Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘Encouragement’ Category

FEAR & PANIC: DO’S AND DON’TS for Family and Friends

SOURCE:  June Hunt

To support a loved one who is struggling with fear, learn what to do and what not to do. You can very well be that person’s answer to prayer.

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

• Don’t become impatient when you don’t understand their fear.
Do understand that what fearful people feel is real.
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” (Proverbs 14:29)

• Don’t think they are doing this for attention.
Do realize they are embarrassed and want to change.
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15)

• Don’t be critical or use demeaning statements.
Do be gentle and supportive, and build up their self-confidence.
“Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

• Don’t assume you know what is best.
Do ask how you can help.
“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

• Don’t make them face a threatening situation without planning.
Do give them instruction in positive self-talk and relaxation exercises.
“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13)

• Don’t make them face the situation alone.
Do be there and assure them of your support.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10)

• Don’t begin with difficult situations.
Do help them to begin facing their fear in small increments.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2–3)

• Don’t constantly ask, “How are you feeling?”
Do help them see the value of having other interests.
“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

• Don’t show disappointment and displeasure if they fail.
Do encourage them and compliment their efforts to conquer their fear.
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” (Proverbs 3:27)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be absurd; there’s nothing for you to fear!”
Do say, “No matter how you feel, tell yourself the truth, ‘I will take one step at a time.’”
“The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:21)

• Don’t say, “Don’t be a coward; you have to do this!”
Do say, “I know this is difficult for you, but it’s not dangerous. You have the courage to do this.”
“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.” (Proverbs 16:23)

• Don’t say, “Quit living in the past; this is not that bad.”
Do say, “Remember to stay in the present and remind yourself, ‘That was then, and this is now.’”
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)

—————————————————————————-
Hunt, J. (2013). Fear (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

Pressing Through the Pain

SOURCE:  Lysa TerKeurst   Faithgateway

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. — James 4:8 NKJV

Does it ever feel like the heartbreak in your life is trying to break you?

I understand. I really, really do. I’ve been in that place where the pain of heartbreak hits with such sudden and sharp force that it feels like it cuts through skin and bone. It’s the kind of pain that leaves us wondering if we’ll ever be able to function like a normal person again.

But God has been tenderly reminding me that pain itself is not the enemy.

Pain is the indicator that brokenness exists.

Pain is the reminder that the real Enemy is trying to take us out and bring us down by keeping us stuck in broken places. Pain is the gift that motivates us to fight with brave tenacity and fierce determination, knowing there’s healing on the other side.

And in the in-between? In that desperate place where we aren’t quite on the other side of it all yet, and our heart still feels quite raw? Pain is the invitation for God to move in and replace our faltering strength with His. I’m not writing that to throw out spiritual platitudes that sound good; I write it from the depth of a heart that knows it’s the only way. We must invite God into our pain to help us survive the desperate in-between.

The only other choice is to run from the pain by using some method of numbing. But numbing the pain never goes to the source of the real issue to make us healthier. It only silences our screaming need for help.

We think we are freeing ourselves from the pain when, in reality, what numbs us imprisons us.

If we avoid the hurt, the hurt creates a void in us.

It slowly kills the potential for our hearts to fully feel, fully connect, fully love again. It even steals the best in our relationship with God.

Pain is the sensation that indicates a transformation is needed. There is a weakness where new strength needs to enter in. And we must choose to pursue long-term strength rather than temporary relief.

So how do we get this new strength? How do we stop ourselves from chasing what will numb us when the deepest parts of us scream for some relief? How do we stop the piercing pain of this minute, this hour?

We invite God’s closeness.

For me, this means praying. No matter how vast our pit, prayer is big enough to fill us with the realization of His presence like nothing else. Our key verse (James 4:8) reminds us that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. When we invite Him close, He always accepts our invitation.

And on the days when my heart feels hurt and my words feel quite flat, I let Scripture guide my prayers — recording His Word in my journal, and then adding my own personal thoughts.

One of my favorites to turn to is Psalm 91. I would love to share this verse with you today, as an example for when you prayerfully invite God into your own pain.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. — Psalm 91:1

Prayer:

Lord, draw me close. Your Word promises when I draw close to You, You are there.

I want my drawing close to be a permanent dwelling place. At any moment when I feel weak and empty and alone, I pray that I won’t let those feelings drag me down into a pit of insecurity. But rather, I want those feelings to be triggers for me to immediately lift those burdensome feelings to You and trade them for the assurance of Your security.

I am not alone, because You are with me. I am not weak, because Your strength is infused in me. I am not empty, because I’m drinking daily from Your fullness. You are my dwelling place. And in You I have shelter from every stormy circumstance and harsh reality. I’m not pretending the hard things don’t exist, but I am rejoicing in the fact that Your covering protects me and prevents those hard things from affecting me like they used to.

You, the Most High, have the final say over me. You know me and love me intimately. And today I declare that I will trust You in the midst of my pain. You are my everyday dwelling place, my saving grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And with that I close my prayer journal, feeling a lot less desperate and a lot more whole. I breathe the atmosphere of life His words bring. I picture Him standing at the door of my future, knocking. If I will let Him enter into the darkness of my hurt today, He will open wide the door to a much brighter tomorrow.

Dear Lord, in this moment I draw near to You and I invite Your closeness. Help me to experience Your presence today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
———————————————————————————————————————————
Excerpted from Embraced by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.

What to do When You’re Waiting for God to Deliver You

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Over the years, I’ve observed countless people who become derailed by the circumstances of life. Speaking as one who has failed many times, the key to long-term success is often in how you respond during the darkest days of your life.

I’ve always enjoyed the advice God gave His people when they were in captivity by a rival nation. Immediately before He told them they would be in captivity for 70 years, He told them to:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters.  Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:5-7

He told them to keep living! In time (70 years in this case), He would deliver them, but in the meantime, they were to live life as they already knew to live.

By the way, that’s the passage from which we get a favored verse…one we love to cling to and offers us hope:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

If you are in a season of captivity…if you can’t seem to find your way these days…if you are waiting for God to deliver you…don’t stop doing the good things you know to do. Don’t stop moving forward with what you have today. Don’t neglect the relationships you have now during your mourning of the relationship that you’ve lost.  Seek ways to bless others as you wait for your blessing.

Don’t give up! Push forward, clinging to your faith, while you wait for God’s deliverance.

What you do and how you respond during the difficult days often determine the degree of success and enjoyment of the good days. Learning to navigate through droughts, disappointments and failure is a key to enjoying the best of life and living as a person of faith.

MY EASTER TESTIMONY

SOURCE:  DR. BILL BELLICAN

In my home growing up (the early 1950s), there was not much talk about religion.  My father was building a career in the burgeoning hospitality/hotel industry. He had a Presbyterian background but not any church connection to speak of.  My mom had a Baptist upbringing and would periodically take me to a small Baptist church. Dad’s job kept him busy 24/7. Mom helped Dad a lot.  My young life was spent growing up in the hotels my Dad managed as was the business practice of that time.

Around age 13, Mom and I went to church one Sunday.  The pastor’s message caught my attention and grabbed my heart.  It was the message of salvation.  As God would have it, my mind and heart were quickened, and I went forward to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior later being baptized.  But, there was not much conversation at home about this important event I had experienced.

Sadly, my Dad died unexpectedly very soon thereafter of a massive heart attack, and my Mom became very emotionally needy and concerned about making a living. There were no other adults in my life at that time to model this new life in Christ for me or even to talk to about it.  Church attendance became much more sporadic as my grandmother (with dementia) came to live with us and needed much care.

As the years passed and I finished high school and went to college, my faith was still muted for the most part.  However, when I met the one who was to become my wife (Susan), things changed.  Susan grew up in Central Church-Memphis, TN and that’s where she was attending.  So, I started going to Central, too.  Upon my first visit, the Word preached penetrated my heart and mind in such a way that my faith came alive within me.  My dormant faith and life in Christ began to flourish.  In 1975, Susan and I married, and I began my career in the hospitality/hotel industry which was growing very rapidly.

Similar to my Dad, this career grew and demanded such time that it overtook the attention necessary for my faith to continue to grow. I was progressing up the “corporate ladder” quickly. My worldly life was working very well.  In essence, my spiritual life could be characterized as the “seed that fell among the thorns” (Luke 8:14).  The cares, worries, and successes of life overtook my focus on Christ.  I think my attitude became something like, “Thank you, Lord, for your blessings. I will call you if I need you.”

However, a life-change was coming.

In 1989, I was presented with the annual “Leadership Award.”  The corporation I worked for conveyed to me that I was one of their most valuable employees. By 1991, this same corporation was bought out by an international company, downsized, and relocated meaning I was out of a job.  God was beginning a loving, transformative process in my life, but I wasn’t aware of it, yet.

I expected that God would allow me to take advantage of my numerous business contacts and years of experience so I could simply step into another corporate job. However, God loved me too much to allow me to continue in my spiritual dysfunction with my eyes fixed on anything else but Him (Heb 12:2).  Nothing seemed to work out about another position.  Doors seemed to be closed for one reason or another.  Life began to get more desperate.  Benefits were running out.  My golden parachute developed holes.  Stresses in the home were mounting.  Savings were depleted.  Retirement funds were used to survive.  We were on the verge of losing everything.  I had entered into what St. John of the Cross referred to in his writings as “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  God was going to use this “dark night” to wisely and lovingly strip away everything that I had wrongly grown to put my faith in and depend upon.

As I was trying to understand what was happening, I turned to God helplessly and without any hope in anything else.  Strangely, my heart was drawn to the Word, to prayer in a most intimate way.  My relationship with Christ, my hunger for Him, my experience of His presence deepened like never before.  I didn’t have solutions to my problems, but I had the fullness of Christ with me.  Christ was disciplining me for my good, like a son, painfully, so I might desire and seek His holiness and righteousness for my life (Heb 12: 4-13).

With more clarity and counsel from others, in time I started to graduate school to finish my counseling education for licensure and worked as an independent business consultant to provide for my family. God kept enlarging my faith and trust in Him during this time. Later, I began working part-time for Central Church in the Counseling Ministry.  As I completed my graduate degree, I was allowed to direct the Counseling Ministry.  The Lord used all of these life events to get me where He wanted me to be that I might love Him and serve Him in a spiritually healthy way.

Like the author of Psalm 119, I found comfort in what God was doing in my life:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I obey your word.

You are good and what you do is good.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness, you have afflicted me.”

[Psalm 119: 67-68, 71, 75]

6 Prayers for Marital Intimacy After Sexual Trauma

SOURCE:  Jennifer Greenberg/The Gospel Coalition

“Can I ask you a personal question?” she said.

“Of course,” I replied. I already knew what she was going to say. Many before her had already asked, but I was still grappling with how to answer.

She hesitated, as if bracing herself to speak words physically painful to pronounce.

“Did your dad’s sexual abuse negatively affect your romantic relationship with your husband?” she asked. “I’ve been married for 20 years, and I still can’t shake this feeling of shame and anxiety. Every time we’re intimate, I feel sick. I’m afraid something is broken in my mind. I’m afraid my trauma is hurting my husband and destroying our marriage. What should I do? How can I heal from this?”

If you’re a pastor or counselor, you’ve likely encountered similar questions. If you’re a survivor of abuse, you may have asked them yourself. The devastating trauma of abuse is incalculable. Its pervasive pain affects the most intimate aspects of life.

And it’s not just women asking these questions. Men and women have confided that, while they desire intimacy, they can’t imagine feeling secure in a relationship. They fear their marriage is doomed to misery and divorce, or that they’d make terrible parents. Husbands and wives of survivors have asked me how they can help their traumatized spouse feel safe, loved, and attractive.

Part of the reason I struggle to answer such sensitive and complicated questions is because I’m still experiencing and working to understand my own recovery. I know from experience that these injuries are raw, painful, and personal. I don’t want to give superficial advice, or weigh survivors down under works-oriented to-do lists.

Thankfully, God has blessed us with therapists, physicians, and medications that can help us manage depression, anxiety, and other emotional injuries resultant from trauma. Ultimately, though, only God can heal the soul.

With that in mind, I’ve composed a series of prayers, in hope that you’ll be able to adapt them to fit your own situation, pray them for a loved one, or share them with a friend in need.

1. God, help me understand that you made sex.

Lord, in the beginning, you told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). You designed Adam to be attractive for Eve, and Eve to be attractive for Adam. You said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

It’s not good for me to feel alone. It’s not good for me to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or fearful of my own sexuality—you made it, and you designed it for me to enjoy. The pain of my past and the evil of others has clouded my perception of what you have made; yet I know everything you do is good.

Please help me to understand that sex is not sinful, degrading, or harmful. Free me from anxiety, humiliation, and dark memories. Let me feel the peace and love that you intend for me. Let me rest in the knowledge that you are my Creator and every part of my body—from my figure to my hormones—was designed by you.

2. Show me that sex is pure.

In Song of Solomon, the bride exclaims, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. . . . No wonder the young women love you! Take me away with you—let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers” (Song 1:1–4).

Lord, I can’t imagine feeling the way this bride does. I can’t imagine viewing sex or sexuality with such innocence or confidence. She is bold. She is unabashedly desirous and flirtatious. She finds her fiancé attractive, and she can’t blame all the other ladies for thinking so too. She is eager to express her love physically.

I was taught by experience to be embarrassed and fearful of sex. Ungodly sexuality distorts my understanding, inhibits my expression, and weighs down my soul.

Lord, take away the confusion caused by abuse, betrayal, injustice, and other people’s evil. Help me to see sex as you see it: a pure gift from a holy God. Help me to realize that—though my abuser is guilty—I am innocent. Though my abuser expressed sexuality in heinous, distorted ways, I can express mine in righteous and loving ways. Because of your work in me, I can desire my spouse without shame or reserve. I can express the longings you gave me in holiness and healthiness.

3. Show me Jesus in my spouse.

Lord, you have blessed me with a godly spouse. They aren’t perfect, but they love me. They sometimes sin, but they aren’t abusive. Lord, teach me to view them how you view them. Let me see Jesus working in them. Let me seek and treasure the fruit of the Spirit in their words and actions. Lord, empower me to me see my spouse as you see them; someone you are conforming into the image of Christ.

Lord, free me from associating our intimacy with abuse, or their motives with my abuser’s motives. Instead, allow me to associate their good character with the Good Shepherd. Grow me in faith to adore my lover with unabashed passion and grace. For you did not give us a spirit of fear and embarrassment, but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Free me to love fearlessly.

4. Bless my spouse.

God, it’s hard to trust that you’re good and faithful. It’s even harder to believe that my spouse really loves me. My abuser betrayed me. Those who should have intervened abandoned me. I expect disappointment and rejection, because that’s what I’m used to. But you, God, are unchangeable, righteous, and true. You are sovereign over my spouse’s heart. Fill me with such certainty of your devotion that I cannot doubt your work in my heart or theirs.

Help my spouse to forgive me when I’m wrong and be patient when I’m weak. Help me to forgive them when they’re wrong and be patient when they fail. Bless them with wisdom, Lord. Give them the clarity they need to help me navigate these challenges, and the wise advice to support my healing. Bolster them up behind and before. May my recovery be such a miraculous work, that their faith is strengthened because of it.

5. Show me how you see me.

Before your face, God, my value is not defined by what’s happened to me, or even by what I have done. Rather, my value is defined by what Jesus has done for me.

Teach me, Lord, to see myself as you do. Help me to know myself as your perfect, spotless, beautiful child and cherished heir of heaven. If I truly grasped in my heart of hearts how treasured, lovely, and pure you consider me, I’d never be ashamed again. Scatter the shadows that haunt me. Lift the veil that shrouds my face. Let me see myself as loved and accepted by you.

6. Take my heart and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.

Jesus, I cannot overcome my pain. There is too much fear, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion for me to untangle, let alone fix. But you are the Great Physician. You are my Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6). You carried my sin to the cross. Jesus, you can carry my trauma, too. Bury it far from me. Let it weigh me down no more.

You are the Redeemer who made the lame walk and the blind see. By your power, the sick are healed and the dead raised to life again. You can heal my broken heart.

My recovery isn’t a to-do list. My happiness isn’t a standard I have to live up to, or a goal I must struggle to achieve. When I rely on my own efforts, I rely less on yours. Fix my eyes on you, Lord. You are my joy. You are my peace. You are Love. You knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps. 139:13); knit me whole again now. Heal me for your glory, Lord. Empower me to love you better, not because I deserve your love, but because you deserve mine.

In Christ’s name I pray,

Amen.

20 Questions To Ask Your Child

Source:  Patti Ghezzi/School Family

One day your child tells you everything, from the consistency of the macaroni and cheese in the cafeteria to the hard words on the spelling test to the funny conversation she had with her best friend.

The next day…poof.

Parent: “So, what’s going on at school?”

Child: “Nothing.”

For many parents, the information they receive about what’s happening at school ebbs and flows, especially once their kids hit 10 or 11 years of age. Even younger children may be reluctant sometimes to share the details of school life.

It doesn’t mean that something’s wrong or that you’re somehow missing a key piece of the parenting puzzle. It may simply be that your child is asserting independence and craving a little privacy. “No one tells parents this,” says Peter Sheras, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in adolescent relationships, family relationships, and stress. “Parents feel they are not very good at parenting.”

Of course, that’s not the case. You might just need to tweak your approach. Don’t interrogate, Sheras says. Kids don’t want to be grilled. Be subtle; be patient. Learn to listen intently to the words your child does offer. Watch your child’s body language and demeanor. Avoid yes-or-no questions if possible, and be specific. Try escalating—starting with simple questions and gradually delving into more sensitive topics.

If all else fails, wait it out. Try again later with a different approach, such as choosing a different time of day to start a conversation or taking your child out for a burger before asking questions. In a place where she’s comfortable, she might feel more talkative.

