Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

It’s finally spring time up here in the Upper Midwest, with this weekend having a prediction of 70 degree weather this Sunday.  As I sat this morning in the front room I could hear bird outside in the sunshine and see the last vestiges of the snow that had fallen last Sunday night melting away, hopefully for good until next winter.  Soon plants will be growing and I’ll have to get outside to clean up the yard and mow for the first time.  While I hope for a bit of a reprieve, for as I get older I find I have less desire for the manual labor required to do this work, yet I know it is necessary.  Growing up my mother used to spend hours in the yard each weekend working on the flowers or the garden.  She had many rose bushes,  I remember another chore I used to hate in the fall; bringing out the giant stack of Styrofoam rose cones that were in the shed and helping Mom cover the rose bushes.  We’d carefully tuck everything in and then I placed bricks on the corners of the cones to keep the winter winds from blowing them away.  We have a large rose bush on the side of our house now, much too big to cover.

When spring came my Mom would uncover the rose bush, or my wife now goes out and the first thing that is done it to prune the rose bush.  I’ve also seen my wife do this with flower arrangements I bring home from time to time.  I just bought the thing and it is bright and shiny and new, and the first thing she does is take scissors to them to prune.  I thought, “Why?”, but was always amazed at how much better it looked afterwards.   The rose blooms were now arrayed in full splendor instead of hiding like Easter Eggs in the grass.  Some time she had also taken the one arrangement and made several out it, taking a flower or two in a vase in the window by the kitchen sink, a few more on the kitchen table and the rest on the island where I had set them originally. The effort of pruning had turned something that was already wonderful into something glorious.

I should not be surprised.  After all Jesus uses many times to explain how pruning not only takes away the dead growth, the vines that bear no fruit, but that he will even prune the vines that are bearing fruit so that they will bear even more fruit.  My Mom and my wife do this with plants all the time, but on this early spring day, my thoughts have turned more to Jesus’ example and what I can do with my life and what I see others doing as well.  What can I prune?

I think back to the many, many times I feel I know what will be said, and from my impatience, I jump in and finish a sentence.  I have justified the action in my head as showing I am listening, or I am in tune with the speaker and I am just showing them I get it.  But what if I’m not?  What if they were going to say something totally unexpected?  How many times has this action cost me something?  A better relationship?  A new view on a staid, old happening?  A chance to see a rose that was buried until someone pruned away the greenery that was hiding it?  If I prune away jumping in with my own opinions, I might hear something amazing.  More importantly I will make sure that whoever I am spending time with feels heard.  I see the reaction far too often.  The nod and statement of agreement, “Yeah, that’s right”, after I jump in, coupled with the look in the eyes that there was something else, but they’ve chosen to move on.  I vow to do better next time, but then fall into the old habit.  I have made it a goal for me to sit on my hands and keep my mouth shut more often, keep the thought in my head, and let others speak and see if they match.  In the short time I’ve been actively doing this for the last few weeks, I have been wrong more than I’ve been right, on where I thought the person was going.  How much have I missed for years because I failed to prune this behavior from me?  While I’ve had great relationships with people and had great conversations (fruit), how much more fruit could have been gained by pruning this away?  I hope to find out going forward.

I am also keeping an eye on where else I can prune over the years.  While I think my self-focus is reasonable, what if I cut back on that some more?  Would it open me to seeing how I can help others?  I’ve done a bit of that when I helped with divorce support, but with that gone now, I find I have a desire to do something else, which may turn into financial coaching, but that is still something I’ve determined by looking inward into how I think I can help.  Am I missing other gifts I have that could help others because I am looking only at what I can think of and not listening for clues people are giving, but I am missing, perhaps for the behavior above?  I want to be open to better results there.

I have been in a new job for a month now.  I no longer have a role where anyone reports to me, something that I have had for over fifteen years.  I have found that I had to prune away methods and actions in the last four weeks that I have been doing for over a decade.  I have to avoid jumping into other people’s areas of responsibility and being OK with handing the problem over to another, my part being done.  I have to let reciprocal relationships build where in the past I could have relied on positional authority to force the issue if I needed.  I’ve also exercised a lot of what I just spoke about, waiting for the other person to finish before I jump in.  I’ve not been perfect on that, as it is hard for decades of habit to get cut away in a few days, but just as my wife can quickly prune away the unneeded parts of the rose in a few seconds and uncover something great, I’m working on that too.  I consciously decided to prune away high level management responsibilities because I did not like the type of person they would drive me to be.  The stress and pressure to do the impossible was wearing on my family, my friends and my co-workers.  It was also wearing on me.  Just as unfruitful growth still saps the strength of the vine until they are removed because they still take energy to sustain, those things were sapping joy and peace away, so I decided to remove them, and it has been very pleasant.

