Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

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.

Put on a happy face

Posted: February 13, 2012 in Happiness, Kids, Motivation

“If you can worry, you can imagine success.”  — Anonymous

“If you can walk, you can dance.  If you can talk, you can sing.”  — Zimbabwean proverb

I’m not sure if it is winter or just the time of year, but it seems that in general the attacks on my mood happen more vigorously this time of year.  For the last few weeks, my dad has been struggling with his job, we’ve had key personnel let go where I work making the morale of the entire facility move further downward, demands on time go up, and the grumbling of co-workers about the situation becomes regular enough that small joys like going to lunch with them become more riddled with the negative energy of their gloomy outlooks. 

As I have gotten older I have gotten more aware of this incessant flow and been more proactive about keeping my spirits up as much as I can.   I had already been working to get back to a healthier and more cost effective lunch time routine but the increasing negativity of my normal lunch time companions has made me rush to that faster because of the impact it tends to have on my mood after listening to their lack of enthusiasm.  I have become more aware of the fact that I still have not made any good male friends outside of the workplace since I moved to this area and so the typical outlet of just reaching out to a friend and going to lunch or meeting them for an hour or two to pick up my spirits is not available to me.  As we settle in to church activities I am hopeful that they will be a source of meeting some people I can form new relationships with.

I think it is common for people to get busy and focus on tasks and forget that taking care of themselves and their mental state is just as important.  I came across the quotes at the start of this post a while ago, but they did a great job of summing up how it is in our own control to make lemonade out of the lemons we get.  What works for me is to try to look for the silver lining in a bad situation.  What is still working?  What do I have control over that I can impact to make a change for the best?  Most importantly, how can I be sure the message I am passing along to either my co-workers or my family is one of how we will succeed and not one of defeat.  As my kids get older and the typical teen angst sets in there is more and more drama every month it seems.  It is rowing upstream to keep pushing them to look at the bright side.  Sometimes it fails, but more often than not it works.  Along the way they learn important life lessons and that’s what a parent needs to do; show them the way.

I contend that the process of healing during and after a divorce is the most difficult thing a person can go through. Death has a finality to it where our loved one passes on and we move through the grieving process, and periodically think of them on special occasions perhaps, but it does not linger longer than we allow. Loss of a job has a solution of finding other means of income, whether it be a new job, career or some more entrepreneurial option. Serious, chronic health issues may ebb and flow, and are probably the only thing I can think of that compete with divorce.

The dividing line of what pushes divorce over the top, is in all the above mentioned cases, there are supporting structures in place to help you. Family embraces you wholeheartedly in most cases to comfort and support. Church groups and other non-religious aligned entities exist to assist. Today, failing marriages and divorce does not really have that. Ask anyone who has gone through the process and you will find a variation on the theme, but it is nearly universal. Family and friends do not know what to do with you, and stay out of squabbles because it is “none of their business”. More amazingly many churches and groups seem to be taking the same stance. In the rush to keep the coffers full, and therefore the seats occupied, the very institutions that should be holding us accountable have started to coddle us just as the rest of society does.

Those of us with kids see it every day. Everyone is a winner. Everyone needs to get a trophy, ribbon or trinket so they feel special. Guess what? If everyone is special, then no one is. Teachers are no longer allowed to discipline in any way for fear of hurting some poor child’s feelings and incurring the wrath of a parent who may arrive with an attorney in tow to beat down the system again. When I was a kid my parents need to sign permission slips for me to go on a field trip so that if I injured myself doing something stupid it would properly be deemed my responsibility and not the school’s. Today I need to sign forms to watch a Revolutionary War educational film because it contains scenes of violence and war and I need to sign a form that the same book I read as a child for a book report is not somehow psychologically damaging to my child (i.e. giving them a nightmare) and that if it somehow does happen I do not go back and sue the school for having the book available. If you look really deep down in yourself you can begin to see that you truly feel that we have gone too far as well.