Don’t start the conversation with “We need to have a talk,” Sheras says: “That’s when a child dives under the table.”

Here are some questions that can help you get started.

  1. “I know you were stressed out about that math test. How did it go?”
  2. “I’m really proud of how well you’re doing in school. What are you studying these days that really interests you?”
  3. “You seem to have some good teachers this year. Which one is your favorite?”
  4. “If you could make up a teacher from scratch, a perfect teacher, what would he or she be like?”
  5. “When I was your age, I really didn’t like social studies. I just didn’t see the point in studying how people in Russia lived or what kind of languages Native Americans spoke. What subject are you really not liking these days?”
  6. “What’s your favorite time of day at school?”
  7. “What do you think about your grades? How does your report card compare with what you were expecting?”
  8. “We used to have the meanest boy in my class when I was your age. I still remember what a bully he was. Do you have anyone like that in your class?”
  9. “I’ve been reading a lot in the news about kids picking on other kids. What about at your school? Is that happening?”
  10. “I’m hearing a lot about bullying on the Internet. It sounds a little scary, but I really don’t know what it’s all about. Can you tell me about it?”
  11. “I noticed a few new kids in your class. Which ones have you been able to get to know? What are they like?”
  12. “I know it was hard for you when Kenny transferred to a different school. How’s it going without your best friend around?”
  13. “Who did you sit with at lunch today?”
  14. “I’m sorry you didn’t get invited to Sarah’s birthday party. I know you’re disappointed. How have things changed between you and Sarah now that you’re not in the same class?”
  15. “I really like the way you choose such nice friends. What qualities do you look for in a friend?”
  16. “I know you really like your new friend Caroline, but whenever I see her she’s being disrespectful to adults. Why don’t you tell me what I’m missing? What do you like about her that I’m not seeing?”
  17. “I can tell it embarrasses you when I insist on meeting your friends’ parents before letting you go to their house, but it’s something I need to do as your mom. Is there a way I could do it that would make you feel more comfortable?”
  18. “How’s it going with your activities and schoolwork? What would make it easier for you to manage your schedule and responsibilities?”
  19. “I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. How about we go for a walk and catch up?”
  20. “I’m sure I do things that embarrass you. What do I do that embarrasses you the most?”

Talking with your child should be an ongoing process. Keep the dialogue open, and be available so your child can find you when she feels like chatting.

One final piece of advice from Sheras: “Keep talking even when you think your kids aren’t listening,” he says. “Your children are listening whether they act like it or not.”

CODEPENDENCY: STEPS TO A SOLUTION

SOURCE:  June Hunt

The primary problem with codependency can be called “idolatry”—giving a greater priority to anything or anyone other than God Himself. Our God is the One who created you and who has a wonderful plan for your life. He is the Lord who loves you and knows how to fulfill you.

If you are in a codependent relationship:

• Your excessive care causes you to compromise your convictions.
• Your excessive loyalty leaves you without healthy boundaries.
• Your excessive “love” allows you to say yes when you should say no.

However, our Maker and Master has the right to have primary rule in our hearts and over our lives. Any other substitute is simply idolatry. The Bible says …

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Key Passage to Read and Reread

Notice two thoughts in this passage that seem to be in opposition to one another:

“If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1–5)

Does Scripture Contradict Itself?

Verse 2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens,” and verse 5 says, “Each one should carry his own load.”
Since these two clear-cut directives seem contradictory to each other, which one is true? When you carefully analyze what is being said, there is no contradiction.

• Verse 1—Gently encourage another person to change from negative behavior, but beware of your own temptation.
• Verse 2—The Greek word for “burden” is baros, which means “weight,” implying a load or something that is pressing heavily. When you help carry what is too heavy for someone else to bear alone, your caring response fulfills the law of Christ.
• Verse 5—The Greek word for “load” is phortion, which means “something carried.” Clearly, when you carry what others should carry, you are not wise. You are not called by God to relieve others of their rightful responsibilities.

CONCLUSION: Those who are codependent try to get their needs met by carrying loads that others should be carrying. To move out of a codependent relationship, both individuals need to quit trying to be the other person’s “all-in-all” and instead encourage each other to take responsibility for their own lives and to live dependently on the strength of God.

KEY VERSE TO MEMORIZE

No other verse in the Bible is better at helping us set our priorities straight, put our relationships in the right order. We must put “first things first” or else we, in our relationships, will never have the fulfillment that God has planned for us.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

RECOVERY STEP #1: Confront Your Own Codependency

Codependency does not flow from an unchangeable personality flaw or some genetic fluke. A codependent relationship is rooted in immaturity, a fact that should give great hope to those caught in its addictive cycle. While change is never easy, growing up is always within the grasp of anyone who desires to move from immaturity to maturity.

Any of us can move from codependency to a healthy, mutual give-and-take in our relationships. The key to change is motivation. What kind of motivation? When your pain in the relationship is greater than your fear of abandonment, the motivation for change is powerful. Moving away from the pain of codependency then becomes a matter of choice and commitment. If you feel that the relationship you are in is more a curse than a blessing—when it brings more death to your soul than life—this is motivation for change.

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you … may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20)

• Confront the Fact That You Are Codependent.

▆ Admit the truth to yourself. Before you can be free from the grasp of codependency, you must be honest with yourself about your emotional addiction to another person.
▆ Admit the truth to someone else. Identify the beliefs and behaviors that have perpetuated your emotional addiction and share them with an objective, trusted friend.
▆ Admit the truth to God. Realize that your emotional addiction is a serious sin in the eyes of God. Choose now to confess it to Him.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)

• Confront the Consequences of Your Codependency.

▆ Accept responsibility for how your past experiences and reactions have hurt your adult relationships (such as your becoming manipulative, controlling, possessive, or angry).
▆ Accept responsibility for the pain you have caused yourself because of your codependency (such as your becoming jealous, envious, selfish, or obsessive).
▆ Accept responsibility for the ways in which your codependency has weakened your relationship with God (such as a loss of quantity time, quality time, and intimacy with the Lord).

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

• Confront Your Painful Emotions.

▆ Understand that you will have pain no matter what you choose. If you leave the codependent relationship, you will hurt, but if you stay, you will hurt. However, the only hope for future healing is leaving the codependent lifestyle.
▆ Understand that when the intensity of the relationship diminishes you will experience emotional “withdrawal” from the exhilarating highs.
▆ Understand that you will need the support of others to get you through the initial pain of withdrawal and to help you avoid anesthetizing your pain with a “secondary addiction.”

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9)

• Confront Your “Secondary Addictions.”

▆ Recognize that, in an effort to numb the emotional pain of the relationship, codependency often leads to other addictions, such as a chemical dependency, sexual addiction, compulsive eating, or excessive spending.
▆ Recognize your “secondary addictions”; then seek counseling and spiritual support to overcome them.
▆ Recognize that recovery from a “secondary addiction” is dependent on recovery from your primary addiction.

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15)

• Confront Your Current Codependent Relationship.

▆ Acknowledge your codependent role in the relationship and cease relating through codependent patterns.
▆ Acknowledge your destructive behaviors. (Write them down.) Then replace them with constructive behaviors. (Write them down.)
▆ Acknowledge the natural pain of emotional withdrawal (common to the healing of addictions) and focus on God’s supernatural purpose (conforming you to the character of Christ).

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Romans 8:29)

• Confront Your Codependent Focus.

▆ Stop focusing on what the other person is doing and start focusing on what you need to do in order to become emotionally healthy.
▆ Stop focusing on the other person’s problems and start focusing on solving your own problems (those resulting from your neglect of people and projects in your life).
▆ Stop focusing on trying to change the other person and start focusing on changing yourself.

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.” (Proverbs 14:8)

• Confront Your Codependent Conflicts.

▆ Do not allow yourself to become trapped in heated arguments or to become emotionally hooked by the bad behavior of the other person. Instead, say to yourself several times, I will not argue—and then disengage from the conflict. Decide ahead of time that, when agitation begins, you will distance yourself.
▆ Do not defend yourself when you are unjustly blamed. Instead, say only once, “I’m sorry you feel that way. That doesn’t reflect my heart.”
▆ Do not be afraid to leave if the conflict continues. State, “I will be gone for a while.” Then calmly walk away.

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

• Confront Your Codependent Responses.

▆ Remind yourself that “problem people” have the right to choose wrong. Don’t react to their problem behavior—they are independent of you.
▆ Remind yourself not to return insult for insult—refuse to raise your voice.
▆ Remind yourself that your Christlike role is to respond with respect—even when others are disrespectful.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. … But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:9, 15–16)

• Confront What You Need to Leave in Order to Receive.

▆ Leave your childhood and your dependent thinking. (I can’t live without you.) Then enter into healthy adulthood. (I want you in my life, but if something were to happen, I could still live without you.) That is reality.
▆ Leave your immature need to be dependent on someone else and embrace your mature need to be dependent on the Lord, who will make you whole within yourself.
▆ Leave your fantasy relationships (thinking, You are my “all-in-all”) and instead nurture several balanced relationships of healthy give-and-take.

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Proverbs 27:6)

• Confront Your Need to Build Mature Non-Codependent Relationships.

▆ Establish several interdependent relationships—not just one exclusive relationship. You need mature relationships in which your codependency issues can be resolved and your needs can be met in healthy ways.
▆ Establish emotionally balanced relationships without being needy of the extreme highs and lows of codependent relationships.
▆ Establish personal boundaries in all of your relationships, saying no when you need to say no and holding to your no.

“Let us … go on to maturity.” (Hebrews 6:1)

RECOVERY STEP #2: Look at Your Past Love Addictions

One effective way to confront codependent love relationships is by using the “written word.” Spelling out your thoughts, feelings, and actions will actually distance them from you so that you can look at them. Putting your relationships on paper helps paint a more complete picture, which in turn enables you to gain insights and devise a recovery plan. Putting your life on paper is not easy, but until you are ready to take a close look at your love addiction, you cannot expect to change it.

Write down the history of your codependent love relationships. First ask the Spirit of God to bring to mind what you need to know and then to teach you what you need to do. He will give you both understanding and wisdom to know how to free yourself of the fettered addictions and how to live in His glorious freedom.

“He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers.” (Proverbs 19:8)

Make a list of every person with whom you have had a codependent relationship. Think through your family and friends. Put each name at the top of a separate page and then answer the following questions for each relationship:

1. Write out …

• How did you meet and how were you attracted to this person?
• How did you pursue and draw this person to you?
• How did you feel and what did you fantasize about this person?

Conclude by answering …

• How do you think God felt about your choices?
• Realize that the Lord is ready to meet your deepest emotional needs. Yet, when we live with misplaced priorities, the Bible says we commit spiritual adultery.

“I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices.” (Ezekiel 6:9)

2. Write out …

• How did the relationship progress through various stages (Fascination, Fantasy, Fog, Fear, Forsaking, Fixation, Frenzy)?
• How did you feel in each stage?
• How did you act during each stage?

Conclude by answering …

• How did you fail to involve God in your life during each stage?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to intervene.

“When I came, why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the sky with darkness and make sackcloth its covering.” (Isaiah 50:2–3)

3. Write out …

• How did you become preoccupied with the relationship?
• How did you start neglecting yourself and start focusing on taking care of the other person?
• How did you come to expect that person to meet all of your needs?

Conclude by answering …

• How did you start neglecting God and when did you stop relying on Him?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to make you fruitful.

“I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21)

4. Write out …

• How has this relationship replicated your painful childhood experiences?
• How were you mistreated in the relationship and how did you react?
• How does the relationship impact you today?

Conclude by answering …

• How is God replacing (or wanting to replace) your self-destructive, love-addicted patterns with constructive, healthy, holy patterns?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to “re-parent” you in order to meet your deepest needs and heal your deepest hurts.

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” (Psalm 27:10)

5. Write out …

• How have you experienced fear, envy, jealousy, abandonment, and anger in the relationship?
• How did you assign a higher priority to this person than to everything else?
• How have you made the person the focus of your thought life?

Conclude by answering …

• How can you appropriate “the mind of Christ” in order to overcome destructive feelings and to live out of your resources in Christ?
• Realize how ready the Lord has been to give you His thinking.

“We have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)

6. Write out …

• How do you feel about the person and the relationship now?
• How has your perspective changed?
• How did things, people, and circumstances become factors in changing your perspective?

Conclude by answering …

• How do you think God has been involved in changing your perspective?
• Realize how ready the Lord is to complete His perfect plan for your life.

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

RECOVERY STEP #3: Get on the Road to Interdependent Relationships

We all love to see pictures of babies and then to see their stair step growth into young adulthood. Built within little, immature children is the ability to grow to maturity. Why should it be any less for immature adults? They too can move from their immaturity and develop mature relationships.

Once we understand the goal of each developmental stage for reestablishing healthy relationships, we can set out to accomplish those goals—without the aid of earthly parents. Many have done this by “taking the hand” of the heavenly Father and allowing Him to “re-parent” them. You too can do this by having a plan and then working your plan with the caring support of others. It is an enormously important journey with enormously gratifying rewards. This is the journey God intended for you to take from the beginning.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

• Make it your goal to develop an intimate relationship with God and to form interdependent relationships with significant people in your life.

▆ Commit to becoming actively involved in a group Bible study and in group prayer.
▆ Commit to reading God’s Word on a daily basis and memorizing Scripture.
▆ Commit to finding an accountability group and a Christian “relationship mentor” who will be available to you, spend time with you on a regular basis, be honest with you, and coach you in your relationships.

“Let us not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25)

• Make a plan to move toward maturity in your relationships.

▆ Ask God to help you discern where you are stuck in the relationship developmental stages.
▆ Ask your mentor or another wise person to help you identify your relationship needs (for example, sharing, problem-solving, listening, negotiating).
▆ Ask your accountability group to hold you accountable to establish appropriate goals in order to meet each of your relationship needs.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

• Make your relationship with your parents complete.

▆ Choose to resolve any unhealthy patterns with your parents. Break any unhealthy bond and, if possible, establish mature, adult bonds with each parent.
▆ Choose to not be emotionally enmeshed, needy, or controlled by your parents. If necessary, separate yourself emotionally until you can respond in a healthy way with “no strings attached.”
▆ Choose to identify and process your “family of origin” problems, forgive your offenders, and grieve your losses. Say, “That was then; this is now.”

“Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

• Make a vow to be a person of integrity in thought, word, and deed.

▆ Learn to free yourself of any family secrets—refuse to carry them any longer.
▆ Learn to listen, to say no, to set boundaries, to give and receive, and to ask for what you need from people. Then practice, practice, practice these new, healthy patterns.
▆ Learn to feel your feelings, to express hurt, and to withdraw and think about what you need to do or say. Write out your action plan; rehearse it; then do it.

“Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” (1 Peter 1:13–15)

• Make a new job description.

▆ My job is to discern the character of a person and to respond accordingly with maturity.
▆ My job is to be a safe person for my friends and family and to be present and attentive in my relationships.
▆ My job is to take care of myself and to be responsible for myself without hurting, punishing, attacking, getting even, or lying to myself or to others.

“I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27:6)

• Make a new commitment to yourself.

▆ I will let go of the “old,” self-centered me because I am growing into a “new,” Christ-centered me.
▆ I will exchange the lies I’ve believed about myself for God’s truth about me according to His Word.
▆ I will no longer betray myself by making immature choices, and I will redeem my past, bad choices by making good, mature choices.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

• Make maturity, not emotional relationships, your highest goal.

▆ Focus on forming friendships in which you are free to learn, grow, and mature, not emotional attachments that lead to roller-coaster relationships.
▆ Focus on any potential relationships that might trigger your codependent tendencies and guard your heart from the emotional highs and lows.
▆ Focus on building relationships with trustworthy, mature Christians whose goal is Christlikeness.
▆ During a severe time of trial, David’s dear friend, Jonathan “helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16)

RECOVERY STEP #4: Find the Road to Freedom

When you are behaving in a codependent way, you are trying to get your needs met through a drive to “do it all” or to be another person’s “all-in-all.” However, you can “travel the road to recovery” by releasing your desire to control or to change the person you love.

RELEASE

RECOGNIZE that you are overly dependent on a person and instead place your dependency on God.

Admit that your codependency is a sin.

• Pray that God will give you the desire to put Him first and to please Him in all your relationships.
• Determine to look to the Lord to meet your needs for love, for significance, and for security.
• Realize that God did not create you to meet all the needs of another person.

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

EXAMINE your patterns of codependent thinking.

Don’t believe that pleasing people is always Christlike.

• Don’t think that you should always assume the role of peacemaker.
• Don’t fear losing the love of others when you allow them to suffer the consequences of their negative actions.
• Don’t say yes when you really believe you should say no.

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (Psalm 51:6)

LET GO of your “super responsible” mentality.

Confess that you are trying to be like God in the life of another person.

• Trust God to be actively working in the life of your loved one.
• Realize that you cannot make another person be dependable or responsible.
• Rest in God’s sovereign control over all people, events, and circumstances.

“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.” (Exodus 18:17–18)

EXTEND forgiveness to those who have caused you pain.

Reflect on any type of abuse you have experienced in the past—verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual.

• What has been unjust and painful in your life?
• Whom do you need to forgive?
• Would you be willing to release this person and your pain to God?
• Choose to forgive again whenever your angry feelings resurface.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

APPROPRIATE your identity in Christ.

Learn to live out of your resources in Christ Jesus.

• Know the truth: “I can be emotionally set free because Christ lives in me.”
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

• Believe the truth: “I can change my dependency on people through the power of Christ in me.”
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

• Appropriate the truth: “I will nurture only healthy, godly relationships because I have been given Christ’s divine nature.”

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3–4)

SET healthy boundaries.

Communicate the necessity for change.