My wife is also pursuing some pruning on her job front for some of the same reasons.  She’s returning to working with students individually through private practice rather than going to a school and having to deal with all the politics and blocking that goes on that are sapping her happiness and fulfillment.  She started out this way but without as many connections and reputational bridges as she has now, it was difficult to find enough students to help.  Now she feels that is different and she’d like to prune away the job that bore this fruit, to allow even more fruit to spring forth.  I look forward to seeing what will blossom, and I think my wife does as well.

I think I understand what this means to her, but I’m going to use my newly pruned “shut up and listen” self to hear what it really means to her, rather than making assumptions that her journey is the same as mine was.  I believe that pruning will lead to more growth in our love and respect for each other which will grow into other areas of our life and the world.  It is what we are meant to do, prune away even those things we feel may be of some good, to realize the greater good they have been hindering from springing forth.  It is also important to prune constantly, not just at set times.  I have avoided New Year’s resolutions for exactly this reason.  Why wait to prune until the turn of a year, or the turning of a season?  I happen to have been a bit more self reflective today and it tied a bit to all the changes I am going through in my job and the season happened to align, but I embraced the change rather than put it on a list to hit in nine months.  I’d encourage everyone to do the same, to strive to be a healthy vine and encourage the vines around us to do the same.

I did my daily quick news review this morning to the horrible realization that it has happened again; Trump has said something even more ridiculous and outlandish than the previous thing he said that I was hoping he could not top.  Yesterday his bombshell was a hint that perhaps, just maybe, gun owners should take things into their own hands and make sure Clinton does not infringe on the Second Amendment.  This was of course quickly discounted by supporters as a misinterpretation, but in Trump’s own words “ya know..”

The realization I have come to over the last few weeks is that this is a golden opportunity as a parent to discuss some really crucial issues about character, responsibility and accountability with our children.  This to me is the silver lining in this freak show that is a Trump candidacy.

While people go around claiming things are misinterpreted or that is was a mistake, I use it as an opportunity to explain to my teenagers that as you rise in level or responsibility (or responsibility you hope to gain by, say being elected President of the United States), you must become less and less ambiguous in what you say, because words have impact.  At certain levels you cannot hide behind, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.  If a CEO made a comment at a company meeting that “Sales are good, but sometimes they start to slide and it that happens, then, you know, maybe I need to make some decisions”, expecting that some people will not speculate about those “decisions” being something that the CEO did not mean or would not contemplate is a very, very poor response.  The simple solution is to be clear.  The CEO could say, “we will need to determine how long we can proceed at the lower sales rate before we need to make decisions about plant closings and staff reductions”.  Is that a great message?   No.  But it is clear.  In a similar manner, I expect Presidential candidates to not give fill in the blank responses.  Trump could have avoided controversy by instead saying, “if you do not want your Second Amendment rights endangered, then do not vote for Clinton”.  Instead he chose, to say something which could be implied and then denied with a wink and nod, when more sinister implications were drawn.  It was a deliberate choice and it is important to show our children how and why these seemingly small choices have large implications.

A key ability that we all need to develop is a really solid “BS meter”.  To do this involves a lot of work, and this election cycle is offering a real world example to use to teach our kids why it is worth the effort.  It is very easy to be lemmings or sheep and get led down the path to the cliff or slaughter by a smooth talking con man (or woman).  To have your BS meter working you need to learn enough about  a lot of things to actually be able to make a decision yourself on the merits of an idea.  In this case understanding the limits of presidential authority, the checks and balances of the government, what is and is not in the Constitution, what impact the Supreme Court can have and when they get involved and when they do not, knowing how to do your own research to fact check something “many people” have told someone, and being able to think logically and factually versus emotionally are just some of the skills and knowledge one needs.  The implications of not doing this in a presidential election are staggering and educating our children on this is a great opportunity.

So I attempt to have conversations where we calm down and just walk through the real issues.  We strip away the emotion of moving to Canada if someone gets elected and instead talk about what might be a better response and what we can do instead to improve our system rather than take the easy way out and just give up.  We get to talk about why not voting really is a poor option and the value of living in a land where you get to vote and contrast that with areas of the world where people literally die for that opportunity.  We get to talk about why words matter and why saying someone “just” did or said something is letting people off too easily at times and how to gauge when that time really is.  We get to look at why a President does matter in an era when we are being spoon fed BS about why they are no different than a Queen in England or an Emperor in Japan.  A disengaged citizenry is exactly what dictators love to prey on.  They reach for the fear of what we might lose, or what might be done to us and expand than into a monster that is hard to ignore.  Let’s take the time to educate our children about how to turn on the light, open the closet door and see that the boogeyman really does not exist and to see the importance in being smart enough to see what really is there.  The issues we face every day and in the election are real and serious.  The people that will lead us when we deal with them should be the same.  Knowing how to use your BS meter to ferret them out is a skill our children will need for a lifetime.