The arguments about the divorce rate are everywhere. I have seen some reports saying it is as high as 54%, and some saying the true number is 41%. I have seen discussions talking about the actual rate compared over time being constant since 1955 and therefore not an issue that is getting worse. I don’t care what the real rate is, it’s too high. My contention is that it is undoubtedly more socially and, dishearteningly, more religiously acceptable. Churches refuse to take a stand and when they do they do it at the wrong place. I heard from one woman who was told specifically by her Bible study group that she was no longer welcome as it was a married woman’s group and now that she was divorced she might encourage others in the group to want to leave their marriages. So because of the fear of “catching” a divorce, a support structure this woman had relied on for over fifteen years was no longer available. The pastor of this church supported the decision and went so far as to indicate that the congregation really did not know what to do with her. She felt so abandoned she looked for another church home. Is this how the church should take a stand? By ostracizing someone who needs support rather than holding her husband accountable for his choice to leave because his marriage was no longer as fun as it was in the beginning?

Where are the church leaders and the church body at large, holding people accountable for their marriages? I don’t mean the lip service we hear in sermons talking about how we must stay married, we must love and respect one another (though respect does not make it into many sermons, they just think love is enough) and that divorce is bad. The coddling of issues in society has now made it perfectly OK to get divorced for any reason. Bored with your spouse? Trade them in for a new one. Frustrated that dinner is not on the table or that your husband does not make as much money as your neighbor? Get divorced! Living with your girlfriend because your wife won’t have sex with you? Hell, that’s perfectly OK! Get divorced and make it official! Marriages end for the stupidest of reasons and the church stands back and does nothing because they fear more defections from their congregations and therefore less income. When it becomes known that adultery is occurring in a marriage, why does the pastor not pick up the phone, visit the office or contact the guilty party and seriously call them out for their choices? Why do family and friends look the other way? Even more offensive, when a couple is drifting apart for superficial reasons, like boredom, fatigue, or my favorite cop out “irreconcilable differences” why does no one push back? Yes, people I’m talking about full out guilt here. This is not “I don’t like Jose Canseco so I’m going to trade him for an Andre Dawson card” or “I don’t like blue so can I have your pink Barbie swimsuit for my doll” yet it has now become totally acceptable to just not care as we see terrible choices unfolding. Yes, relationship and especially marriage is hard. It’s meant to be. That’s how we grow. But in the world of “me, me, no god dammit ME!” our friends let us, no ENCOURAGE us, to sit around and lament the fact that we no longer feel fulfilled, comfortable, happy in our marriage. You should walk away, after all that couple in Hollywood was just married three weeks and they did the same. Why should you not do that to? Does anyone ask what are YOU doing to make that happen? Does your spouse know that you feel this way? Like it or not, we choose how we feel about something. It has become all the vogue these days to say things like “He makes me unhappy”. Sorry, but the reality is you choose to be unhappy with what occurs, he’s just doing something,but not causing your unhappiness. You are doing that yourself. Are your friends and church making you understand your responsibility? If not, why not? If you have friends who hold you accountable, cherish them, thank them every chance you get for being brutally honest when needed, and give them the same in return.

Now, there are legitimate issues that cannot be resolved and the Bible allows for divorce in certain situations, but my concern is that the very people we look to to help us have increasingly been failing in demanding that for lesser situations that we do not simply throw in the towel. And then if we try to keep our marriage together but our spouse chose to leave we get no support from these people to heal. Instead there is a form of confusion. You are now single, tainted and a large number of people treat you as a social leper. No longer invited or supported.

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find these people, and I fear it may not be because they are simply being quiet for fear of being marginalized in their own right, but that instead it is because less of us really feel that it is our duty to hold people to a higher standard. God expects us as Christians to shine as a light in the world, yet how many put a lampshade on ourselves and shine in a tiny light around ourselves afraid to let the world see? I was recently encouraged to go see the film “Courageous”. I had read about the film and saw it was about being a solid father and not abandoning your kids. I thought, “I’ve not done that. This movie has little value for me.” I was not going to go, but my girlfriend really wanted to see it as she had heard the same recommendations from church associates as I had. Out of love for her, I chose to attend. I was glad I did as I learned a few things I could improve in my life. Take the lampshade off and let your family and the world see what you stand for. Sadly the message in the general populace is more clear.