“I realize that I have not been responding to you in a healthy way. I have been far too dependent on you to meet my needs. And I have sought to meet all of your needs. I am committed to having healthy relationships and to putting God first in my life. I know that I have had negative responses to you, and I intend to begin having positive responses by making decisions based on what is right in the eyes of God.”

• Establish what you need to ask forgiveness for.
“I realize I was wrong for _________ (not speaking up when I should have, not being the person I should have been in this relationship, etc.). Will you forgive me?”

• Establish what your limits of responsibility will be.
“I feel responsible for _________. But I am not responsible for _________ (making you happy, making you feel significant, etc.). I want you to be happy, but I don’t have the power to make you happy.”

• Establish your limits of involvement.
“I want to do with/for you, but I don’t feel led by God to do .”

“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 27:12)

EXCHANGE your emotional focus for spiritual focus.

Make God and your spiritual growth your first priority.

• Attend an in-depth Bible study in order to learn the heart of God and to grow spiritually with the people of God.
• Memorize sections of Scripture in order to put God’s Word in your heart and to learn the ways of God.
• Redirect your thoughts to the Lord and take “prayer walks” (talking out loud to the Lord as you walk regularly in your neighborhood or on a trail).

“Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:35–37)

The cure for codependency is rooted in developing an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Your increased intimacy with Him will naturally conform you to His character. When you let the Lord live inside you, you can live in His power. This means that because Christ was not codependent, you have His power to overcome codependency.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS
“God, You know the pain
I experienced in my past.
I don’t want to keep carrying all this pain for the rest of my life.
I release (list hurts) into Your hands,
and I ask You to heal my emotional pain.
Lord, You know what (name of person) has done to hurt me.
As an act of my will, I choose to forgive (name).
I take (name) off my emotional hook
and put (name) onto Your emotional hook.
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for setting me FREE.
In Your holy name I pray. Amen.”

CODEPENDENCY PRAYER
“Lord Jesus, I renounce as a lie
the thought that I could ever be
truly abandoned or alone.
Thank You that You will
never abandon me
or leave me without support.
Thank You that no matter what I do
or what my circumstances,
no matter who is in my life
or not in my life,
You will be with me and
provide for my needs.
Thank You that Your plans for me
are for my good and that
You will carry them out.
Thank You that You are not
dependent on anything or anyone
other than Yourself to bring about
Your good intentions toward me.
I trust in You and You alone
to give me meaning and purpose and fulfillment in life.
In Your holy name I pray,
Amen.”

Help for an Unhealthy Relationship

Releasing You
Releasing is not to stop loving you, but is to love enough to stop leaning on you.
Releasing is not to stop caring for you, but is to care enough to stop controlling you.
Releasing is not to turn away from you, but is to turn to Christ, trusting His control over you.
Releasing is not to harm you, but is to realize “my help” has been harmful.
Releasing is not to hurt you, but is to be willing to be hurt for healing.
Releasing is not to judge you, but is to let the divine Judge judge me.
Releasing is not to restrict you, but is to restrict my demands of you.
Releasing is not to refuse you, but is to refuse to keep reality from you.
Releasing is not to cut myself off from you, but is to prune the unfruitful away from you.
Releasing is not to prove my power over you, but is to admit I am powerless to change you.
Releasing is not to stop believing in you, but is to believe the Lord alone will build character in you.
Releasing you is not to condemn the past, but is to cherish the present and commit our future to God.
—June Hunt

My Commitment Because of Christ in Me
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency.
Because Christ was not a “people-pleaser” … I will not be a “people-pleaser.”
Because Christ refused to compromise … I will not yield to compromise.
Because Christ kept healthy boundaries … I will keep healthy boundaries.
Because Christ stood up to pressure … I will not cave in to pressure.
Because Jesus lives in me … I will conquer codependency!
—June Hunt

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

——————————————————————————————————
Hunt, J. (2013). Codependency (june hunt hope for the heart). Torrance, CA: Aspire Press.

How to Ruin Your Sex Life in 10 Easy Steps

Sex can be uncomfortable for married couples to talk about. Quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable to write about as well!

But haven’t you found that the hard-to-talk-about stuff is what really needs discussion?

In our current culture, there’s a lot of conversation centered on having a “great” sex life. Pick up any copy of CosmopolitanGQ, or similar magazines, and you can read all the different ways you could be having sex, where you should be having sex, and even more ways to “spice up” your sex life. (I’m not even sure everything they mention is legal in all 50 states.)

But one thing these articles rarely touch on is how easy it is to ruin your sex life.

It’s true. While we have to put some effort into maintaining a great (or even good) sex life, it takes little energy, time, or even thought to take your bedroom romps from great to nonexistent.

In fact, you could be ruining your sexual intimacy right now and have no idea. Scary, huh?

Here are 10 easy ways to ruin your sex life. No crazy tricks, literally zero effort required. And please, feel free to embrace the sarcasm.

1. Let the kids sleep in the middle.

Not just during the occasional thunderstorm. I mean any time those sweet little faces want to snuggle up with mom and dad for the night.

Besides, you did purchase the king-size bed. You’ll find a time/place for sex later. You said “I do” forever, but the kids are only little for so long, right?

2. Forget foreplay.

You’ve already given her the look. The one that says with no uncertainty that it’s time to head to the bedroom.

Yes, she was in the middle of washing the dishes, but you’re ready to go. Your spouse should be, too. Isn’t that foreplay? Besides, it’s already 10:30 p.m. and the alarm’s set for 5 a.m. Who has time for this?

3. Prioritize your hobbies above your spouse.

After all the hours you put in at work (or home with the kids), you deserve time to yourself on the weekends. You’re not saying video games/golf/girls night is more important than time with your spouse, it’s just more relaxing. And you need regular time doing these things to be a better partner, anyway.

4. Don’t engage in conversation with your spouse.

It’s been a long day, and it takes too much energy to engage in a lengthy discussion. Please, can we just relax and turn the TV on already? Better yet, escape into social media. Knowing what’s going on in everyone else’s lives helps distract you from your own.

5. Use pornography.

At least you aren’t having an actual affair. Sometimes pornography even helps get you in the mood, right? At least that’s what you’ve heard.

If videos aren’t your thing, ladies, grab the latest copy of one of the Shades of Grey books. Word porn works well, too.

6. Fantasize about someone else.

He’ll never know you’re really thinking about Justin Timberlake. Unless you accidentally say his name. (Make a mental note about that.)

Fellas, as long as you don’t tell your wife you’re thinking about the waitress from the other night, no harm done.  Surely, all these fantasies are a harmless way to escape the issues at home. Again, at least you aren’t having an affair.

7. Flirt openly.

With anyone other than your spouse, that is. But it’s not really flirting if you have no intentions to actually have an affair, right? It’s fun and harmless. Besides, it feels good to know someone thinks you’re witty and interesting.

8. Criticize or nag your spouse.

Seriously, what does she do all day? Not laundry, apparently. She always asks what you’re thinking, so tell her.

And you’ve repeatedly told him you need some help around the house. So it should be no surprise you just yelled “Help me!” at him for the fifth time today.

9. Don’t take on your spouse’s burdens.

Sure, they might be overwhelmed, depressed, or stressed out. So are you. You have plenty on your own plate, thank you very much.

10. Don’t talk about your sexual relationship.

Ever. It’s awkward. Some things are just best left unsaid. As long as you’re having sex sometimes you’re doing okay, right?

Right?

Start Over

Source:   Dr.Woodrow Kroll

 

When you’ve trusted Jesus and walked His way,

When you’ve felt His hand lead you day by day,

But your steps now take you another way   …   START OVER.

 

When you’ve made your plans and they’ve gone awry,

When you’ve tried your best ’til there’s no more try,

When you’ve failed yourself and you don’t know why …   START OVER.

 

When you’ve told your friends what you plan to do,

When you’ve trusted them but they’ve not come through,

Now you’re all alone and it’s up to you …   START OVER.

 

When you’ve failed your kids and they’re grown and gone,

When you’ve done your best but it turned out wrong,

And now your grandchildren have come along …   START OVER.

 

When you’ve prayed to God so you’ll know His will,

When you’ve prayed and prayed but you don’t know still,

When you want to stop cause you’ve had your fill …   START OVER.

 

When you think you’re finished and want to quit,

When you’ve bottomed out in life’s deepest pit,

When you’ve tried and tried to get out of it …   START OVER.

 

When the year’s been long and successes few,

When December comes and you’re feeling blue,

God gives a January just for you …   START OVER.

 

Starting over means victories won,

Starting over means a race we run,

Starting over means the Lord’s “Well done,”

… so don’t just sit there …   START OVER.

Porn Is Not Harmless. It’s Cruel.

SOURCE:  Justin Holcomb

There’s a myth that porn is harmless. “It’s just a few consenting adults, doing what they want with their own bodies,” the thinking goes.

But this simply isn’t true. In reality, pornography is deeply involved in the exploitation of women and children, and it’s destructive to its consumers. Porn is much more than an individual decision—it’s part of a system that preys on women and children, and its viewers are participating in, contributing to, and being shaped by that destructive, enslaving system.

1. Porn fuels the sex trade.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and it’s the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Sex trafficking is one of the most profitable forms of trafficking and involves many kinds of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, bride trafficking, and the commercial sexual abuse of children. According to the United Nations, sex trafficking brings in an estimated $32 billion a year worldwide. In the United States, sex trafficking brings in $9.5 billion annually. Those numbers are incredible. I’ve written about the sex trade before.

The primary way porn fuels the sex trade is by building the demand. After all, the sex trade consists of supply and demand. The supply is women and children either forced into exploitation at home or lured away from their homes with promises of jobs, travel, and a better life. The average age of girls who enter street prostitution is between 12 and 14—even younger in some developing countries. Traffickers coerce women and children through a variety of recruitment techniques to enter the commercial sex industry in strip clubs, street-based prostitution, and escort services. Thousands of children and women are victimized in this way each year.

The trafficking industry wouldn’t exist without demand.  According to researcher Andrea Bertone, the demand consists of men who feed a “patriarchal world system” that preys on women and children.

2. Porn shapes sexual desires.

Pornography shapes the appetites of men, women, and children to accept and even enjoy the exploitation of women. As Robert Jensen observes:

There are a few basic themes in pornography: (1) All women at all times want sex from all men; (2) women enjoy all the sexual acts that men perform or demand, and; (3) any woman who does not at first realize this can be easily turned with a little force.

It’s important to note that porn isn’t just a “men’s issue,” as 28 percent of people admitting to internet sexual addiction are women. Approximately 9 out of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have viewed porn on the internet. The average age of first internet exposure to porn is 11, and in most cases is unintentional. The largest consumer of internet pornography is 12– to 17-year-old boys.

Porn teaches its consumers that women exist for the pleasure of men and that their purpose is to be degraded and dehumanized for men’s excitement—and that they like it, even if they pretend not to. But this is part of the lie: Countless women in porn are there against their will and are being exploited. According to Jensen, “There is evidence that force and coercion are sometimes used to secure women’s participation . . . that psychological and physical damage is common and that heavy alcohol and drug use are routine.”

3. Porn exploits child sexual abuse victims.

Mary Anne Layden, director of the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that most women involved in the sex industry are adult survivors of sexual abuse. Research indicates that the number is between 60 percent to 80 percent.

Simply put, most women in the porn industry are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and porn perpetuates their exploitation. Additionally, 20 percent of all internet pornography involves children.

4. Porn supports ‘rape culture.’

The physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the women and children in porn is heartbreaking, but equally insidious is porn’s effect on men and society by normalizing the degradation and dehumanization of women. Jensen explains, “As pornography has become more acceptable, both legally and culturally, the level of brutality toward, and degradation of, women has intensified.”

The prevalence of porn means people are becoming desensitized to it, and are seeking out ever harsher, more violent, and degrading images. Even the porn industry is shocked by how much violence the fans want. As one pornography director put it, “People just want it harder, harder, and harder . . . what are you gonna do next?”

Robin Morgan’s phrase “pornography is the theory, rape is the practice” captures the link between the production and consumption of pornography and violence against women and children. The point isn’t that porn causes all viewers to sexually abuse others, but that it creates what some researches call “rape culture” by normalizing, legitimizing, and condoning violence against women and children.

5. Porn hijacks children’s sexuality.

Gail Dines, author of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, explains the implications of porn: “We are now bringing up a generation of boys on cruel, violent porn. . . . Given what we know about how images affect people, this is going to have a profound influence on their sexuality, behavior and attitudes toward women.”

Mary Anne Layden argues: “There is evidence that the prevalence of pornography in the lives of many children and adolescents is far more significant than most adults realize, that pornography is deforming the healthy sexual development of these young viewers, and that it is used to exploit children and adolescents.”

6. Porn limits men.

While porn is not just a “men’s issue,” it remains a pervasively male problem. William Struthers, a bio-psychologist, explains the effects on men: “Men seem to be wired in such a way that pornography hijacks the proper functioning of their brains and has a long-lasting effect on their thoughts and lives.”

Porn limits male self-expression and has proven to be psychologically detrimental to some viewers. Frequent pornographic stimulus changes the neurological makeup in the brain—it actually rewires the viewer’s brain.

Everyone in the supply chain, from production to consumption, is participating in the economic juggernaut that is the porn industry, whether they realize it or not. And many of them are unaware of the harm being done to themselves and others. This industry fuels the global sex trade, builds the demand for exploitation, severely distorts sexuality, exploits abuse victims, and normalizes the degradation of women and children.

That’s why porn is much more than a private, individual decision.

4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Lieryn Barnett

The apostle Paul speaks of a thorn in his side that he pleaded with God three times to remove (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Biblical scholars aren’t sure exactly what Paul’s thorn was, but I can tell you mine: bipolar disorder. I was diagnosed as an adolescent and have pleaded with God more than thrice to remove this from me.

It took me longer than Paul to hear God telling me that His grace is sufficient.

Mental illness can still be a highly stigmatized topic in the church. For those who do not have such struggles, suicidal ideations and the extreme despair that come with clinical depression can be difficult to understand. Although many Christians know the trial of occasional anxiety or depressed feelings, people with a diagnosed mental illness face unique challenges.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “The mind can descend far lower than the body, for in it there are bottomless pits. The flesh can bear only a certain number of wounds and no more, but the soul can bleed in ten thousand ways, and die over and over again each hour.” Mental illness is not a new phenomenon.

And the same biblical truths that have encouraged Christians for centuries can encourage those who suffer with mental illness today. Though we may continue to struggle daily in the “bottomless pit” of the mind, we can cling to four encouragements.

1. You Are Not Alone

God’s people have suffered—mentally, emotionally, and physically—since the fall. Even Christ himself cried out in despair on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), echoing a psalm of lament (Ps. 22:1). When we suffer, we are not alone.

What’s more, mental illness is probably more common than you know. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. The World Health Organization says 1 in 4 people worldwide will experience mental-health issues.

You are almost certainly not the only one in your congregation dealing with issues arising from mental illness. Speaking openly about your mental-health issues will allow others to share their own struggles and will enable you to care for one another.

2. It’s Not Your Fault

Though mental illness is a result of the fall, my affliction—like that of the man born blind (John 9:3)—isn’t punishment for my sins or the sins of my parents. Mental illness may not be my fault, but it can be my opportunity to speak truth about Christ’s love to others.

Of course, sin can exacerbate mental illness, or stir up depression or anxiety. Sin spreads the infection of the darkness, which is why it’s so important to have people point you to Christ. If we repent and turn our focus to Christ, we can allow the light—however dim it may appear—to seep in. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) is a promise for good days and for dark ones, too.

3. God Sees You and Is with You

We have a personal Savior who experiences emotions. As you suffer the effects of mental illness, you can remember the nearness of Christ. He weeps with you, as he wept with Lazarus’s family (John 11:35). He knew the resurrecting work he was about to do, but he sobbed with anger anyway. Likewise, he knows how he is going to work in and through your life, and he is with you in the midst of it.

By grace, he sent the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor, to be with you, to help you. The Holy Spirit intercedes for you (Rom. 8:27). He cries out for you when you can’t form words, but only sounds of despair (Rom. 8:26).

Remain steadfast, therefore, for there is great hope: “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We are all broken in our own ways, but Christ makes us whole. He lights up the darkest corners of my heart and mind (2 Cor. 4:6). He pulls me out of the deepest pit (Job 33:28Ps. 40:2; 103:4Lam. 3:55). And if he sees fit, he will use me to reach others (2 Cor. 4:7–10).

4. God’s Word Speaks to You

The Bible isn’t afraid to talk about mental and emotional anguish. Look at Job or the psalms of lament, which compose the largest category of psalms. These are songs of people crying out to God in despair:

  • “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Ps. 25:16).
  • “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” (Ps. 42:5).
  • “For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol” (Ps. 88:3).

Yet even most psalms of lament end positively, reminding their hearers of God’s faithfulness. Like God’s people throughout history, we often forget everything he has already done for us and the promises he continues to fulfill.

Keep these truths somewhere you can be reminded of them often. Share them with a close friend, family member, or accountability partner who can remind you when you forget or when you don’t have the energy or willpower to remind yourself. God’s Word speaks to you on even the hardest days.

My thorn may never leave my side, but I can rejoice in the greatness and sovereignty of my mighty God. This illness continues to remind me that God’s grace is sufficient for me. I pray that God would make known his strength in my weakness.

When one asks, Jesus always receives — always!

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C.Ryle

“At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life” by J.C. Ryle

I ask you if any man’s case could look more hopeless and desperate, than that of this penitent thief once did?
“First of all you are meant to learn from these verses Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners. This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches you that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it,—it teaches you that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.

He was a wicked man—a malefactor,—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked,—for when he first was crucified he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered. The grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death.

If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first. He began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to ‘remember him when He came into His kingdom.’ He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late, the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy. But it proved not too late at all.

The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,—spoke kindly to him,—assured him he should be with Him that day in paradise,—pardoned him completely—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins—received him graciously—justified him freely—raised him from the gates of hell,—gave him a title to glory.

Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to them as these, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that he was a strong deliverer. In the hour when his body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, he conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now have I not a right to say, “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him?” Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say. “Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none?” Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, “By grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works,—fear not, only believe?” Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized. He belonged to no visible church. He never received the Lord’s Supper. He never did any work for Christ. He never gave money to Christ’s cause,—But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, “The youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true?” Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.*

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?

These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.

Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ. Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ. Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.

Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ. Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ. Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love. Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners. Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time. Tell it them over and over again.

Never be tired of speaking of Christ. Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

—————————————————————-

–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 258–265.

The Marriage Map

from The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

The marriage map is meant to give you a broad overview of the experiences most couples have when they negotiate the marital terrain. As you read through these stages and developmental passages, don’t get too hung up on the timetable. Some couples move through these stages more quickly than others, and some bypass certain stages entirely. See if any of this sounds familiar to you as you think about your own marriage and that of friends and family.

Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your one and only star-crossed lover. Everything other than the relationship quickly fades into the background. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You even like each other’s friends. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. You are completely in sync. Everything is perfect, just the way you imagined it would be. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.

At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. You feel good in your partner’s presence and start to believe that he or she is bringing out the best in you. Depression sets in when you’re apart. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be together. You never run out of things to say. Never, never, have you felt this way before. “It must be love,” you tell yourself. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. “And why not,” you reason, “we’re perfect together.” And marry, you do.

Unless you elope or opt for a simple, judge’s chambers-style wedding, your euphoria takes a temporary nosedive as you plan and execute your wedding. Once you get past the superhuman challenges dealing with family politics and hosting a modern-day wedding, your starry-eyed obsession with each other re-emerges and takes you through the honeymoon period. At last, you are one. You have committed your lives to each other forever- soul mates in the eyes of God and the world. And for a period of time, nothing could be more glorious. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.

Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. What accounts for this drastic change in perspective? For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator and, to top things off, snoring has become a way of life. There are big things too.

Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. Although you share interests in hobbies, you disagree about how often you want to participate in them. You like the same kinds of restaurants, but you enjoy eating out often while your partner prefers staying home and saving money. Your tastes in music are compatible, but you prefer quiet time in the evening while your mate enjoys blasting the stereo. You have many common friends, but you can’t agree on which nights to see them.

You’re confused about what’s going on. You wonder if an alien abducted your partner and left you with this strange and complicated being, a person with whom you can’t agree on a single thing. You argue about everything. “Who is this obstinate person I married?” you ask yourself. “What was I thinking?” You knew life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses, but you never thought all you’d get was a bed of thorns. You figured that love would carry you through the rough spots, but you didn’t imagine there’d be times you didn’t feel love. You feel so disillusioned and you wonder if you made a mistake. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions. For example, it is now that you decide whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to “win” and get their partners to change, which tr

Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Stage Four- That’s just way s/he is
In stage four, we finally come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see eye-to-eye with our partners about everything and we have to figure out what we must do to live more peaceably. We slowly accept that no amount of reasoning, begging, nagging, yelling, or threatening changes our partners’ minds. We look to others for suggestions; we seek religious counsel, talk to close friends and family, attend marital therapy, read self-help books, or take a relationship seminar. Those of us who are more private look inward and seek solutions there.

We more readily forgive our spouses for their hardheadedness, and recognize that we aren’t exactly easy to live with either. We dare to ask ourselves whether there’s something about our own behavior that could use shaping up. When disagreements occur, we make more of an effort to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and, much to our surprise, we have a bit more compassion and understanding. We recognize that, as with everything in life, we have to accept the good with the bad. Fights happen less frequently and when they occur, they’re not as intense or as emotional as in the earlier years of marriage. We know how to push our partner’s buttons and we consciously decide not to. When we slip, we get better at making up because we remind ourselves that life is short and very little is worth the pain of disharmony. We learn that when you’ve wronged your spouse, love means always having to say you’re sorry. We mellow. We let things roll off our back that might have caused us to go to battle before. We stop being opponents. We’re teammates again. And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.

Stage Five- Together, at last
It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off. Since you are no longer in a struggle to define who you are and what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. Even if you always have loved your spouse, you start to notice how much you are really liking him or her again. And then the strangest thing starts to happen. You realize that the alien who abducted your spouse in stage two has been kind enough to return him or her to you. You are pleased to discover that the qualities you saw in your partner so very long ago never really vanished. They were just camouflaged. This renews your feelings of connection.

By the time you reach stage five, you have a shared history. And although you’d both agree that marriage hasn’t been easy, you can feel proud that you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment and dedication to making your marriage last. You also look back and feel good about your accomplishments as a couple, a family and as individuals. You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You feel closer and more connected. If you have children, they’re older and more independent, allowing you to focus on your marriage again, like in the old days. And you start having “old day feelings” again. You have come full circle. The feeling you were longing for during those stormy periods is back, at last. You’re home again.

About the marriage map
I’m certain that if more couples realized that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d be more willing to tough it out through the downpour. The problem is, most people fool themselves into thinking that whatever stage they are in at the moment, is where they will be forever. That can be a depressing thought when you’re in the midst of hard times. And in marriage, there are lots hard times- unexpected problems with infertility, the births of children (marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of each child), the challenges of raising a family, children leaving home, infidelity, illnesses, deaths of close friends and family members. Even if there is lots of joy accompanying these transitional stages, it’s stressful nonetheless. But it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. There are seasons to everything in life, including marriage.

Also, it’s important to remember that people generally don’t go through these stages sequentially. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. Just when you begin to feel more at peace with each other in stage four, a crisis occurs and you find yourselves slipping back to stage three- change your partner or bust! But if you’ve been fortunate enough to have visited stage four, sanity sets in eventually, and you get back on track. The quality and quantity of love you feel for each other is never stagnant. Love is dynamic. So is marriage. The wiser and more mature you become, the more you realize this. The more you realize this, the more time you and your spouse spend hanging out in stage five. Together again, at last.

Michele Weiner-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting

You’ll Get Through This

SOURCE:  Max Lucado

She had a tremble to her, the inner tremble you could feel with just a hand on her shoulder. I saw her in a grocery store. Had not seen her in some months. I asked about her kids and husband, and when I did, her eyes watered, her chin quivered, and the story spilled out. He’d left her. After twenty years of marriage, three kids, and a dozen moves, gone. Traded her in for a younger model. She did her best to maintain her composure but couldn’t. The grocery store produce section became a sanctuary of sorts.

Right there between the tomatoes and the heads of lettuce, she wept. We prayed. Then I said, “You’ll get through this. It won’t be painless. It won’t be quick. But God will use this mess for good. In the meantime don’t be foolish or naive. But don’t despair either. With God’s help you will get through this.”

Audacious of me, right? How dare I say such words? Where did I get the nerve to speak such a promise into tragedy? In a pit, actually. A deep, dark pit. So steep, the boy could not climb out. Had he been able to, his brothers would have shoved him back down. They were the ones who had thrown him in.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal. — Genesis 37:23-25

Twenty-two years later, when a famine had tamed their swagger and guilt had dampened their pride, they would confess,
We saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear. — Genesis 42:21

These are the great-grandsons of Abraham. The sons of Jacob. Couriers of God’s covenant to a galaxy of people. Tribes will bear their banners. The name of Jesus Christ will appear on their family tree. They are the Scriptures’ equivalent of royalty. Yet on this day they were the Bronze Age version of a dysfunctional family. They could have had their own reality TV show. In the shadow of a sycamore, in earshot of Joseph’s appeals, they chewed on venison and passed the wineskin. Cruel and oafish. Hearts as hard as the Canaanite desert. Lunch mattered more than their brother. They despised the boy.
They hated him and could not speak peaceably to him… they hated him even more… they hated him… his brothers envied him. — Genesis 37:4-5, Genesis 37:8, Genesis 37:11

Here’s why. Their father pampered Joseph like a prized calf. Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, but one love, Rachel. When Rachel died, Jacob kept her memory alive by fawning over their first son. The brothers worked all day. Joseph played all day. They wore clothes from a secondhand store. Jacob gave Joseph a hand-stitched, multi-colored cloak with embroidered sleeves. They slept in the bunkhouse. He had a queen-sized bed in his own room. While they ran the family herd, Joseph, Daddy’s little darling, stayed home. Jacob treated the eleventh-born like a firstborn. The brothers spat at the sight of Joseph.

To say the family was in crisis would be like saying a grass hut might be unstable in a hurricane.

The brothers caught Joseph far from home, sixty miles away from Daddy’s protection, and went nuclear on him.
They stripped Joseph of his tunic… they took him and cast him into a pit. — Genesis 37:23–24 (emphasis mine)

Defiant verbs. They wanted not only to kill Joseph but also hide his body. This was a murderous cover-up from the get-go.
We shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him’. — Genesis 37:20

Joseph didn’t see this assault coming. The attack caught him off guard.

So did yours. Joseph’s pit came in the form of a cistern. Maybe yours came in the form of a diagnosis, a foster home, or a traumatic injury. Joseph was thrown in a hole and despised. And you? Thrown in an unemployment line and forgotten. Thrown into a divorce and abandoned, into a bed and abused. The pit. A kind of death, waterless and austere. Some people never recover. Life is reduced to one quest: get out and never be hurt again. Not simply done. Pits have no easy exits.

Joseph’s story got worse before it got better. Abandonment led to enslavement, then entrapment, and finally imprisonment. He was sucker punched. Sold out. Mistreated. People made promises only to break them, offered gifts only to take them back. If hurt were a swampland, then Joseph was sentenced to a life of hard labor in the Everglades.

Yet he never gave up. Bitterness never staked its claim. Anger never metastasized into hatred. His heart never hardened; his resolve never vanished. He not only survived; he thrived. He ascended like a helium balloon. An Egyptian official promoted him to chief servant. The prison warden placed him over the inmates. And Pharaoh, the highest ruler on the planet, shoulder-tapped Joseph to serve as his prime minister. By the end of his life, Joseph was the second most powerful man of his generation. It is not hyperbole to state that he saved the world from starvation.

How? How did he flourish in the midst of tragedy? We don’t have to speculate. Some twenty years later the roles were reversed, Joseph as the strong one and his brothers the weak ones. They came to him in dread. They feared he would settle the score and throw them into a pit of his own making. But Joseph didn’t. And in his explanation we find his inspiration.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.— Genesis 50:20

In God’s hands, intended evil becomes eventual good.

Joseph tied himself to the pillar of this promise and held on for dear life. Nothing in his story glosses over the presence of evil. Quite the contrary. Bloodstains, tearstains are everywhere. Joseph’s heart was rubbed raw against the rocks of disloyalty and miscarried justice. Yet time and time again God redeemed the pain. The torn robe became a royal one. The pit became a palace. The broken family grew old together. The very acts intended to destroy God’s servant turned out to strengthen him.

“You meant evil against me,” Joseph told his brothers, using a Hebrew verb that traces its meaning to “weave” or “plait.”

“You wove evil,” he was saying, “but God rewove it together for good.”

God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the pleasures. Nothing escapes his reach. Every king, despot, weather pattern, and molecule are at his command. He passes the shuttle back and forth across the generations, and as he does, a design emerges. Satan weaves; God reweaves.

He redeemed the story of Joseph. Can’t He redeem your story as well?

You’ll get through this. You fear you won’t. We all do. We fear that the depression will never lift, the yelling will never stop, the pain will never leave. Here in the pits, surrounded by steep walls and angry brothers, we wonder, Will this gray sky ever brighten? This load ever lighten? We feel stuck, trapped, locked in. Predestined for failure. Will we ever exit this pit?

Yes!

Out of the lions’ den for Daniel, the prison for Peter, the whale’s belly for Jonah, Goliath’s shadow for David, the storm for the disciples, disease for the lepers, doubt for Thomas, the grave for Lazarus, and the shackles for Paul. God gets us through stuff. Through the Red Sea onto dry ground (Exodus 14:22), through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5), through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4), and through the deep sea (Psalm 77:19).

Through is a favorite word of God’s:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. — Isaiah 43:2 (emphasis mine)

It won’t be painless. Have you wept your final tear or received your last round of chemotherapy? Not necessarily. Will your unhappy marriage become happy in a heartbeat? Not likely. Are you exempt from any trip to the cemetery? Does God guarantee the absence of struggle and the abundance of strength? Not in this life. But He does pledge to reweave your pain for a higher purpose.

It won’t be quick. Joseph was seventeen years old when his brothers abandoned him. He was at least thirty-seven when he saw them again. Another couple of years passed before he saw his father. Sometimes God takes His time: One hundred twenty years to prepare Noah for the flood, eighty years to prepare Moses for his work. God called young David to be king but returned him to the sheep pasture. He called Paul to be an apostle and then isolated him in Arabia for perhaps three years. Jesus was on the earth for three decades before He built anything more than a kitchen table. How long will God take with you? He may take His time. His history is redeemed not in minutes but in lifetimes.

But God will use your mess for good. We see a perfect mess; God sees a perfect chance to train, test, and teach the future prime minister. We see a prison; God sees a kiln. We see famine; God sees the relocation of His chosen lineage. We call it Egypt; God calls it protective custody, where the sons of Jacob can escape barbaric Canaan and multiply abundantly in peace. We see Satan’s tricks and ploys. God sees Satan tripped and foiled.

Let me be clear. You are a version of Joseph in your generation. You represent a challenge to Satan’s plan. You carry something of God within you, something noble and holy, something the world needs — wisdom, kindness, mercy, skill. If Satan can neutralize you, he can mute your influence.

The story of Joseph is in the Bible for this reason: to teach you to trust God to trump evil. What Satan intends for evil, God, the Master Weaver and Master Builder, redeems for good.

Joseph would be the first to tell you that life in the pit stinks. Yet for all its rottenness doesn’t the pit do this much? It forces you to look upward. Someone from up there must come down here and give you a hand. God did for Joseph. At the right time, in the right way, He will do the same for you.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

Excerpted from You’ll Get Through This by Max Lucado, copyright Max Lucado.

A High View of Marriage Includes Divorce

SOURCE:  Rebecca VanDoodewaard

God hates divorce, doesn’t He? Absolutely.

Isn’t the gospel about forgiveness and love? Yes, it is.

And pastors and elders can use these two truths in isolation from the rest of Scripture and biblical principles to deny people divorce for biblical grounds. “But marriage is a precious thing,” one pastor told a woman whose husband was in prison for pedophilia. “It would be a wonderful picture of God’s grace to move on from this and focus on your marriage,” another one told the husband of an adulteress. “We’re working with him; he’s really struggling, and so you need to forgive him,” a session tells a woman whose husband has been using pornography for years.

Evangelical and confessional churches are striving to maintain a high view of marriage in a culture that is ripping the institution to shreds. So extra-biblical barriers to divorce can be well-meant. They try to protect marriage by doing everything possible to avoid divorce. In doing so, they not only fail to keep a high view of marriage. They also spread lies about the gospel, divorce, the value of people, the character of God and the nature of sexual sin.

The first lie is that forgiveness means that the offended party is bound to continue living with the guilty party once there’s an apology.

Wives in particular are told that God requires that they forgive a repentant spouse, which is true, and that this means that they need to stay in the marriage, which is not true. It’s like saying to parents who discover that the babysitter molested their children: “Oh, but the sitter said sorry. It would be unloving to not ask them to watch the kids again. You need to demonstrate your forgiveness.” The argument is that Jesus forgave you and took you in: Why can’t you do the same for a spouse? Because I am not God: I am human, too, and can’t atone for my spouse’s sin in a way that can restore an earthly marriage.

Sacrificing a person to save a relationship is not the gospel. The gospel is that Someone was sacrificed to free us from sin and bring us to God. We cannot always bear the relational punishment for someone else’s sin. We can forgive them, and will if we are a Christian, but that doesn’t mean we have to live with them. You can forgive someone and divorce them. Scripture commands forgiveness where there is repentance, but it never requires that a relationship be continued in the way that it was before covenant was shattered. This lie of “forgiveness” places the burden on the innocent party. The sinner gets counsel, support, help and prayer, while the sinned-against gets pressure, guilt and a crushing future. Acceptance is often labelled the “Christian” thing to do. Since Christ gave divorce as an option in some circumstances, divorce can be the Christian thing to do, too. Forgiveness is always the Christian thing to do, and it simply means that the guilty party is forgiven, not absolved from all earthly consequences.

The second lie is implied: God hates divorce more than He hates abuse and sexual sin.

To put the lie a different way, God loves marriage more than He loves the women in it. While God created marriage, loves marriage and says that it is a picture of Christ’s relationship with the church, Jesus didn’t die to save marriage. He died to save people. He sacrificed His life to protect His sons and daughters, and hates when they are abused, violated and humiliated, particularly in a relationship that is supposed to picture Christ and the church.

This fact is especially true for women, who suffer at the hands of men whose actions mock servant leadership and so blaspheme the name of the Christ whom they are called to represent. Denying a woman legitimate divorce allows an unrepentant man to continue in this abuse and blasphemy. If we want to value and treat marriage rightly, we need to think about Jesus! His care for His church is not an abstract idea. We see it lived out in the gospels every day in purity, tender care for widows and intolerance of the Pharisees who thought they could be right with God while checking out beautiful women at the market. Christ’s love for His church found very concrete expression on the cross—willingness to die to save His beloved people. Yes, God hates divorce. And there are some things that He hates even more.

The third lie is that divorce is an unclean thing, often the fault of the innocent party.