One of the gifts that is often overlooked that we need to thank God for is memory.

I have long been one to emphasize experience over things in vacations or other events.  If given a choice between two options such as going to a concert or buying some new clothes, I will always choose the concert.  Things that are truly needs, obviously come first, but if both the items above are wants, the experience wins every time.  A big part of this for me is that I can revisit the joy of the experience time and again, view it from different angles and perspectives and even get new insights thanks to the gift of memory.

Nowhere is memory more valuable than in our families.  As a blended family this can be a double edged sword as some memories of the “before time” can cause friction and tension where before they used to cause joy and pleasure.  For example, old traditions, some no longer practical, others perhaps “lost” because of an agreement with your spouse to compromise and just do something new, can cause issues especially if they are brought up by the children.  Suddenly the old dynamics of the earlier days, of sides, come up.  It might be a place that was regularly visited that has value to some but has little pull to the other “side” or to an activity undertaken as specific milestones in life that were fun for some but that seem stupid and silly to the other “side”.  How we look at memories can determine how this proceeds in a blended family.  Just as with any gift, it is not always only a good thing.  A new toy may be sheer joy and pleasure for the kids but a major irritant to one parent who cannot stand the noise or the mess it makes.  Similarly, if we choose to keep bringing up these old memories and lamenting over what once was and then starting to frame the new family as the barrier that exists in making it happen again, we are only headed for bad things.  Instead, I find that celebrating those memories for what they were, experiences at a place in time in a certain family configuration and just enjoying them in quiet times is what is best about them.  I do think this only works if you are making new memories, which comes back full circle to my focus on experiences over things.  I would imagine a life in which you stopped making new memories as a blended family and only lamented those things you used to do before you blended could very easily lead to heartache and sadness.

My own personal memory sink right now has to do with Marcia.  I wrote several months back about her decision to move out.  Since then contact with her has really been non-existent.  I reach out to her with an e-mail or text when I feel compelled to let her know something, to parent from afar if I really analyze what it is, and this results in at best a token acknowledgement such as “OK” but more often is just greeted with radio silence.  My decision, and only time will tell if it is “right”, is to let her live her life as an adult and not force myself into it, though as a parent there is some pain in a child just tuning you out of their life as if they flipped a switch.  It’s as if Marcia walked out of the house right after Thanksgiving, and much like we do when we leave the house every morning for work, looked over at the switch labeled “Dad” and flipped it to Off and then closed the door and drove away.  I have no idea if there was more to it than that (for my sanity I do think at times I have to believe there was) but in the end that’s what it feels like, an afterthought in her life on the way on to the cool things of the rest of the day.  So when I get to those points I choose to unpack a memory or two.  Perhaps it is something simple like a conversation we had, even are argument we had in her last couple years in the house, and see the good in it and her struggle to define herself in a world that she was railing against, or perhaps it was those older memories when I was her hero and we were doing something fun and exciting.  This is the gift of a memory.  It can change our perspective.  Depending on your mind though, it can be a danger.  I do not struggle with it often, and it is so rare that it is very easy for me to walk away from that cliff edge of resentment of why things are not the same, but I know of others who have this torment sometimes on a weekly basis.  These are the people who struggle to heal and move on and make the best of their blended family instead of focusing on them as the cause of why.  By the grace of God this is not a problem for me, but if it is for you, I cannot stress how crucial it is to get yourself some help or you will be heading down the trail to tension and strife that may lead you to another divorce.  When you unpack those one sided memories do not let them begin to rub you the wrong way and create judgements and barriers that can be difficult to erase.

Moving back to the true gift of memories.  The road continues on and the kids keep getting older.  Sure the big experiences build some great memories, but just as every gift from our loving Father, it is more important to appreciate the little facets of it.  Those memories that exist in the everyday, that spring forth just from the minimal effort involved in letting life unfold.  I believe I am more appreciative of it because of what has happened with Marcia leaving and those things that no longer happen.  It makes little difference if those things are negative or positive, what matters is that it has brought more to the forefront that we are closer to more of this than less, this nearness of getting to the point of the never more.

Shortly we will no longer have the sounds of a group of girls standing around the island in the kitchen and being loud and probably laughing at something I find utterly stupid.  The boys at the computer debating the best way to do something in their game at hand or talking about a video will be a thing of the past.  The house will not be quiet in the morning for about twenty minutes after I wake up and then start to echo with thumps and thwaps of footsteps or drawers or doors being moved as they all wake up and begin getting ready for school, it will just remain quiet.  We get a taste of “empty nest” on our weekends and for now my wife and I mainly view it as wonderful, but the prudent analyzer in me understands that part of this joy comes with knowing that it will end in a few days and they’ll start coming back, however one day they will head out and we’ll have no idea when they will be back and I know that will be less joyful.  This is when we need to look to the gift.

