kids will be bored in worship or Sunday School as they long to get back to their tablets. I can't change your life through programs, or stage sets, or marketing madness...but I know the One who can, and I pray you will know Him too. The Gospel is not boring, it's AMAZING...and if you really know the Gospel, your life will never be the same and no amount of marketing will convince you of this. So here is my marketing attempt to you...

Come and see friends, come and see...






Tuesday, December 9, 2014

2 Words That Might Be Crushing Your Marriage

In truth...the two words I'll offer as the "crushers" of your marriage are most likely not the thing hurting it.  The root of why we use these words is really the thing to address...the disconnect we have with our spouse is the real fire we need to extinguish. These words are just the gasoline we pour on an already smoldering mess.

In a previous Blog on marriage I wrote that when couples come to me for marriage counseling and are near divorce, it's RARELY because of one instance or event...typically, folks I talk to want to divorce because of 1000's of emotional paper cuts, year, after year, after year...and these two words are part of the reason you feel so helpless.  Are you ready for them? Drum roll, please....

"Always" and "Never"...these are two words that you need to stop saying to your spouse.  Yes, it's true sometimes one partner in the relationship does more around the house, or the yard, or with the kids, or does most of the shopping, or wants to have sex less than the other, or add any number of things that frustrate you about your spouse but to say to them in the heat of your frustration (not that Kari and I have ever said these to each other) :) that;

"You never help with the kids..."
"You always leave your dishes in the sink..."
"You never want to make love anymore..."
"I always do everything ("everything" is the cousin to never and always) around the house..."
"You never support me in what I want to do..."
"It's always a mess whenever we get together with your side of the family..."

Two things about these statements:

1. If you are already disconnected with your spouse, try using one of these statements and your spouse will immediately do the very thing you say he/she never does or stop the behavior you say they always do...you know why? So they can make the statement false AND add it to the horde of arsenal to pepper you with in your next fight.

2. It's just not true...it may feel like you are carrying the weight in an area of your relationship and that you do far more in an area (cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, outside yard work...) than your spouse, but to say they "never" or "always" is simply false. (sadly, some of you are saying right now, "No, Rhyan...He/She "never" helps") You are missing the point, my friend...

The goal in your marriage is not "winning" (although Charlie Sheen may disagree, #winning)  The goal is constant growth in all the ways you publicly made vows to each other on your wedding day.  I know that thriving in your marriage is tough...especially when it feels like you are barely surviving.  But I guarantee you, if you talk to each other with these definitive statements, it won't get better...your spouse will most likely resort to just proving you wrong, and the cycle continues...

Step 1. You get mad. Step 2. You say an "always/never statement. Step 3. They work to prove you wrong. Step 4. They keep tabs of things you do so when you come back with your "always/never" again, they can shove it in your face with all the ways your wrong.  This is not marriage, this is middle school.



So here is one idea for you to consider as you are frustrated and trying to figure out how to approach things that frustrate you with your spouse.

Never (see what I did there), try to correct/challenge/address something you are frustrated about when you and your spouse are disconnected.  Do we really think we are in a good space to work on our differences when we are already disconnected? (this is the case in parenting too...but I'll save that for another blog).  Ask your spouse if you can talk later about something that is frustrating you...give them the permission to set the time/date to work it through.  If it goes south while you are "working" on it (aka...fighting), take a time-out...again, the goal is not winning, the goal is growing, thriving, flourishing, for the long haul.

Kari and I had to make a rule...we realized that the majority of the times we fought after 9pm, it would not end well.  You know what we did?  We stopped working on things that frustrated us after 9pm...which is hard, because it's often the only time that we really saw each other after getting home from work, driving kids to and fro with their activities, dinner, homework, bedtime routines, etc...but if we fight after 9pm, it most likely will end poorly because, we are tired, we most likely haven't connected much for the day, and so we often say, "When would be a good time for us to talk about this?" and we set the date.  The trick will be to consider this a good thing, not acting like a frustrated 12 year old toward your spouse until you finally talk it through.

Lastly, here are some phrases that you might try instead as you embrace and look each other in the eyes..."We are on the same team!", "I am sorry.", "I love you very much.", "I want to keep working on this.", "I don't wake up in the morning thinking of ways I can frustrate you."