This is a misunderstanding of divorce. Divorce is not the innocent party ending a marriage. Divorce is the innocent party obtaining legal recognition that the guilty party has destroyed the marriage. So often, we see the divorcing person as the one who ends the marriage—they are not! Where there has been sexual unfaithfulness, abuse or abandonment, it is the guilty party who ended it by breaking covenant. While legitimate divorce is not mandatory, it is a biblical option, on moral par with maintaining the marriage. The 1992 report by the PCA study committee on divorce and remarriage comments:

It is also interesting to recall in this connection Jeremiah 3:8, where Yahweh is said to divorce Israel for her spiritual adultery (idolatry):?“I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.” If God himself can properly divorce his bride because of adultery, then, given Christ’s unqualified adherence to the authority of the Old Testament, it seems difficult to conclude that Jesus would not have had similar words on his own lips. (218)

The church needs to be clear about this: Legitimate divorce is holy and biblical if God Himself can speak of initiating it. And it is initiated to publicly recognize the destruction already there. Divorce does not end a covenant. It protects the spouse whose covenant has been violated—a picture of covenant protection in the face of human unfaithfulness. Always discouraging divorce, always making it a last, desperate option that really fails to show gospel power, implies that we know more about marriage than God does and value it more highly. If there are legitimate reasons for divorce, then making divorce look like a lesser option is wrong. God allows it: Who are we to discourage people from choosing a biblical option?

The fourth lie usually involved in this discussion is about pornography.

It is often classified as not technically adultery, so spouses are denied the biblical right to divorce. This is mind-boggling. Someone who seeks out sexually explicit material and has a physical response to it is in the same mental, physical and spiritual condition as someone in bed with a coworker. The difference is that the relationship with the coworker is at least private and limited, while porn use accepts and subsidizes an entire industry of sexual sin that is maintained by abuse and slavery, involves hundreds of people, and is tracked by the producing companies and Internet servers. Deliberate and repeated porn use is at least adultery, regardless of whether there is repentance at some point. Denying this makes people ask why some pastors are so committed to denying what porn really is. Our pre-technology definition of adultery allows souls and marriages to be ravaged from the inside out because we fail to admit what a porn habit really is. We look away from the institutionalized rape that it subsidizes. Countenancing sexual sin for any reason reveals a poor understanding of sexual sin as well as the gospel.

Do you see how these lies, sometimes borne out of a desire to protect marriage, actually bring about a low view of marriage? By granting, supporting and even facilitating a biblical divorce, we take a stand to say that we can forgive without being forced to live with people who have shattered us. This protects marriage by allowing the innocent party to leave a relationship that has been broken. By backing biblical divorce, we protect women whom God loves, showing Christ’s love when spouses have not. This protects marriage by refusing to allow sinners to abuse the institution with impunity. By publicly stating that sexual sin and abuse, not wounded spouses, ends marriages, we hold the marriage bed in honor. This protects marriage by creating a holy fear of violating it. By offering biblical divorce, the church affirms that pornography is depravity, and will not be countenanced by Christ’s church. Naming and disciplining sexual sin as the evil it is and offering divorce to the innocent party makes the value of marriage clear as we refuse to see it damaged, abused or treated lightly.

Developing and maintaining a high view of marriage does a lot. It protects women and children, often the people most hurt by sexual sin. It keeps us from falling into sin ourselves: The higher our view of marriage, the less likely we will be to dabble in something so devastating. And a high view of marriage honors the One who created it for our good and His glory—the One who promises to judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral.

Marriage: ‘I Stayed’

There’s power in knowing you and your spouse are in it for the long haul.

Source:  Christy Scannell

One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way.  In the last few years I’ve seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).

A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair.  We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, “I Stayed.”

To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat’s character of having never really loved her.  They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her.  Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.

In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, “I stayed.”   The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn’t his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her.  And most importantly—he stayed.  In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her.  It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.

Needless to say, Wopat’s powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife).  I think that is because most of us know the value of “staying.”  Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it’s more than anything a decision to say, “No matter what happens, I’m sticking with you—I’ll stay.”  And to say it over and over again.

I’m reminded of this commitment’s influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary.  Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, “How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?”  Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, “We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones.”  In other words, they stayed.

When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life.  Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population.  We knew we couldn’t go into a marriage with that as a looming option.  So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way.  There would be no “growing apart,” no “irreconcilable differences,” no “dissolution.”  While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I’ll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, “Whatever happens, we will stay.”

Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish?  Yes, we fight.  We accuse.  We toss a few barbs.  I slam doors and he raises his voice.  Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.

But it’s all for naught.  Even when we’re at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully.  There won’t be any moving out or filing papers.  Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and “sorrys” and weak smiles.  Later, it’s almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.

Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us.  When the reporter asks the requisite “How did you do it?”  I’ll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich’s and say, “Because—we stayed.”

 

 

 

 

Impossible Marriage Situation

(Question/Answer re “Impossible Marriage” Situation by Michelle Wiener-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting.)

I’VE TRIED EVERYTHING, BUT NOTHING WORKS !!!

QUESTION —
Dear Michele:
“I’m working on my marriage, but it still isn’t working.” Michele, after reading your books (Divorce Remedy, Divorce Busting and Getting Through to the Man You Love), I have one question: The underlying assumption of all three books is that you DO love your spouse. I am in a situation in which I don’t really love my spouse, and actually often don’t like or respect him. Yet he is a good father, and our children are incredibly devoted to our little family. I definitely believe that a divorce would be the best thing for ME (and probably for him), but the worst thing for my children. It’s been hard for me to try to divorce bust because I can’t seem to get over the hump of feeling I’m knocking myself out to work on something I don’t really want, namely, staying married to my husband. Does this mean mine is just one of the marriages that can’t be saved? Most of the posts I read on the boards seem to be from people who WANT their spouses. Any comments would be appreciated, and I’m sure would be enlightening to many on the board, because I’ve heard from many about to be Walkaway Wife’s who feel the same way I do — little, if any, love or respect for our spouses, and little, if any, desire to be married to them. Thank you. Jenny

ANSWER —
Dear Jenny,
You ask an interesting question and I hope my response will be helpful.

First, I want you to know that your assumption that my books presuppose love for one’s spouse is completely incorrect. My books presuppose a commitment to working on one’s marriage. It is absolutely true that when you love your spouse, it makes going through the hard times more palatable and sharing the good times more enjoyable. No question about it. But I don’t assume people reading the books love their spouses.

I know you won’t like what I’m about to say, but I can tell from your post that you have never really committed to working on your marriage. Yes, I know you’ve had a telephone consultation and some counseling. But that doth not commitment make. Too many people say they’re working on their marriages when they drag their bodies to therapy or talk to some sort of expert. That’s not even scratching the surface. Working on your marriage means making the decision to be there in spirit, not necessarily to be head over heels in love when you start, but to invest yourself fully.

Working on your marriage means giving of yourself completely, putting your spouse’s needs before your own- and vise versa. It means quitting the game of keeping score. It means forgiving and letting go. Working on your marriage means focusing on people’s strengths and downplaying their shortcomings. It means not expecting to have all or even the majority of your needs satisfied by one person. It means vowing to have a full and satisfying life of your own so that you don’t blame your spouse unfairly about your unhappiness. It means appreciating the little things and overlooking life’s annoyances. It means recognizing that no one, not even you or me, is perfect.

I’m not sure why I think this, but I have a distinct feeling that you are holding on to resentments from the past. (I don’t even know you but the feeling is there nonetheless). It seems to me, that your current willingness to stay is built on guilt and self-sacrifice rather than any pleasure derived from the gift you would be giving your children and “your little family” and as a result, yourself. As long as you look at staying through the eyes of resentment, you will not be able to fully immerse yourself in what you need to do to make your family truly work.

Unfortunately, no one, not your parents, friends, family, therapist, clergy or me, can make the decision to have a good, healthy family for you. Only you can make that choice. You have been sitting on the fence- staying but holding back. (Maybe that’s why you chose Paradox as your username.) This won’t get you where you need to go. I can promise you that. Make a decision. Own your decision. Stop fooling yourself into thinking you’re working on things when you’re not. If you feel you can’t forgive and start fresh, take ownership of that. Go. However, you know my first choice. But in the end, that doesn’t really matter. Yours is the choice that matters. If you choose marriage, the rest is relatively easy. You decide. Love is a decision.
Michele

7 Ways to Make Bad Decisions

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

I’ve made lots of bad decisions in my life. That includes my time in leadership — both in business and ministry, but I’ve also made plenty of bad decisions in family and personal situations. None of us set out to make bad decisions, but sometimes the way we make them can significantly increase or decrease the chance the quality of our decisions.

Granted, I’ve learned from every bad decision I’ve made. And, I’ve even repeated a few of them a few times — and still learned something. But, as much as I can, I want to make better decisions — the first time.

In my experience, there are a few common factors that lead to me making a bad decision.

Here are 7 ways to make bad decisions:

Make them too fast – I’ve learned that haste does indeed make waste. I make lots of decisions each day. I would be a poor leader if I couldn’t make most of them quickly. I’d always be stalled from my potential. When the potential outcome is significant, however, the more time I can give to it the less likely I am to make a mistake — certainly the ones that could have been avoided with more thought. Learning when to wait, seek God, the counsel of others and for better personal discernment is part of maturing, but can help us avoid some of the more costly bad decisions.

Make them too slow – Equally true, there are times when a fast decision is easy; even prudent. If I know the right answer — if it has a Biblical basis, for example, or my conscience is clearly convicted — but it is simply hard to implement, I’ve learned that waiting seldom makes the decision easier and often only complicates the process. I’m more likely to make a bad decision the longer I wait.

Make them to keep people happy – The right decision is seldom the popular decision. People-pleasing as a decision motivator rarely accomplishes matters of worth. It often makes the worst decision of the options available.

Make them when angry – I don’t know about you, but I don’t think clearly when my emotions get in the way. If I’m angry — or emotional in any other way — I tend to overreact or under-react. Emotionally based decisions, especially immediate decisions, are often ones I tend to regret later.

Make them alone – “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers, they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22) A part of leadership involves standing alone at times, but rarely are we really alone. We should always walk in the counsel of God’s Spirit, and, in my experience, even when I have to make the decision seemingly alone — if I’m making wise decisions — it’s not really that I’m alone. I’m just ahead of where others know we need to go, but haven’t yet been willing to go. Building a collaborative environment as much as possible helps me avoid bad decisions.

Make them reactionary – Ultimately we want to work from a plan. We want to make decisions before the decision is needed. We want proactive decision-making. That’s obviously not always possible, but in my experience, I’m more likely to make a bad decision when I’m reacting to a situation, rather than having thought about the scenario and my response beforehand.

Make them out of fear – We are called to walk by faith, yet fear is often a more powerful initiator. But, I’ve learned, when I decide because I’m afraid to — or not to — do something, I almost always make a mistake. Following my faith gut, even when afraid, is part of leadership. And, part of life.

Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After”

SOURCE:  Aaron & April Jacob/Gottman Institute

When Sara and Ryan were newly married, they experienced a handful of frustrating conversations that evolved into emotionally-charged disputes.

Sara was devastated.

She thought that their relationship was in a bad place and that they were, perhaps even worse, doomed for divorce.

That’s because Sara loathes conflict. Like, really, really loathes it. And so, whenever things aren’t going perfectly well in her relationship, she’s a total mess.

Her husband, Ryan, has always been okay with conflict and doesn’t feel a need for things to be resolved immediately. While Sara is the type of person who never wants to go to bed angry, Ryan is a firm believer that going to bed angry is sometimes the best option.

You see for Sara, conflict breeds stress and the false assumption that her marriage is terrible, irreparable, and that it might end in divorce even though she and her husband are both deeply committed to making it work and staying together through thick and thin.

What Sara didn’t realize as a young love-struck newlywed is an important lesson for all married couples: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

One more time: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

In fact, not only is conflict in marriage inevitable, but it’s also perfectly normal. It’s a part of life. Why do you think wedding vows include phrases like “for better for worse,” “for richer for poorer,” “in sickness and health,” and “through thick and thin?”

They include those phrases because a) the people who wrote those vows are pretty smart and have experienced this thing we call “marriage” and b) conflict is an unavoidable part of life, and therefore, an unavoidable, and even important part of your “happily ever after” — even though it’s not something you see in the movies!

In reality, Sara was in error over the years by believing that if there was conflict in her marriage, she couldn’t be truly happy since conflict was a clear sign that her marriage was doomed to fail. Sara was in error by thinking that a happy marriage was synonymous with the absolute extinguishment of all conflict. So. Not. True.

Sara was wrong. Way wrong! And perhaps that’s because Sara and Ryan had limited conflict-management skills and sometimes even used The Four Horsemen. Gasp!

To Sara, and others like her, it’s time to realize this truth taught by Dr. Gottman:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Really? Sara and Ryan will never solve most of their problems? Yup, that’s right.

Thankfully, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate all conflict. Mind-blowing!

Dr. Gottman says, “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”

Did you catch that? Being happy now and living happily ever after comes “from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are INEVITABLE in any relationship.”

Conflict is inevitable — no matter who you marry. Please don’t fall for the fallacy that you wouldn’t be dealing with X conflict if you had married Bob, because Bob would have come with his own set of problems. You know it’s true.

Because of this, gaining the skills and developing the ability to successfully navigate conflict becomes critical in creating happiness and harmony in your marriage.

So, what are those specific skills that will lead to happiness now and to your “happily ever after” in the future?

Dr. Gottman has provided the following six skills to help couples learn how to manage conflict and live happily ever after:

  1. Practice physiological self-soothing

Take a timeout when conflict arises. Go for a walk, take a bath, read a book, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? According to Dr. Gottman, it’s 20 minutes.

  1. Use a softened startup

It’s true that conversations usually end on the same note they began, so start softly. Don’t blame. Use “I” statements. Describe what is happening. And be polite.

  1. Repair and de-escalate

Use scripted phrases like “Let me try again,” “I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,” and “I’m sorry” to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.

  1. Listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and dreams

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. So, start by contemplating what your dreams are and how you can communicate them more clearly to your partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and dreams. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand who your partner is deep down inside in order to accept influence and compromise together.

  1. Accept influence

Recognize that your partner has good ideas and important opinions (shocker — your way isn’t always the best way or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and find something you can learn from your partner. Take this quiz to see where you most need to improve when it comes to accepting influence.

  1. Compromise

Compromise is an art. What’s Dr. Gottman’s advice? “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.” So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported.

If you practice these six skills from Dr. Gottman and learn to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then happily ever after can be yours today and everyday as you recognize conflict for what it is — an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, and live a full and meaningful life now.

 

Motivating Yourself To Start Doing “Whatever”

SOURCE:  Dr. John Townsend

We all have some “whatever” that we just can’t motivate ourselves to start taking steps towards weight loss, job changes, marriage improvement, self-image growth, budgeting, health, and dating, for example. And there is a big gap between wanting a change, and actually doing the behaviors required to make the changes. But there are things you can do today, actually right now, to translate your “want” to action. By the way, this article isn’t a “path to success”, that’s a different blog. It’s more of a “get motivated to start by some good action steps” procedure. Here are the tips:

Clarify your “why”. Write down and read through several times, why this area of self-improvement is so important to you. Motivation comes from values and desires from deep within our brain, and they are very powerful to change behavior if we understand them. For example, say you want to lose 30 pounds. Your “why” might be because you want to feel better, to have more energy, to be a better mom or dad to your kids, to live a longer and more productive life, or to be able to wear skinny jeans! Whatever the “why” is, it has to be more than a thought, it must involve a feeling that also resonates inside. Keep working on it until you have it clarified.

Visualize the positive outcome. This is basically unpacking the “why” and applying it to the future. Write down a description of how you will experience life without the extra weight. It might be something like “I’ll wrestle with my kids more in the living room because I feel good and have the energy to spare.” Some sort of “video” makes things more real and vivid for us.

Focus at least 3 times a day until you actually “do” a behavior. Research on motivation and change shows us that in some area of life that we often get stuck, or paralyzed, or afraid to do some step. If this has been true for you, give yourself time to think and reflect on the “why,” intentionally focusing on that area. Your brain will enter a state of readiness and be prepared for that step. In the example of weight loss, that might mean signing up for a weight loss class. That’s a commitment and an action.

Let 3 people know. You need people on your team here! Just letting them know about your “why” and what your first step will be, is a tremendous motivator. They become your cheering section, and this will help you with that next action.

Motivation can lead to behavior, and behavior to change. I hope the best for you!

6 Tips to Reduce Stress for the Working Mom

SOURCE:  Lisa Lakey/FamilyLife Ministry

When my youngest started preschool, I took my first job outside the home in nearly 10 years. I was frazzled, guilt-ridden, and late everywhere I went.

I was in the school drop-off line one morning when the license plate of the car in front of me caught my eye. “L8AGAIN” it read. My first thought was, That should be mine. Those seven characters summed up most of my days as a working mom.

When my youngest started preschool, I took my first job outside the home in nearly 10 years. I was frazzled, guilt-ridden, and late everywhere I went. (Okay, maybe I’m still working on all three of those.) After spotting a shirt in a local boutique with the phrase “World’s Okayest Mom” emblazoned on the front, I joked with my kids and husband that that was me. The best mom ever at just getting by.

But behind the laughter of the moment, there was something else. Fear, doubt, and a hefty dose of self-pity overwhelmed me. I didn’t really want to be an “okay” mom. I wanted to be the absolute best mom. You know her. The mom who has it all together—perfect hair, perfect smile, perfect kids. She probably only feeds her family made-from-scratch, organic, non-GMO meals. She would hate to know how often I drive through Chick-fil-A. I can’t even remember what GMO stands for right now.

To be honest, I just want my kids to get the best of me, although that isn’t always what happens. But I have learned that trying to be the perfect mom will always backfire. I might not always be the best mom, but I am always the mom my kids need—me.

Thanks to some loving reminders from other working moms, I have picked up a few helpful tips along the way:

1. Plan, plan, plan.

I am a terribly late person. Punctuality is not my strong point. So naturally, one of my greatest struggles as a working mom is getting myself and everyone else where they need to be on time.