Memory will allow us to look back on all these trivial happenings, some that occurred more frequently than others, and recall.  We’ll recall them playing on the floor with the pets, being upset about some slight or other of the day, or the prayers we prayed for them each and every day.  The thousands of prayers lifted up to help them find their way.  When they all move away the home will not be empty.  There was a poem in the late 60’s by Bob Benson titled “Laughter in the Walls” and it fits well in what I’ve been talking about especially towards the end, when he says, “Every corner, every room, every nick in the coffee table will be crowded with memories”.  He goes on to list his particular memories, general enough for everyone to find something, as a commercial poet would be wont to do, but I will replace them with our own memories.  Our Creator gave us this wonderful gift, and I pray that all of us find the best ways to use it, rather than the hurtful ways it can be turned towards.  The goal for me is always good.  Thank you Father for this wonderful gift and for the wisdom to use it wisely.  To be able to say thanks for the memories and to enjoy the laughter in the walls.

Many Christians, my wife included, view the book for Ecclesiastes from a less than joyful viewpoint.  It has been said that it is depressing and it is hard, but as I have learned more about the Bible over the years I have never really had this viewpoint.  The book was written by Solomon, whom the Bible tells us is a great man of wisdom.  I think we can all agree that we avoid, or skim over something written by a great man of wisdom with peril.  Every day we make choices, but I’d like to point out something counterintuitive to those of you who feel this book of the Bible has little to offer in the way of encouragement by pointing out a little nugget buried in there that can make all the difference in the world in your marriage, if applied.

Before we get to the nugget, let’s first set the stage.  Our lives are full of challenges and difficulties at times.  No one escapes these for their entire life.  We may go for years coasting along in bliss and contentment only to have something smack of off our pedestal.  Suddenly our perfect life is not so perfect anymore.  It is at these times when we struggle most and our values, our faith, if we have it, is tested.  As we assist in counseling people who are going through or have gone through divorce we see the all too common result in our culture of these times. The choice is to leave, to break up the family because it will be better.  Is that really the right choice?

Have you ever felt your spouse was not there, spending their time working or buried in hobbies that take them out of the home and away from you?  Maybe they focus on friends and not your family.  Perhaps there has been hardship:  financial, medical or spiritual.  These storms of life bring with them sadness and test our resolve.  It has become too common that the decision reached is to throw in the towel and walk away.

This is where the book of Ecclesiates applies to our trials in marriage.  The NIV translation lists verse 9:9 as “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.”  At first blush, and through the lens of this being a depressing book, it reads pretty harshly, though as a piece of wisdom it holds all the hope needed to understand that God has provided us this life and expects us to enjoy it, even through the trials.  Certainly this is a choice we make, but if we take our hardships and things that drive us mad and look for creative ways to find some fun way to deal with them, suddenly our wife and our marriage are a source of power and not a drain.  If we look at what is viewed as a more literal translation of the Bible, the NASB, this verse reads: “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun ; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Suddenly the moroseness and depressing language is not really there, is it?  This translation removes the burden of digging for the real point Solomon was making and makes it front and center.  God intends you to enjoy life with your wife no matter what occurs.  It is our reward for all the difficulties.  So you, as always, have a choice.  Do you throw it away when it gets hard, feeling that your marriage or your wife are the source of your misery, or do you follow the instruction of one of the wisest men who ever lived and cling to your wife and labor with her while enjoying things together, even through the bad times?  If you change your perspective, not only can a book of the Bible that gets a bad rap as just a lament of misery suddenly offer some of the best hope in your life, but you can turn around your whole view on life and make your family a bastion against the storms and weather them together, rather than apart.

It’s done.  We’re married.  I’ll let my wedding toast tell you all how I feel.  Thanks for everyone who’s been following along.  Stay tuned for more posts, but for now I’ll be off the air for ten days while we head out on our honeymoon!  🙂

Today I married the woman of my dreams.  When we first met I was drawn to her wonderful smile and confident spirit.  I came to learn that she was caring, loyal, and sweet — and can also break into uncontrolled fits of giggling.  Our love quickly blossomed to the point where we knew we wanted to spend our lives together.

I feel extremely honored and blessed to have Nicole as my wife.  With her, I know we will face the many twists and turns, joys and sorrow of life as a strong partnership just as God intended when He created the covenant of marriage.  Our journey through life to finally meet had its challenges, but in the end God brought us together and we could not be happier.

I want to thank all of you who are gathered here to share in our special day;  our parents, brothers and sisters, children, friends, and extended family new and old.   Nicole and I can feel your love and well wishes surround us and we cannot thank you enough for that.

Not everyone is so blessed to find a woman as God centered and overflowing with love as Nicole.  Nicole I thank you for choosing to share your love with me.  I will love you forever with all my heart, mind and soul.