Keep going my friends...it's worth it...you are one the same team!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Talking To Your White Kids About Race and Privilege In America

I've been super hesitant to write about this topic for a number of reasons.  I'm white. I live in suburban America.  In this blog, I've loved talking about marriage and raising kids...but race conversations are difficult,  I wonder often if I have any real ability to add anything helpful to the conversation...because of my aforementioned biological and demographic disposition.  But as my Facebook feed is blowing up on this topic from friends of mine on all sides...a few things just continue to grieve me;

1. I am the father of 4 little kids, who right now, love everyone and everything...they have no fear of others with regard to race, ethnicity, social status or other...and their only opinion right now on race relations is that not everyone has the same skin color. They will most likely grow up where the majority of their relationships are with other white kids...their social interactions will be predominately with other white kids and they, like me and their mom...will have little to no understanding of what white privilege in America is really like, because we are subjective white suburbans...and we don't even realize such a thing exists.  And this is part of the problem...we don't get it.  We don't face the same trials that our American brothers and sisters of color face on a daily basis.  There is a great article that highlights this disparity.  Here is the link if you are interested...

Two lines stood out to me...

"Clearly white Americans see the broader significance of Michael Brown’s death through radically different lenses than black Americans. There are myriad reasons for this divergence, from political ideologies—which, for example, place different emphases on law and order versus citizens’ rights—to fears based in racist stereotypes of young black men. But the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people."

The other brings me to tears as I think of what it would be like to parent my children in these ways...

"Jonathan Capehart’s Washington Post column after the Brown shooting contained a personal and poignant account of his mother’s lessons to him as a young black man:

How I shouldn’t run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail—or worse. And I was taught to never, ever leave home without identification."

2. It's easy to look at the "facts of case", as people are saying...and make statements around why this is just another example of "a man" who attacked a police officer, who wouldn't surrender, who was a violent criminal, who got shot by a police officer who was fighting for his life...here are some of those "facts" as noted by the Washington Post;


It's easy to talk about other cases of inequalities for whites.  It's easy to use examples of blacks killing white's.  It's easy to make these comments about this being nothing about race...it's easy...especially if you are white.  This again, is part of the problem...we (forgive me for speaking in general on behalf of white Americans), are not listening.  The Ferguson protests, riots, looting and more are the collective voice of tired souls crying..."Mercy! When will it end?"  Ferguson highlights once again the continue distrust between police and minorities...and a cry from many asking, "Will anyone do anything about it?"

So what will we do?  

  • I hope we will work on listening...I want to hear more about what it means to be a "person of color" in America and how that shapes ones daily interactions in life.  I want to know what I can do to help...because I know that I have a lot to learn.
  • I want to talk to my kids all the time about how their worldviews shape the way they care for others regardless of their race/ethnicity/other.  Maybe in the generations to come (praying it will come sooner)...we'll see the mercy that Ferguson is calling for. 

  • I also want us to work hard at not growing calloused toward one another. I have shared this before, as a status post on my FB profile but I think it's worth saying again...When my dad was murdered, I thanked God for the hard work and perseverance of the officers who investigated and solved the case...and I am still grateful today, more than they know. I am praying for police officers around the country, for tirelessly providing safety, security and peace, so I can sit at my computer and post things on Facebook, while they literally put their life on the line every day for me and my family...and I'm praying for those police officers who have become calloused because of a broken and brutal world...may they care again. Thank you, to all who serve.
This Youtube video link is worth the 3 minute perspective on how hard it must be to serve in situations I'll never understand.  "That is why I love them, that is why I grieve them."...


Lord in your mercy...hear our prayers! 




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2 Reasons Why We Don't Let Our Kids Have Their Own Room

Raising kids has become one of the greatest joys and greatest struggles of our marriage.  Many of you know, Kari and I have 4 kids, all age 11 and under.  We have so loved seeing each of them become such unique, fun, and challenging little people.

You may have noticed I used the word "become" because, when our kids were all under six years old, every time someone would say to us, “Enjoy it, it sure goes by fast!”...I would throw up a little in my mouth.  “Enjoying” chasing, changing diapers, cleaning up several times a day, making meals, wiping noses and behinds is a bit of an oxymoron, all the while feeling like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, living the same day, over and over again…the monotony was sometimes painful. While parenting toddlers can be tremendous...it can also often feel like survival on so many levels.