I’ve had to extend myself a bit of grace in this area more than a few times and completely reevaluate my routines. I take a planner with me everywhere I go, and I jot down appointments, parties, deadlines, etc. as soon as I can. I plan a week’s worth of meals at a time (usually) and thank God for the stores in town that offer online grocery ordering.

2. Let go of the excess guilt.

Forgot to send your daughter to school in red for spirit day? Toss that guilt to the curb. Shamed over sending a bag of cookies and juice boxes for your son’s snack day at preschool? Let yourself enjoy the fact that for one brief moment you were just a tad cooler than Luke’s mom who always sends organic carrot sticks and overpriced bottled water.

My point is, there will always be moments where our best inner mom just doesn’t shine through. We’ll mess up, make our kids mad, forget stuff, and so on. But we’ll also get so much right.

Like loving our kids. Moms, we are great at that. So don’t let the less-shiny moments bring you down. Learn from the moment if you can, then shake that guilt off, pick up your “Supermom” cape and move on. Just be intentional in the moment you’re in.

3. Ask for help.

Yep, I feel you. This tends to be a hard one for us moms. We like to sport our bedazzled capes and fool only ourselves into thinking we can do it all. But the hard truth is that we can’t. We weren’t meant to.

So don’t feel any shame asking for a little help when you need it. Ask your husband for help getting the kids to bed. See if another mom could give your daughter a ride to dance. In a culture that has all but destroyed the proverbial “village” it was supposed to take to raise our children, it’s time to rebuild it.

4. Find a working mom friend.

I adore all of my friends—working in or out of the home, kids or no kids. No matter what your life stage is, the following will always be true: We need someone who gets where we are and who won’t judge our struggles.

I need close connections with other working moms who are struggling with the dilemma of taking off for sick days and field trips. Those who can understand the horror you feel coming home to a meal you intended to slow cook all day, only to discover you didn’t plug the darn thing in. No judgment, ladies. Back to Chick-fil-A we go.

5. Stop with all the comparisons.

You can’t be Luke’s mom, so get over it. You weren’t supposed to be. I tell my daughter all the time she was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). I don’t want her to think she has to be anyone other than the amazing girl God created her to be. So why should I?

God made you with a purpose, mom. He knew just what your future kids would need when He created you. Trust that He knows what He is doing. Just be you.

6. Find time in your busy schedule to connect with God.

When I neglect to set aside time to read Scripture or pray, all of the above points are harder. If I don’t go to God in prayer, I try to carry all my burdens myself—every ounce of guilt, all the comparisons I hold myself to, all the ways I will never measure up.

Connecting with God is the most important thing I can do not just for my family, but for myself. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden,” He tells us in Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest.”

One day not long ago, I was fishing through my purse for my keys before leaving the office. I found an M&M, an earring I thought I had lost, and something sticky that I didn’t waste time on identifying (it’s probably for the best).

But amid these small pieces of my life, there it was. Attached to a tangle of keys was a purple butterfly my daughter had given me—“#1 Mom,” it read. I’ll take that over “World’s Okayest Mom” any day.

Parenting a difficult child

SOURCE:  Julie Lowe/CCEF

Some of the most burdensome moments for a parent are when it is clear to those around you that your child is defiant or difficult. What are other people thinking? What does this say about me as a parent? They might assume your child’s behavior is a result of inadequate parenting or something else amiss in your home. People may even be bold enough to share their views, without any sense of the shame they are heaping upon you. Those of you with a difficult child understand. You feel marked, and even judged, by your child’s personal struggles. You hang your head around people who “know” about the problem. You assume they see you as a failure. If you were a good parent, surely your children would be well-behaved, love God, and have good manners. After all, their children are not so insubordinate.

If this is how you feel, you may have bought into the belief that good parents produce good children and bad parents produce bad children. At times, this seems downright biblical. If you raise a child in the way he should go, he won’t depart from it, right? So it follows that if you were godly enough, wise enough and patient enough, your child would not be so rebellious. It seems that the right formula is: love plus discipline plus godly instruction = “good” kids. And because, at times, the formula does seem to work, you determine the error must be in your parenting.

I’ve heard many a parent say, “We’ve exhausted all options, all approaches, all forms of consequences… and nothing worked. I tried being calm; I tried consistent discipline; I tried appealing to their conscience and praying with them and for them. Nothing helped. Nothing changed.” What the parent means is that it did not produce the desired behavior change or a visible heart change. The assumption is that, once again, the formula was applied, and it proved useless.

But this is a faulty, unbiblical approach. Good kids come out of horrific family backgrounds, and rebellious, willful kids come out of good, Christian homes. Children do not come to us as blank slates, but with their own personalities, strengths, weakness, desires, and temptations towards particular sin. They are born with hearts that are wooed by their own desires, and they exercise volition to choose for themselves the type of person they will become. There is an active moral responder on the other end of your parenting—one who chooses whom they will serve. And there is no way a parent can ensure the outcome.

Of course, a parent does play a significant role in a child’s life, but don’t buy into the belief that assumes good parenting will produce well-behaved children. It incorrectly places all the ownership and blame on you. And the burden of it might tempt you to want to give up or resort to poor or ungodly parenting (anger, yelling, harshness, despair, backing down, or backing away completely) because it might appear to work in the short run.

What then are you to do? Let me suggest two things that might help.

First, evaluate your motivation. Though you are not responsible for your child’s bad choices, could it be that, without realizing it, you are adding to the problem? If you are frustrated, despairing, or angry because your child is difficult, you need to ask yourself: What standard do you judge yourself by? Whose agenda is dictating your parenting? Is it a worldly, self-centered agenda, or a Christ-centered one? You can desire good things that become driven by very bad motives. Do you care too much about your own comfort or reputation? Do you desire a well-behaved child with few problems, or struggles? Children that make you look good, that are productive, smart, and kind? Are you embittered because you have invested yourself in this child and see no results? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, consider confessing the desires that grip your heart. Ask God to give you the grace, fortitude, and wisdom to parent your challenging child. Ask him to show you how to respond to your child out of love and concern for his or her wellbeing, not your own.

Second, remind yourself of what God calls you to as a parent—no more, no less. He calls you to love your children, to model a Christ-like character and lifestyle, and to respond wisely and thoughtfully to their struggles. You are to foster a personal relationship with the living God, and, to the best of your ability, shape your child’s strengths and weaknesses in his image. Though God expects you to parent with consistent love and wisdom, he does not hold you responsible for results that are driven by the child’s sin or rebellion.

Stop “trying” to make things turn out a particular way and just do the hard work of godly parenting. Do not judge its effectiveness by your child’s response. Simply wrestle with this:

Is my parenting loving?
Is it consistent?
Is it wise?

That will be challenging enough. You will fail, be convicted, and need forgiveness on those fronts alone. The rest must be left to the work of the Spirit in a child’s life. You will find much freedom from judgment, less care for the opinions of others, more hope and less despair when you commit your parenting to the Lord. Let him do the rest. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary of doing good.”

How To Overcome Rejection

SOURCE:  Dr. John Townsend

Rejection. The word itself can make us wince. It brings up marriage and dating failures, job problems, and friendship and family snafus. Simply defined as “dismissing”, rejection is the act of turning away from someone or something. Actually, rejection is not a bad thing, we do it all the time. We reject one menu entrée for another at dinner, and we reject one Netflix show for another. But when we are rejected in a personal relationship, it can be very painful and derailing. Oh yeah, and 100% of us have been rejected at some time or another in our lives. So it is a normal human experience. So here are some tips to help you overcome it. You can’t overcome the reality of rejection. People have the freedom to reject us, and we do as well. But you can do something about the emotional disruptiveness that occurs.

Be honest about the feeling. Just say or write down, “X has rejected me. He is no longer in my life, and I feel unlikeable, cut off, unimportant, not valuable”, whatever. That’s just the reality of how you feel. Neuroscience research tells us that when we don’t face a negative, we can’t fix it. So bite the bullet and be clear about the feeling.

Parcel out the causes. There are very few cases where rejection is 100% the other person, though they do exist. So take a hard look at the relationship. What was the other person’s responsibility? Maybe they were critical, judging, dishonest or perfectionistic person. That’s bad! But go beyond that, to what your part was: perhaps you chose to overlook issues instead of addressing them, didn’t respect yourself, or didn’t admit your own flaws. That needs to be recognized. And then get to work on whatever was the beam in your own eye. That will also help decrease the pain of the rejection.

Bring to mind the “rest of” yourself. Sure, you were rejected. But that doesn’t mean that you’re a worthless person at all. Remember that you are also a pretty decent and kind person as well. Don’t get lost in the “I’m totally unlovable” thinking pattern, it will get you nowhere.

Replace the one who left. No one should be alone. Make sure you have other people in your life who “get” you, who are good listeners and who believe in you. The more you are isolated after a rejection, the more powerful the rejection. And if we’re talking dating or marriage, don’t rebound. I know it feels great. But the statistics say that if you use romantic attachment as a self-soother, you are very likely to be in the same position a few months down the line. Get with non-romantic, deep, faithful friends before you venture out into romance again.

Here is a goal: get so balanced and healthy that the next time you are rejected you’ll say, “Ouch, that’s sad. Oh well, I’ll call some friends and learn from it and have a great dinner.” Well, it won’t be that easy, but it will be better!

As We Forgive Those

SOURCE:  Joe Dallas

“… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” (Luke 11:4)

Jesus loves me, this I know. But this I also know: He demands certain things of me, none of them small. I can’t call Him Lord if I don’t take those demands seriously.

So I’ve been working on meeting them for 48 years, making some progress while enduring my share of setbacks. The lion’s share of those setbacks has concerned three particular demands He makes: that I not worry (Matthew 6:34); that when I’m struck I turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39); and that I forgive as I’ve been forgiven. (Matthew 6:15).

Strike three.

I’ve never thought of myself as an unforgiving, grudge-holding kind of guy. But for whatever reason, I’m now seeing many things I just haven’t let go of. Old things, ancient history from childhood, or junior high days, or very young adulthood.

Which is interesting, because candidly, I’ve been messed with pretty badly in recent years. Some of the worst betrayals I’ve ever experienced happened within the last decade or so, years when I was well into middle age. So you’d think those not-long-ago hurts would still be throbbing, but no. I’ve pretty much shrugged them off, and they rarely cross my mind.

The same can’t be said for conversations and events occurring forty-plus years ago. They intrude into my thinking, and before I catch myself, I’m replaying them, often re-writing the script so that instead of being victimized the way I was, I don my cape and deliver well-deserved sucker punches to the bad guys, coming out heroic rather than wounded.

Yes, I know, fantasizing a revised personal history to make ourselves feel better is awfully childish. But it’s also a more commonly practiced mind-game than many of us would care to admit. At any rate, I’ve reached a season when long-ago traumas are playing through my head like old movies you discover while channel surfing, squinting at the tv with vague recognition, then saying, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that one.”

All of which raises the obvious question of forgiveness. Have I forgiven? If so, why are the old hurts resurfacing? And if I haven’t forgiven, then why not? It’s not as if I haven’t been forgiven plenty myself, and we all know what the master had to say the servant he forgave when that same servant turned around and refused mercy to another. (Matthew 18:33)

So here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

1. Forgiving isn’t forgetting.

God alone can say He remembers our sins no more; (Hebrews 10:17) We simply don’t have the capacity to delete our memory banks. I am therefore not required to literally forget old hurts. I can certainly choose whether or not to dwell on them, but I can’t make them vanish.

2. Forgiveness isn’t indifference.

I may well forgive someone for a deeply inflicted wound, but if the memory of that wounding crosses my mind, it will still hurt. How can you think of something traumatic without an emotional response? That alone doesn’t constitute unforgiveness.

3. Forgiveness isn’t isolated.

That is, I may genuinely forgive, then, in my sinful human state, I may later in life re-hash what I’ve forgiven, dredge up the old hurts, re-experience the pain, then ignore the law against double jeopardy by re-trying the perpetrator, finding him guilty, and mentally executing him.

None of which means I didn’t forgive him in the first place. Rather, it means I sinfully chose to revisit the sin I had no right revisiting. Sometimes it’s not just forgiveness that’s required of us. It’s re-forgiveness as well.

4. Forgiveness can become harder with time and perspective.

What seemed hurtful to a 12 year old can appear downright monstrous to an adult, because with time and perspective we better realize how horrendous things like bullying, abuse, or other violations really are.

An abused kid often thinks, “Perhaps I deserved this”, but the adult of later years screams, “No, you didn’t, and that never should have happened!” That’s why I often find that women and men I work with who are well into their middle years are angrier or sadder over their old hurts than they were when the hurts were first inflicted.

We pay a high price for growing up, one of which is the awareness of just how wrong the wrongdoers of our lives really were.

Finally, forgiveness is sometimes humanly impossible.

Corrie Ten Boom,  a Dutch Holocaust survivor whose sister died at the notorious Ravensbruck women’s camp, recalled meeting a former Ravensburck guard at a church in Germany where she was speaking after the war.

He approached her, extending his hand while asking forgiveness, and she froze. All the camp horrors flashed through her mind, and she realized she couldn’t, in her own strength, forgive the man who was part of
those horrors.

She quietly prayed. Miraculously, as God gave her strength to take his hand, she felt a rush of love flow from her arm right into his. She realized she couldn’t forgive, then by God’s grace she did what she couldn’t do.

Proof yet again that Jesus was speaking quite literally when He said, “Without Me, you can do nothing.”

When I try forgiving things which never should have happened, I often find myself in Peter’s position when he saw the Lord walking on water and, in his distress and desperation, he said, “Bid me come walk with you.” (Matthew 14:28) Only by keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus in constant reliance could he do what was otherwise impossible.

Big amen to that. I cannot in my own strength forgive, not really. The way of Joe Dallas is to mouth forgiveness then quietly mutter, “But I’ll get back at you someday.”

But the way of the One who Joe Dallas follows is that of an unqualified “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” His love never fails, He remains aware of the human frailty behind the worst of sins, and His desire is always for reconciliation rather than revenge.

So today I’m getting an eyeful of how far I’m falling short of His ways, and a heart full of desire to be the strong and forgiving man only He can fashion. He tells me today, as He told others centuries ago, that if I don’t forgive others, I’ll not be forgiven.

Then I, struggling to obey while fearing that I can’t, offer him the prayer of that father I so relate to in the Gospels who, when told in Mark 9:24 that his faith could make the impossible attainable if only he’d believe,

“Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.”

Clinging to Truth: A Battle to Fight

SOURCE:  John Eldredge, from Wild at Heart 

Hanging on to the Truth

In any hand-to-hand combat, there’s a constant back-and-forth of blows, dodges, blocks, counterattacks, and so forth. That’s exactly what is going on in the unseen around us. Only it takes place, initially, at the level of our thoughts. When we are under attack, we’ve got to hang on to the truth. Dodge the blow, block it with a stubborn refusal, slash back with what is true. This is how Christ answered Satan — He didn’t get into an argument with him, try to reason his way out. He simply stood on the truth. He answered with Scripture and we’ve got to do the same. This will not be easy, especially when all hell is breaking loose around you. It will feel like holding on to a rope while you’re being dragged behind a truck, like keeping your balance in a hurricane. Satan doesn’t just throw a thought at us; he throws feelings too. Walk into a dark house late at night and suddenly fear sweeps over you; or just stand in a grocery line with all those tabloids shouting sex at you and suddenly a sense of corruption is yours.

But this is where your strength is revealed and even increased — through exercise.

Stand on what is true and do not let go. Period.

The traitor within the castle will try to lower the drawbridge, but don’t let him. When Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts, it’s not saying, “Lock them up because they’re really criminal to the core”; it’s saying, “Defend them like a castle, the seat of your strength you do not want to give away.” As Thomas à Kempis says, “Yet we must be watchful, especially in the beginning of the temptation; for the enemy is then more easily overcome, if he is not suffered to enter the door of our hearts, but is resisted without the gate at his first knock.”

Remember the scene in Braveheart where Robert the Bruce’s evil father is whispering lies to him about treason and compromise? He says to Robert what the Enemy says to us in a thousand ways: “All men betray; all men lose heart.” How does Robert answer? He yells back, I don’t want to lose heart! I want to believe, like [Wallace] does. I will never be on the wrong side again.

That is the turning point in his life . . . and in ours. The battle shifts to a new level.

God Is With Us

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. — Joshua 1:6-7, Joshua 1:9

Joshua knew what it was to be afraid. For years he had been second in command, Moses’ right-hand man. But now it was his turn to lead. The children of Israel weren’t just going to waltz in and pick up the promised land like a quart of milk; they were going to have to fight for it. And Moses was not going with them. If Joshua was completely confident about the situation, why would God have to tell him over and over and over again not to be afraid? In fact, God gives him a special word of encouragement:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. — Joshua 1:5

How was God “with Moses”? As a mighty warrior. Remember the plagues? Remember all those Egyptian soldiers drowned with their horses and chariots out there in the Red Sea? It was after that display of God’s strength that the people of Israel sang,

The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is His Name. — Exodus 15:3

God fought for Moses and for Israel; then He covenanted to Joshua to do the same and they took down Jericho and every other enemy.

Jeremiah knew what it meant to have God “with him” as well. “But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior,” he sang.  “so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail” (Jer. 20:11). Even Jesus walked in this promise when He battled for us here on earth:

You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. — Acts 10:37-38, emphasis added

How did Jesus win the battle against Satan? God was with him. This really opens up the riches of the promise Christ gives us when he pledges, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5 NKJV). That doesn’t simply mean that He’ll be around, or even that He’ll comfort us in our afflictions. It means He will fight for us, with us, just as He has fought for His people all through the ages.

So long as we walk with Christ, stay in Him, we haven’t a thing to fear.