Hindsight is 20/20 for sure...looking back on those times, there is much I miss.

When our kids got to the age of "needing" their own room, we made an intentional decision to have our kids share one bedroom.  Over the past several years, I've had a lot of conversations about this with folks, wondering how/what/why we would do this and so I thought I'd take a few moments to share what we have found to be helpful in this decision.

First though...let me qualify it (a ton). :)  This idea is obviously not for everyone...I think you could easily write a blog about why it's important to give every child their "space" in your home, and I get that.  If this is you, bravo...I am in no way challenging your parenting choices nor trying to brag of ours.  This past year as I've written a few blog posts on marriage, I've realized how much people are longing to join the conversation (almost 10,000 visits to this blog) in how to flourish in their marriage and in their parenting...so, this is only an attempt to give some thoughts on adding to the "flourishing parent" conversation.

So, for what it's worth...here are 2 Reasons Why We Don't Let Our Kids Have Their Own Room;

1. Selfish Autonomy That Leads to Entitlement - I've spoken on this a bit before from a pastoral perspective when I wrote about entitlement being the number one killer of the American Church.  But this is the case in general for humanity...we want things our way.  We are selfish, and prideful, and while we fight to serve and care for others, at the end of the day...most people (probably not you) care more about themselves then they do the interest of others.  We look at the man on the corner with disdain, believing he'll only use our charity to fuel his addiction.  We publicly celebrate the promotion of others while privately loathing that it wasn't "me".  We struggle to honestly and earnestly serve the other with no strings attached...I know this from the hundreds of conversations I've heard and had with statements like, "She didn't even say, 'Thanks.'", or "I don't need anything in return, but it would have at least been nice to have been acknowledged..."  My point is this...my kids are learning this idea of autonomy and entitlement on their own.  They live in a world that is all about it; Look good. Smell great. Have the perfect body. Get the right job. Get great grades so you can get into the right college. Wear Axe hair spray and ladies will literally jump you...basically, be perfect and nothing should stop you from that...it's truly all about, YOU!  But it's not actually...the reality is, the job you get, the spouse you marry, the roommate you have in college...they will all demand sacrifice of you, and your autonomy and entitlement will be challenged in every stage of your life.  So, in our home, we want to create a space where you have to intentionally know how to operate in a community...sharing a bedroom forces you to compromise your selfishness, especially when you are 11 and your little brother is 4. When you are trying to read a book and he's making bombing noises destroying all things in his imaginary sight in the bunk below.  Or when she leaves her smelly socks on your "clean" jeans and you've got to figure out how to resolve your frustration, because you'll be waking up with her in the morning.  When our kids get mad, they can't just go to their room, shut the door, and listen to music...they share that room with 3 other people.  Living in community is one of THE BEST ways to fight your selfish autonomy that leads to entitlement.

2. Creating a Generous Heart - I spent the past 20 years working with families, in an organization called, Young Life.  I've had countless conversations with parents about their kids, and each of them LONGS for their child to flourish in life...all of us want our kids to grow up to be great participants in society, and to contribute in a way that makes a difference.  One of the things we want our kids to have is a generous heart.  We want them to absolutely care about "the other".  There are several ways you can foster this in your kids, but for us...sharing a room together is one intentional way we've tried to accomplish this.  Creating a generous heart is not just in giving or sharing, but it also can be seen in how we resolve conflicts and frustrations.  Our kids will have plenty of opportunities to think about themselves (see point number 1), but in the community of their bedroom...they have to figure out how to be generous with their space and "their things".  Because again...every stage of their life will require working with others, and I pray that our kids will be givers and not just takers.  Some of the first words our kids learned (after of course, "Dad-da" and "Ma-Ma"), were "Mine!", "No", "Mine!", "No!"...in fact when our kids were toddlers, it was everything we could do to get them to share with others...they could have a toy on the shelf that they never played with and as soon as one of their siblings went to play with it, it became absolutely the most important thing for them to have at that moment, and the fighting commenced.  Sharing a bedroom, has forced our kids to figure out how to share their space and time and I'm convinced it is helping create in them a generous heart.

The truth is, one day, we may change our mind on this approach of a shared bedroom...but for now at least, we are going to keep helping our kids work on their charity, care, generosity, community, and benevolence.