Satan is trying to appeal to the traitor’s commitment to self-preservation when he uses fear and intimidation. So long as we are back in the old story of saving our skin, looking out for Number One, those tactics will work. We’ll shrink back. But the opposite is also true. When a man resolves to become a warrior, when his life is given over to a transcendent cause, then he can’t be cowed by the Big Bad Wolf threatening to blow his house down. After Revelation describes that war in Heaven between the angels and Satan’s downfall to the earth, it tells how the saints overcame him:

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. — Revelation 12:11

The most dangerous man on earth is the man who has reckoned with his own death.

All men die; few men ever really live.

Sure, you can create a safe life for yourself… and end your days in a rest home babbling on about some forgotten misfortune. I’d rather go down swinging. Besides, the less we are trying to “save ourselves,” the more effective as warriors we will be.

Listen to G. K. Chesterton on courage:

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. The paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.

 

Learn to Speak Your Partner’s Love Languages

SOURCE:  Katereina Fager/The Gottman Institute

After many years of being in a relationship, you might find yourself not fully understanding and communicating well with your partner. You might wonder what’s wrong with the two of you, and you might feel confused. You’re both speaking the same literal language, but when this kind of disconnection happens between partners, you aren’t speaking the same love language.

There may not be anything wrong with your relationship other than the differences in your ways of communicating and expressing love. You might just be speaking a love language that your partner doesn’t fully understand, or your partner speaks a love language that you have yet to learn.

According to Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages, there are five ways to “speak” and understand emotional love. But many couples don’t know about love languages and are often surprised when they learn about them. Chapman describes those five love languages as:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

As a child, you probably learned to receive and give love in specific ways. Perhaps your parents regularly hugged you and told you how much they love you (Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation). Or, instead, they showed their love by always driving you to and from soccer games and cheering you on (Acts of Service, Quality Time), even if they weren’t the hugging types.

Simply put, that’s how your parents expressed their love for you, and you may have adopted those love languages as your own.

But, later in life, you began a relationship and perhaps got married, and eventually the message you are trying to express to your partner is not received or acknowledged as an expression of love, even if that is your intent.

The reason for that disconnect is that both of you probably show and express love in different ways, or have different love languages. You might question the depth and strength of your love, or you may feel uncared for, which can cause tension. Unfortunately, this can lead to emotional and physical disconnection between you both.

But the best way to find and examine your love languages is to look closely at how you express your love to each other. Maybe you like to be touched and need to hear words like I love you, you are beautiful, you look great, and so on. Therefore, your love languages would be Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch.

But maybe you don’t get that from your partner. Maybe, in the past, you asked for a nice massage but your partner declined to give you one. This could make you feel upset, sad, or angry and, over time, you simply give up and stop asking.

Maybe your partner is expressing their love by doing little things for you here and there, such as folding the laundry or bringing home your favorite snack, but you don’t recognize it or acknowledge it. But Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts might be your partner’s love languages, and your partner might expect the same expressions of love from you.

In this predicament, it’s important to have a calm, in-depth discussion about the ways in which you both like to express and receive love. Try asking open-ended questions about what kinds of words or actions indicate love for your partner, and how they like to express their love for you. See if you can learn why they have a particular love language, where that might come from, and what it means, physically and emotionally, for them.

When you start exploring your love languages with your partner, you might think, wow, why didn’t I know this before?

Being loved in the way that you understand and appreciate is important to any relationship, so it’s in both of your best interests to learn how to speak each other’s love languages. This can help you overcome frustration and disconnection and bring you closer to feeling loved and secure in your relationship.

Pretty soon, you may not feel like you’re speaking different languages at all. You’ll stop feeling confused or like something is wrong, and, in time, you’ll learn how to express love for each other in ways that are more impactful and meaningful for you both.

It may take a few conversations to fully understand each other’s love languages, and it will take practice and patience to put those expressions of love into action, but the end result—feeling loved and secure in your relationship—is worth the effort.


Parenting: Making “Getting Ready For School” Work

SOURCE:  Prepare-Enrich

First-day Blues

It’s 7:00 AM on the first day of school for your kindergartner. She is sound asleep, it’s still dark outside and you have to wake her up to prepare her and yourself for the adventure this day will surely bring.

You’re anxious. Let’s face it; you are terrified to let your baby leave your sight. She is not getting out of bed as fast as you would like and even though she picked out her outfit for the day, the weather changed overnight and you clearly cannot send her to school in shorts and sandals.

She finally awakes, and much to your surprise, she isn’t hungry for breakfast; you can’t let her leave the house on an empty stomach. You’ve read all the studies about fueling the brain and body. In typical childlike fashion, you can see the temper tantrum that will erupt and the tears that will certainly follow.

What is that noise? Is the bus at the curb already? Oh no, you wanted to take a picture of her stepping up to the bus waiving back at us with her cute, smiling face.

Drat! We missed the bus!

Time to pack up the car. You drive your child to school late, hungry, cold, and with a red nose and swollen eyes from crying. You are a wreck and now you have to go to your job.

That first day of school commemorative picture of her will not be anyone’s fondest memory.

But wait – it doesn’t have to be like this.

Here are some helpful ideas to make getting ready for school a win-win for all whether it’s the first day or well into the semester.

Do whatever you can the night before:

Plan out two outfits, using the weather forecast as your guideline (maybe even special new jammies the night before the first day of kindergarten).

Provide a special bed time snack, along with a bedtime story. No scary stories on this night.

Offer, then plan to serve healthy breakfast items – ones that can be easily prepared in the morning. Check and then re-check the backpack.

The week before school starts, set an alarm a tad earlier than usual to get her used to the fact that it may be dark when the alarm goes off.

After that first day of school, talk about what you both can do to get ready for the next morning. You might have her help you make a “getting ready for school” chart to hang on the fridge or place on her bedroom door or bathroom mirror. Include all the tasks, step-by-step.

Have a Family Meeting

Family meetings are beneficial in times of change, such as the first day of school.  There are many websites devoted to the idea of family meetings with content to guide you.  Use your planned family meeting ideas life-long.

Need some help deciding the format for a family meeting?  This is how we, at PREPARE/ENRICH, define a family meeting:

A family meeting is a time for all family members to get together and to share and re-connect with each other.  Spend­ing time together helps family members feel supported and it can become an important family ritual.

Guidelines:

Includes all family members who are old enough participate.

Establish a regular time and place when the entire family is together, such as after a family meal.

Encourage discussion by everyone. Do not criticize and critique.

Allow the speaker to finish their thought before offering your comments, observations or input.

Ice Breaker Questions: (use age-appropriate terminology)

What do you feel was the best thing that happened to you or our family today (this week or recently)?

What was the worst thing that happened to you or our family this week?   What could we have done differently to resolve the issue?

Have conversations that encourage, support, and offer solutions. You might be surprised at how close you become as a family on many levels at any age for any of the daily issues that surface.

Unfortunately, your job as a parent is to prepare her to leave you. Start her off with the best possible skill set, because before you know it she will be grown and out of the house – on her way to an adventure of her own.

Lastly, remember to celebrate your accomplishments.  For your first family meeting, go out for ice cream!

Too Overwhelmed To Pray

SOURCE:  Jenny-Lyn de Klerk

Your Helper in Prayer: Spurgeon on the Holy Spirit

When I think of Charles Spurgeon, my mind goes to one story before anything else. I once heard that when Spurgeon’s depression flared, his wife Susanna propped him up and pushed him back into his chair so he could continue working. I was so taken aback by my imagining of this scene — it made me think about all of the times me and the other women in my family had been that low in depression. Spurgeon’s weakness ran much deeper than work-related stress, and was not just a symptom of physical exhaustion.

This kind of weakness is hard to overcome. Spurgeon touches on this deep weakness in his explanation of the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer. The reason the Father gives us his Spirit to help us pray is because we are weak; we don’t know how to pray properly, we often don’t feel like praying, and we struggle to put our worst life pains into words.

Spurgeon brings out the beauty of this doctrine by explaining that God is not angry because of our failures in prayer, but has compassion on us as his children. Instead of acting the disinterested King who says, “if you do not have grace enough even to ask properly, I will shut the gates of mercy against you,” God says, “I will write out your petition for you, I will put it into proper words and use fitting phrases so that your petition shall be framed acceptable.”

“If you cannot put two words together in common speech to men, yet [the Holy Spirit] will help you to speak with God; ah! and if at the mercy seat you fail in words, you shall not fail in reality, for your heart shall conquer. God…never reads our petitions according to the outward utterance, but according to the inward groaning. He notices the longing, the desiring, the sighing, the crying…

God knows our needs without hearing words, like a mother knows the needs of her baby when it “makes very odd and objectionable noises, combined with signs and movements, which are almost meaningless to stranger” but are understood by the mother who “comprehends incomprehensible noises.” If that were not intimate enough, the Spirit even claims our groanings “as his own particular creation.”

Prayer is for your own benefit and comfort—it’s an “outlet for grief” and a “lotion” to “bathe our wound in.” Rely on the Spirit to help you know what to say in prayer, and in the worst times, when you do not have the words or the strength to say anything, know that the Spirit is propping you back up into your chair so you can press on.

Why God Gives Us More Than We Can Handle

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The next time someone says that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, point them to Judges 7. God’s instructing Gideon to take on over 100,000 enemy soldiers with just 300 fits in the “more than you can handle” category. Imagine how Gideon and his servant, Purah, must have felt trying to come to grips with a humanly impossible assignment.

Standing on the side of Mount Gilboa, Gideon gazed over the Valley of Jezreel, which sprawled beneath him northward toward the hill of Moreh. The valley was a sea of tents, teeming with more than 100,000 Midian warriors.

That morning, the Lord had judged Israel’s army of 32,000 too big to face Midian’s. Israel would think more highly of himself than he ought to think when God gave him victory. So Gideon had sent home whoever was afraid. When 22,000 hit the road, Gideon had to quiet his own fear. Now Israel was outnumbered ten-to-one. But God was with them and armies had overcome such odds before.

Oddly, the Lord considered these odds still too much in Israel’s favor. So in obedience to the Lord’s instruction, Gideon brought his small, thirsty army down to the spring of Harod. And he gave his servant, Purah, the strangest command of his brief military career: “Observe all the men as they drink. Have every man who laps his water like a dog stand off to the side.”

Gideon supervised the selection, but when so few were being chosen, he just let Purah finish the count and he climbed back up Gilboa to pray and survey.

It wasn’t long before Purah emerged from the trees. “So what’s the total?”

“Three hundred, sir,” said Purah.

Gideon chuckled to himself. “Three hundred.” He looked back toward the human hoard in the valley and was quiet for a moment. “That’s less than I expected.”

“Yes, sir,” said Purah. “But thankfully, three hundred doesn’t reduce our strength much.”

Gideon breathed deeply. “No, Purah. The three hundred are not the reductions. They’re the army. The others are the reductions.”

Purah stood dazed for a moment, staring at Gideon. “The three hundred are the army?”

Gideon nodded slowly, still looking into the Midian-infested Jezreel.

“But that’s not an army! That’s how many should be guarding an army’s baggage!”

Purah stepped up beside Gideon. Together they watched smoke columns rising from ten times more cooking fires than they now had warriors. Purah shook his head and said, “Even if we were all like the mighty men of old, three hundred could not overcome 100,000.” He paused. “And we aren’t mighty men.” Another pause. “And there’s more than a 100,000 down there.”

Both were silent for a while. In the quiet, the Lord spoke to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.

Then Gideon said to Purah, “During the exodus, how many mighty men did it take to destroy Egypt and its army or part the Red Sea?”

Purah thought briefly. “None.”

“How many did it take to tear down Jericho’s walls?”

“None.”

“How many did it take to feed two million of our people in the wilderness every day for forty years?”

“None. I get your point.”

“The mightiest are those who trust in the Lord and obey him, no matter how impossible things appear.”

“In our people’s history, the mightiest have not been the strong warriors,” Gideon said. “The mightiest have been those who trusted in the Lord and obeyed him, no matter how impossible things appeared. He has promised us that Midian will be defeated. He has chosen only three hundred of us. We will obey; he will act. And when Midian falls, it will be clear to everyone who felled him.” Then he looked at Purah and smiled. “Maybe the Lord just needs us to guard his baggage!”

Purah didn’t laugh. He only replied, “Should we dismiss the others?” Gideon nodded.

Later that night, in the tiny camp, Gideon lay praying. Every plan to mobilize 300 against 100,000 seemed ludicrous.

Suddenly, he was aware of the Presence. He sat up, his heart beating fast.

The Lord said, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.

Purah woke to Gideon’s nudge and whispered words, “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” Purah whispered back, getting up quickly.

“To the Midian camp, just you and me. The Lord has something he wants to show us.”

They quietly crept toward the nearest Midian outpost, veiled by the clouded sky, and saw two inattentive guards talking. Just as they got within earshot, one said, “I had a strange dream before being woken for duty tonight.”

“Tell me,” the other said.

“This cake of barley came tumbling into our camp, crashed into the tent, turned it over, and flattened it.”

The other guard looked at him alarmed and said, “I know what that means! The cake can be none other than Gideon, the son of Joash! God has given us all into his hand!”

Gideon and Purah looked at one another with the same stunned expression.

Cast Your Cares

With renewed faith, Gideon and Purah roused their mini army and launched a night attack. This threw the Midians into a panic and they slaughtered each other in confusion. It was a rout. Not one of Gideon’s three hundred perished in the battle. God gave them more than they could handle to force them to rely wholly on him.

“God gives us more than we can handle to force us to rely wholly on him.”

When we’re confronted with an impossible situation or trial, Gideon’s three hundred preach to us that “salvation . . . is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39) and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). These are no domesticated platitudes. God really intends for us to cast our all on these massive truths and for them to give us more-than-conquerors confidence and peace (Romans 8:37), no matter what we face.

It is not hyperbole to say that the defeat of our sin that Jesus accomplished on the cross dwarfs Gideon’s victory. Compared to overcoming God’s wrath against our sin, defeating 100,000 Midianites was very small. And if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

God certainly does give us more than we can handle. And he does it “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). If you’re facing some overwhelming adversary or adversity and you wonder how God could possibly deliver and work it for your good (Romans 8:28), then take heart. He is granting you the joy of experiencing the reality of Judges 7, Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 1.

10 Strategies For Responding Effectively To Criticism

SOURCE:   Rachel Fintzy, MA, LMFT/PsychCentral

It’s generally not fun to be at the receiving end of criticism. Also, there’s no doubt that some criticism is mean-spirited, hostile, and not really meant to be helpful. However, often we can learn a lot from constructive criticism. The challenge is to resist becoming defensive, which reduces our chances of actually learning something from the situation.

Some tips for receiving critical feedback in effective ways:

  1. Respond calmly. Resist the impulse to jump in and begin defending yourself with an angry tone. Instead, take a few deep, slow breaths. Don’t talk over the other person, although this can be extremely difficult. When we feel cornered, which often happens if we perceive the other person to be attacking us, we can go into lashing-out mode. Instead, try to speak with measured and respectful tones, at a relatively slow pace. Try to keep bitterness out of your tone.
  2. Manage your anxiety. Watch your inner dialogue. What are you telling yourself about what the other person is saying? Are you lambasting yourself for “horrible” behavior? Are you catastrophizing, believing that all is lost concerning the professional or personal relationship? Or can you mentally and emotionally step back just a bit and reassure yourself that the other person probably (more on this below) has the best interests of your relationship (be it personal or professional) at heart?
  3. Determine whether the criticism is constructive in nature. This sort of helpful criticism generally contains specific and productive suggestions for change, and refrains from making global statements such as “you never” or “you always”. Constructive criticism often comes in a “sandwich” format, meaning that the initial statement consists of a positive comment, followed by the critical note, and concludes with another positive or encouraging sentence.
  4. Consider the source. Is the other person generally positive? Or are they mostly critical of others and tend to complain and push blame onto other people rather than focusing on possible solutions? If it appears to you that the other person is more of the “pointing-a-finger”, angry, and/or narcissistic type, try not to take their words personally. However, you could still look for a potential grain of truth in what they say. For instance, if they state, “You always make things more difficult than they have to be”, consider if in at least one instance you might have done so. You could respond with, “Yes, I wasn’t adequately prepared for our meeting last week and took more time than usual to explain our project’s status”. Or, if you can’t think of such an example, you could respectfully ask them to provide you with one, so you can understand their criticism more clearly.
  5. If you’ve decided that the criticism is constructive and that the other person has good intentions, try to lower your guard (again, easier said than done). Try to keep in mind that the feedback is meant to improve the situation and pave the way for better times to come.
  6. Try not to defend yourself and make excuses. Certainly you’ll want to offer an explanation if you’ve been accused of something you did not do. However, even in this case it helps to hear the other person out first, before asking if you could offer your perspective. People like to feel heard, and your accusing party is no exception.
  7. Make a plan for addressing the criticism. For example, if you’ve been told that your latest report contained a number of grammatical and numerical errors, state that you will spend more time reviewing your work, and possibly run it by a colleague, if appropriate, before turning it in. You could add that you welcome further feedback.
  8. Thank the other person for their feedback, especially they’re also being kind. It’s not easy to give constructive criticism, due to the potential of the receiving party feeling hurt, demoralized, or angry. Put yourself in their shoes. Showing appreciation to them can go a long way in contributing to a congenial and cooperative atmosphere, whether further helpful discussion can take place, now and in the future.
  9. Feedback can be a gift. Most of the time there is something to learn from the situation and to therefore be grateful for. Have you previously received similar feedback? How can you use this information to improve your performance at work, enhance your relationships, grow as a person, or all three?
  10. Don’t be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect. None of us is a mistake. When someone points out areas in which you could use some more training, where you could be a bit more diligent or detail-oriented, or more aware of other people’s feelings, this is not an attack on your character as a whole.