In whatever ways you and yours are doing this in your home...keep going!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Staying Connected With Your Spouse When You Feel Like Two Ships Passing In The Night

It's been just over 6 months since I wrote, "The night I wanted to divorce my wife, and why 4 years later, I am so glad I didn't"  If you didn't get a chance to read it, here is the link;


It received a huge response (a couple thousand peeps read it).  I didn't realize at the time, how many couples were longing for language to help them work through their difficulties.  For those of you who are married (or once were), you know just how hard marriage can be while simultaneously being the most tremendous gift you've ever received (when things are going well!) :)  When couples are able to work well together and intentionally fan the flame of their relationship in ways that grow it...there is simply nothing like it (insert here all of your favorite synonyms of, "Joy"!).  While at the same time, you are fully aware of the Jenga like nature of your relationship, where just one wrong move can send the whole thing crumbling.  The good news (sticking with our Jenga theme), it can be rebuilt (sometimes daily...sometimes hourly).  

This fall, was another change for our family and marriage...my wife (Kari) received her dream job, but it meant our schedules had to change.  She is up and out of the house early, and I am up to get our 4 little ones moving, dressed, fed, with some semblance of good hygiene (and by good hygiene, I mean minimal bed-head).  Once the kids are off to school/pre-school the fun hasn't stopped, it's just begun for the day...once school is out, Kari picks the kids up to start the second half of the crazy (homework, activities, sports, etc...).  Throw in the carpool routine and you've got a family of 6 running around from wake-up to 8pm, with about as much marital connection as a wet band-aid (wet band-aids aren't sticky or "connected" well...for those of you still kicking that visual around) :)


So, in an attempt to help you start thinking about being better connected with your spouse in the midst of the busyness of life...here are some thoughts that have helped Kari and I stay connected when we've felt like "two ships, passing in the night."

1.  Stay Intentional!  Do you remember when you started dating your spouse...you were busy then too.  You both had individual lives, working, going to school, studying, etc...you had to be intentional about getting time together, and you loved it as you were excited to spend time together.  Why has today's busyness caused you to stop being intentional about your time together?  A few years ago, Kari and I decided that we would plan at least two significant times together throughout the year...one of those times would be a few nights away just the two of us, and one would be a time away with our kids.  It's an intentional act to take a pause from the busy and to invest in the most important thing to us...our marriage and family.  What ways are you being intentional in your marriage?

2.  Never Stop Dating.  Dating is related to the first point in that, it has to be intentional...people love to be sought after.  We love to be longed for, to be needed, to feel wanted.  Dating is one way you can tell your spouse, "I need you...and I want you to know it!"  If you only took two trips a year together, my hunch is, you'll have a pretty disconnected marriage...but dating can take place any time and on a regular basis.  Sure it can be a dinner out, a movie, or drinks...but if you are on a budget, and can't afford these things, there are hundred's of things you can do at no cost; Go for a walk, play a board game, play frisbee golf together, read a book together, lay in bed naked as you talk about your day (you probably want to do this when the kids are gone), watch funny animal videos on YouTube together...do something!!!!  If you don't date on a regular basis, you are missing out on an incredible opportunity to grow your relationship.  When is the next date you have on your calendar with your spouse?

3.  Talk positively about each other, to each other, and back it up with your actions...I know this sounds like a "self-help" idea, and perhaps it is, but there are power in words (positive and negative) and telling each other what we like about the other is work that cultivates growth.  I had shared in my previous post on marriage that I had stopped thinking positively about Kari, and it was killing the way I viewed her and our relationship...my heart was growing hard.  Once I started thinking positively about her, telling her and showing it through my actions, it not only changed the way I was thinking about her and our marriage it changed the way she was responding to me.  This is one of those areas that we neglect in the midst of the crazy...and it's perhaps the easiest thing to do.  When you walk in the door from work/school/activities...just stop, hold your spouse, look them in the eye and tell her/him what you like about her/him...even just one thing.  Not only will this grow your fondness to each other...your kids will see it and you will be modeling what it looks like to grow a great relationship.  Lastly, be sure to back this up with your actions...I could tell Kari how great she is all day long, but if I don't make the bed, help with the dishes or help around the house in ways that speak her love language, then my words are deafening to her.  So here is my question for you...how are you speaking positively about your spouse and showing it through your actions?  