Finally, stay confident. You have many strengths, and a thoughtful person would point these out as well. However, even if they don’t, try to remember your strong points and thus counter all-or-nothing thinking about your value as a person.

5 Ways to Make Small Gestures Count in Your Marriage

SOURCE:  Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW/The Gottman Institute

One of the things that Jake appreciates about Kristin is her way of showing love through her actions. Jake puts it like this: “When I come home after a long day and Kristin is there, she usually gives me a hug and wants to know how my day went.”

According to a new study by researchers at Penn State University, you don’t need grand gestures to show your partner love. In fact, this team found that small gestures, such as hugging, holding hands, and regular acts of kindness all top the list of how most Americans report feeling loved and appreciated.

Kristin explains: “It’s the everyday moments that matter. Jake and I have found that little things make a difference. When I forgot to pay my cell phone bill, Jake noticed it lying on the counter unopened and quickly called in the payment so it wouldn’t be late.”

Look for ways to show love with small gestures

In The All Or Nothing Marriage, psychologist Dr. Eli J. Finkel explains that many easy actions, or “lovehacks,” aimed at improving your relationship can be done in five minutes or less. For instance, you can write your partner an endearing and charming love note, hold their hand, or give them a hug. Think of fun and special places to leave love notes.

Create daily rituals of connection

Dr. John Gottman recommends spending at 15-20 minutes daily having a stress-reducing conversation with your partner. Examine the schedules of family members and determine when there is a dependable time you are both available. Consider enjoying a daily walk together or unplugging and talking about your day over a cup of your favorite beverage.

You can create other rituals of connection, too, such as a six-second kiss (which Dr. Gottman calls “a kiss with potential”) before leaving the house or when coming home, or making sure to text each other throughout the day with positive, loving messages to help you both feel connected.

Make a habit out of using kind and polite words such as please, sorry, and thank you

Would you rather go to bed resentful, or would you prefer cuddling with your partner after repairing an argument? Studies suggest that couples who apologize when they’ve hurt their partner’s feelings (even if done so accidentally) and grant forgiveness have a more successful marriage. Apologizing and taking responsibility is an antidote to defensiveness, which is one of four negative behaviors that Dr. Gottman proved to consistently lower the quality of a relationship. And when you can make repair attempts, like apologizing after an argument, it helps to decrease tension and make you feel more connected to your partner.

Take action and offer support to your partner

This can include helping them complete tasks, run an errand, or finish a project. These positive actions lead to interdependence. As you coordinate your plans with your partner, you create a sense of purpose and shared meaning in your marriage. Creating a larger context of meaning in life can help couples to avoid focusing only on the little stuff that happens and to keep their eyes on the big picture.

In The Relationship CureDr. John Gottman explains that the small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have more power than isolated, excessive gestures when it comes to creating and sustaining lasting love. Therapist Liz Higgins, LMFTA, informs us that Dr. Gottman’s motto is “small things often,” which includes turning towards your partner as much as possible to create a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not important to celebrate big events such as anniversaries and birthdays with more grand gestures of love and romance, but just don’t forget to offer little, daily kindnesses to your partner, which are the most important gestures of connection.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The Penn State University research team discovered that actions speak louder than words. “We found that behavioral actions—rather than purely verbal expressions—triggered more consensus as indicators of love. For example, more people agreed that a child snuggling with them was more loving than someone simply saying, ‘I love you,’” Heshmati said. “You might think they would score on the same level, but people were more in agreement about loving actions, where there’s more authenticity perhaps, instead of a person just saying something.”

Kristin reflects: “I never realized the importance of doing simple things to make Jake feel loved until he pointed it out. Growing up, my family wasn’t very affectionate but Jake lets me know how much a kiss on the lips and an embrace means to him.”

It would be easy for Kristin and Jake to neglect each other’s needs since they have two school-age children. Their sons both have demanding after school activities and play soccer on the weekends. However, Kristin and Jake embrace the notion that in order for their marriage to thrive, they need to pay attention to each other on a regular basis and intentionally turn towards each other’s bids for connection.

Jake speaks: “Kristin loves and appreciates me. Since we have kids, we make sure to go out for dinner at least once or twice a month by ourselves. We also show our love by the small things we do for each other like sending each other a loving text message during the day.”

In order to feel alive in your marriage, you need to put effort into spending quality time together—with an emphasis on giving small gestures of love. Responding positively to your partner’s overtures for connection will help you bring out the best in one another and keep your marriage fulfilling. Give your partner the gift of love and appreciation in small ways every day!

Why You Should Not Mix Compliments with Criticism

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Several years ago, my son and I had a brief conversation that has really stuck with me.

My Son: “Were you there for the first quarter of my game, Dad? I started!”

Me: “I didn’t get back into town and to the game until the second quarter…but you did great!”

My Son: “Oh.”

Me: “But you really need to start eating better.”

My Son: (Silence)

So, what was wrong with what I said? Well, he understood my flight was late and so I missed the first quarter. And my compliment was good. But, the “but” was the problem. Instead of just praising him for his accomplishment, I criticized him for his eating habits. And that criticism crushed the compliment.

Looking back, I realize that the words I had spoken weren’t the same words my son heard. The moment I said, “But you really need…” what my son heard was, “What you did was good, but not quite good enough.”

So what did I take away from this experience?

First, I learned that compliments should be strong and specific. Saying “great job” or “good work” is a good start when complimenting. But it’s even better to say something like, “I’m so proud that you made the starting team. You persevered and worked really hard to get there.”

Second, I learned that criticism should not be mixed with a compliment. Criticism can be so loud to the listener that he won’t even hear a compliment when they are spoken at the same time.

Third, I learned that it’s important to compliment exponentially more than criticize. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Giving your child a strong compliment can greatly inspire and propel him forward. Criticizing your child, although necessary at times, can quickly take the wind out of his sail. In a previous post, I shared some things you can do to increase your compliment to criticism ratio.

Relationships/Marriage: The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

SOURCE:  Kyle Benson / The Gottman Institute

After studying more than 3,000 couples in his Love Lab over the last four decades, Dr. John Gottman has discovered that the most important issue in marriage is trust.

Can I trust you to be there for me when I’m upset?

Can I trust you to choose me over your friends?

Can I trust you to respect me?

Couples that trust each other understand that a good marriage doesn’t just happen on its own. It needs to be cultivated.

These couples express appreciation for each other. They brag about each other’s talents and achievements. They say “I love you” every day.

Even in the heat of conflict, they consider the other’s perspective. They are able to empathize with each other, even when they don’t agree, and they are there for each other during times of illness or stress.

They understand that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. As Neil Barringham says, “The grass is greener where you water it.”

Building trust

Trust is built in very small moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner.

One single moment is not that important, but if you’re consistently choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship—very gradually and very slowly.

When this happens, the story of your relationship begins to turn negative. You begin to focus on your partner’s flaws. You forget about their traits you admire and value.

Eventually you start making what researcher Caryl Rusbult calls “negative comparisons.” You start to compare your spouse to someone else, real or imagined, and you think, “I can do better.”

Once you start thinking that you can do better, then you begin a cascade of not committing to the relationship, of trashing your partner instead of cherishing them, and building resentment rather than gratitude.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains this phenomenon in dating.

Building trust and commitment requires intentional effort. Here are fives ways to invest in your relationship.

Turn Towards Bids for Connection
Bids are the building blocks of lasting love. In one study of newlywed couples in Dr. Gottman’s lab, couples that stayed together turned towards each other 86% of the time, whereas couples that eventually divorced only did it 33% of the time. That’s a big difference.

When bids fail, as they inevitably do in all relationships, seek to repair. Remember that repair attempts are the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples.

Flip Your Internal Script
Negative thoughts cause you to miss 50% of your partner’s bids, according to research by Robinson and Price. This makes it difficult to build trust.

Learn to separate specific relationship problems from the overall view of your partner. Make an intentional effort to replace negative thoughts with compassion and empathy.

Ritualize Cherishing
The best way to keep yourself from making “negative comparisons” is to actively cherish your partner. Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts about each other rather than thoughts about someone else.

Think about the things you appreciate about your partner and tell them. Thanks for being so adventurous with me. You’re such an amazing cook. You’re such a great dad.

Learn to Fight Smarter
Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and what they need, not what they don’t need. They are gentle and they give their partner a recipe to be successful with them.

Schedule a weekly State of the Union meeting to discuss areas of concern in your relationship.

Create We Time
It’s easy to find excuses for not dedicating time for your relationship. We’re too busy. We work a lot. We’re always with the kids.

Find time go on dates, ask each other open-ended questions, and continue to create rituals of connection that allow you to connect emotionally. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have. Choose each other, day after day.

God’s Ministry of Disappointment

SOURCE:  Amena Brown/Christianity Today

In pain and confusion, I’m finding that God is, indeed, close to the brokenhearted.

I thought I’d be pregnant by now.

Full stop. Hard return.

I will sit a few minutes after writing that sentence. I want to highlight and delete. I want to press backspace, as if a button on my laptop can keep that sentence from being true. I imagined my mid-30s differently. I thought my guest room would be a baby room. I thought I would have smiled at my baby shower by now, gentle hand on a round belly. I thought by this time, I’d have a calendar full of playdates and plenty of funny kid stories to tell.

Instead, it’s just my husband and me. This isn’t a bad thing. This is in fact enough. My husband and I are a family. Having a child doesn’t start our family. These are the things I tell myself when people whose manners exist somewhere between well-meaning and none of your business search the torso of my shirts with their eyes, trying to discern if I am hiding a pregnant belly from them. These are the things I remind myself of when enduring conversations that start off as small talk and turn to the dangerous territory of statements that stab you right between your heart and your unanswered prayers.

“Are you pregnant yet? Are you trying?” they ask, followed by intrusive suggestions and weird home remedies. “Don’t wait too long,” they say, as if we are waiting this long because we want to. “Have you thought about adopting?” they say, followed by a story of a random couple who adopted a child and then surprisingly had a biological child. As if we haven’t walked beside our friends as they journey in the honor of adoption, as if adoption is a consolation prize or busy work while we wait for the “real thing,” as if adoption should only be plan B.

Mostly we smile. Nod. Change the subject. Sometimes we get angry and frustrated and not so polite. We don’t tell anyone how these conversations make us cry when we are alone. How we hold our breath until the awkward conversation is over, until the dinner has finished and the plates have been wiped clean. We say less and less. We don’t even make comments about the future children we dream to have. We realize we are too fragile for the pointed questions and the oversimplifications.

A journey through heartbreak

I ask myself all sorts of things. Does true womanhood really hinge on a woman’s ability to become a mother? Why do I hold myself to this ticking biological clock and some ridiculous social media standard that says I should have children by now? Is my identity wrapped in checking off some arbitrary list of achievements? Does my life not matter if I am not married with kids, with a certain income bracket, with a house in a certain neighborhood, with a list of ways to describe my cool life to people I meet at parties?

Our journey to one day having children has not been blissful, innocent, joyous, or as easy as I expected it to be. It has been a journey of loss, heartbreak, delay, doctor appointments, test results, delays, stress, frustration, more appointments, more delays. Hope seems to be a liability too expensive to carry in the face of so much disappointment.

My relationship to God and my feelings about prayer became tumultuous. I found myself wincing in my faith, praying cautiously because I don’t want to deal with asking God for something when I think he will disappoint me. How do I keep going to God and asking when it seems like his consistent answer is no or wait? How do I keep believing the God who says no or wait when he knows how much that no or wait hurts me? How do I believe that God actually has my best interests at heart?

I spent the first year of this journey saying things like, “We are not these people. We are not the people who watch all of our friends around us get pregnant and have babies while we have no idea when it will happen for us.” I learned there is no such thing as “these people.” We don’t get to choose. Everyone carries a load; we don’t get to say what load, how we’ll carry it, when we’ll get it, or how long it will last.

The painful truth

I grew up as a church teen in the 1990s. In my church context, it was an age of believing the gospel could be connected to prosperity, that in the name of Jesus we could not only find love and peace, but also Benzes, McMansions, future husbands (also known as Boaz), future wives (also known as Proverbs 31 women), land, larger paychecks, and awesome shoes. Whether you named it and claimed it or marched around it six times in silence and the seventh time while blasting your loud trumpet, believing these things would bring you the answers to miraculous prayers became a way of life.

Sometimes I watched those prayers work. I watched people of faith pray for the sick, and the sick were healed. I watched church members move into houses the lender had nearly laughed them out the door for attempting to buy. I watched Boazes and Proverbs 31 women find each other, marry, and have pretty babies. So for years, I assumed this was the walk of faith. You see something you want, you pray and ask God, and you quote God’s Word that applies to said request. You focus your positive thinking on the fact that God is powerful enough to answer and that he will do all in his power and with his unlimited resources to fulfill your request.

Then I grew up. I am learning the painful truth that even when you pray and ask God, even when you quote back to God the applicable Scriptures, even when you walk around the object you are praying for six times and play your trumpet on the seventh, God doesn’t always answer the way you want him to.

What do you assume about a God who does this? He must be mean, cold, distant, unloving, inconsiderate. He must be more human and less holy, right? He must care about other people more than he cares about you. He must not see how hard you’ve tried to be good/honest/righteous.

Sometimes God is the great leader in the ministry of your disappointment. Sometimes you don’t get the job you prayed for. Sometimes the Boaz/Proverbs 31 woman you thought you were supposed to marry doesn’t even want a second date. Sometimes you want a Benz and you can only afford a hoopty. Sometimes God allows you to be disappointed. Sometimes you learn through tears, heartache, anger, and frustration that God is not a yes person.

God is near

I didn’t want to write my story this way. I wanted to have a happy sitcom ending. I wanted to be able to tell you this story from the lofty place of prayers answered. I wanted to spend a short time telling you this hard time we had and spend most of the time telling you the amazing story of how that all changed. But I’m not there yet. I don’t know when I will be. I don’t know if I will be.

Some people said this would be a season, and maybe it is, but it hasn’t ended yet. It’s gone on longer than I thought I had the strength to walk. Sometimes I get so weary all I can muster in prayer is “God, help me.” And sometimes no words come, and I trust he hears the things my soul wants to say when it hurts too much to gather the words to express.

I’m learning to accept this mystery of God. There are many things about God I will come to know or understand, and there is plenty I will never know, never understand, never be able to put words to. I’m learning the truth of Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” This means that when my pain hurts me deeply, God understands, God listens, God is near.

I wish I had answers. I wish I could predict the future. One of the limits of humanity is knowing only exactly what we know right now, right where we are. One thing I want my soul to remember is that life isn’t always good, humans aren’t always good, but God is good. Always.

I don’t say that because it’s convenient. I don’t say it to silence the frustrations, doubts, and questions. I say it because our tears and frustrations and doubts and hurt feelings and anger matter to God. I say it because I know how scary hope can be when you’ve lived with disappointment so long. I say it because I’m living every day trying to hold the tension of fully trusting in a God my humanity will never completely understand. As I sit in that tension, my heart still wants to believe in the God whose love is found in prosperity and poverty, in answers and in questions, in disappointment and in miracles.


Taken from How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown.

 

50 Things You Can Say to Make Your Child Feel Great

SOURCE:  Janel Breitenstein/Family Life Ministry

A list for parents who want their children to know their love and God’s love.

1. I’m proud of you. And even if you weren’t so fantastic, I’d still be proud.

2. I believe you.

3. The way you _____ is such a perfect addition for our family. God knew just what we needed when He gave us you.

4. I know you and I haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye lately. But I want to let you know that I accept you whether I agree with you or not, and I’m committed to working on our relationship so we both feel understood and secure.

5. I can’t believe how _____ you are. I can’t imagine the plans God has for you!

6. You know, you may not feel very _____, but God knew exactly what He was doing when He made you the way He did, and it was just how He wanted to express Himself. I love you just the way He made you. And I wouldn’t have wanted Him to do it any differently.

7. No matter how royally you mess up, I’ll always be glad you’re mine, I’ll forgive you, and I’ll love your socks off.

8. I saw how you _____. I’m so proud of you.

9. I forgive you. And I won’t bring this up again, okay?

10. I want to hang out with just you tonight. What do you want to do?

11. I remember when I _____. I felt so _____. I don’t know if that’s like what you’re going through, but it was a tough time for me.

12. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me for _____?

13. I got you this, just because.

14. Lately I’ve really seen you grow in the area of _____, like when you _____.

15. Yes, there is food in the house.

16. I admire the way you _______. In fact, I could learn a lot from you in that area.

17. That was a really wise choice.

18. No chores today.

19. I trust you.

20. You’re really growing into a young man/woman of character. I can’t tell you how exciting that is!

21. Go ahead and sleep in tomorrow.

22. I had no idea you could do that! You impress me.

23. What do you think?

24. I canceled your appointment with the dentist.

25. I love your dad/mom so much! He/she is so _____.

26. I love being around you.

27. I’m so glad you’re home.

28. Thank you!

29. I love doing _____ with you.

30. You are one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. I am so humbled God gave me you.

31. I feel so proud when I’m with you.

32. You handled that so well.

33. I made your favorite _____.

34. I’m trusting that God will take perfect care of us. He’s always done it before! Can we pray together about this?

35. With God’s help, your dad/mom and I will never, ever get a divorce.

36. That looks great on you.

37. If I were in your shoes, I would feel so _____. Is that how you feel?

38. Would you turn your music up?

39. You are so well-disciplined in _____.

40. I sent you a big ol’ care package in the mail.

41. That was so courageous.

42. Do you feel like I’m understanding you?

43. If there were one thing you could change about me as your mom/dad, what would it be?

44. You have some real gifts in the area of _____.

45. Let’s go to Grandma’s!

46. It is so cool to watch you grow up.

47. Just wanted to let you know I’m praying for you.

48. I miss you, but I’m glad you’re having a good time!

49. You make me so happy just by being you.

50. I love you so much.

Tag Cloud