As you surely know by now...to be good, marriage like anything, takes intentional work...in marriage it takes the intentional work of both people to truly flourish.  Keep working at it friends...your marriage is worth every moment of intentional work you put in to it.  Now stop reading and go on a date with your spouse!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why it might be a good thing if Christians lose their freedom of speech.

Recent headlines around the country have caused many Christians to be outraged because of the perceived violation of their First Amendment rights.  Many of my dear friends have posted such frustrations on social media outlets claiming everyone else has the free right to speech, except Christians.  Here's a link to the Washington Post describing the scenario;

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/houston-subpoenas-pastors-sermons-in-gay-rights-ordinance-case/2014/10/15/9b848ff0-549d-11e4-b86d-184ac281388d_story.html

As I pondered this notion of Christians having "rights", I began to wonder, "Maybe it would be a good thing if Christians actually lost their rights to freedom of speech."?! #entitlement

So, before you de-friend me, label me, or other...can we just pause for a moment and think of what you are saying, when you argue you have rights as a Christian in light of the New Testament narrative of God's sovereign plan for creation through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Full Disclosure; I'm a pastor in America.  I love my "rights" and privileges as an American, as I sip my coffee at my favorite local hot spots, hoping passerby's are convicted of their propensity to sin watching me read out of my leather bound red-lettered bible, believing that I'm being a good "witness" for Christ #maybetheyllseemycrossnecklacetoo.  If you were to ask me where I fall on the political scale (left/middle/right) I would say, "It probably depends on the issue."  (let's grab a beer and talk more one day). :)  But if we really take a deep look in the Clouded American Gospel Mirror, the entitlement we (as Christians), daily take for granted has very little to do with the biblical notion of "dying to self", "picking up a cross", and "losing yourself for me (Jesus) and the gospel..."

So here are a couple reasons I think it might be a good thing if Christians actually lost their "freedom of speech".

1.  We might actually start living our faith out in an intentional, strategic, "Go and make disciples" kind of way.  Just think about it...if you couldn't talk about your faith for fear of imprisonment, fine, or worse, you'd think and act quite differently.  You'd probably stop believing it's a huge sacrifice to lose a couple hours of sleep on Sunday mornings, to "be blessed" for 59 minutes of Gospel goods and services...your "getting something out of it" desire, "I'm ready for meat" mentality, "they don't have a good children's ministry" mantra, would probably be challenged, if we really took seriously the idea of "what good is it if you gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit your very soul."

2. We might actually be better witnesses of the Gospel.  One of the things we've come to realize over the past several decades in American culture, is that we are living in a post-Christian world...Christendom in America is slowly (if not completely), dying (dead).  It's not the thing to do anymore to just go to church.  It's an intentional act, and sadly, many "non-Christians" know more about what we are against then what we are for...we talk a lot, and it's not always positive and it's not always gracious and it's not always truth.  Instead of living with a missionary mentality, to "Go and Make Disciples" we've often reduced this great mandatory charge to handing someone a pamphlet, wearing a sandwich board, or believing in the great myth to "preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." (See Romans 10 for more on this)

So what would it look like if we had no rights as Christians?  I think we'd see a far better picture of the church in America, then we see today. We might identify ourselves with our brothers and sisters around the world who are actually living this out, and truly "considering it pure joy" when they face such trials. (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-persecution-of-christians-in-2013)  One of Jesus great promises as he was nearing death was that, "In this world, we would have trouble...", and I don't think he meant the "trouble" you experience when the barista is super slow at 9:52 on a Sunday morning, which causes you to be late for the 10am service. #sacrificeforthegospel #goodjob

Friends, the Gospel story is about God...the greatest love story ever told.  It's a story that reveals we actually have no rights (see Ephesians 2 on this)...yet in an incredible shift of grace, one day, as full heirs of the Kingdom...we have been given the right to say we belong to God.  This however, it's not a "right" of yours, it's a privilege for sure, not granted by any American court, nor to be taken by one.

So please, by all means, let's give thanks for all the rights as Americans we are entitled too, and not confuse those with rights we think we have as Christians...the two are quite different.  If those rights get taken away, maybe...just maybe, we can rejoice in the opportunity we are given to live in real tangible, sacrificial kind of way.  That we might truly hear Jesus when he says,  "...come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.…"