In 1957, the Ten Commandments was released and it was the highest box office of that year. Its adjusted gross makes it the fifth highest ever. If that film were released today, it would maybe make a few million as Courageous has. A significant cause of this was summed up well in the film. One can argue about the specific presentation, if it was too heavy handed and dramatized, if it was all too nicely tied up with a ribbon as we demand all our entertainment to be today. The film says men have stopped being courageous and teaching their families about the importance of God. Look back at the papers in 1957. They were full of glowing reviews of the film. Today it is made fun of as “Bible thumping” and such. Therefore a religious film is something to be made fun of in the press at large today.

Taken with a broader view, the cause is that it has become acceptable in our society to place God in a corner and take our lampshade and walk over and shine our light only there once in a while. We can’t talk about God at work, at school, and because of that pressure anywhere else. And sadly what this has turned into is that we can’t talk about God in church. The largest divorce support group in my area takes place in a church but is not remotely based on God in anyway. It’s now called the Power of One and just adds to the debate that all we need is ourselves and maybe a relationship with God. They say they do this to be inclusive, but in doing so they continue to add to the public debate that it is OK to marginalize God and place him in a corner. After all, if this huge church does it, it’s OK, right? We complain of the dumbing down of America. I sadly look at the dumbing down of God. Too many congregations make it easy to participate. They do not hold their members accountable. They do not demand a certain level of conduct of their members. And in the topic I write about in this blog, the substance of failed marriage and divorce, in many cases they do nothing to discourage this situation. And then they do nothing to fix the problem, educate the individual and make them a better disciple of God so that they can make themselves a better spouse in the future. I had a great DivorceCare leader who challenged us in this way. But the church body as a whole should press to make it known that not working on a marriage is not a Godly way to live.

I challenge you to really listen to your pastor’s sermons the next few weeks. Do they hold you accountable to do better, or are they just making you feel good about how you act? If they do not challenge you I suggest you begin seeking another church. In your own life, resolve to be more courageous and challenge your friends and family when you see them embarking on a poor path of choices. We are a community and “it’s not my business” is just a way for us to happily go on and look the other way. It is much more difficult to be persistent and point out how their choices are impacting them and their families. Good friends will understand and appreciate the honesty. Take a look at Jesus’ example. He did not go pounding on everyone’s door demanding to be heard, but when he saw a poor choice he educated the individual about it. He spoke in public but did not advertise on YouTube or in the local paper to boost his own ego, his reputation as a truth teller drew people to him. I’m not suggesting you get in someone’s face, just that you state facts as you see them. If a friend continues down a poor path, then when consequences arrive, they will most likely remember your counsel previously and return to you. Continuing to provide the truth, even though not easy, may eventually cause them to right their direction. Just as with Jesus at times they may move away from you because your message is uncomfortable, but in the long run many will see that it is a good message and will return. Find church leaders and a church body that does the same thing for its membership and help it grow and you will be doing your part to provide a supportive environment in the world and avoid the continued spread of irresponsibility in the world in the name of God.

I had a conversation with my daughter last night just before bed that gave me the idea for this entry.  The details of the conversation do not matter, but the concept became something fascinating, as I would have never thought it would evolve in that way from where we started.  I love to talk to people, just anyone, about anything, for this very reason.  You never know what will unfold.

The concept I moved into a teachable moment with was:  Are we responsible for another person’s happiness?  My answer to that was an unequivocal “no”. 

From a position as a divorced parent, this can be addressed from many facets.  As we move through the divorce process, is it the responsibility of our friends and family to make us happy?  While we were married, did this concept play any role in what happened?  As we move on with life, regarding our kids how does this affect us?  Can God make us happy?

I really come at this from the perspective of “God helps those who help themselves”.  But as I discussed this with my daughter and found her struggling with the concept I realized that is because it is so intertwined with how we really look at things.  I think being around happy people makes us happy, but that is very different than them accepting responsibility for our or another’s happiness.  So when we are down from all the garbage from our divorce and friends and family are being nice and trying to cheer us up, whose fault is it if it fails?  I think the key to working through this is to understand we always make choices about how we react to another person’s interaction.  When someone cuts us off in traffic, we can curse them out, or we can wish them a better day in wherever they are headed off to in such a reckless fashion.  The power of that choice is entirely in our hands. And therefore the emotional reaction we have to it is all in our control as well. 

Teaching our children this key fact is our responsibility.  To me this process is the core of God helps those. By making positive and proper choices and therefore impacting your emotions in a productive way, you allow God to work on your spirit and provide you with the guidance to find the way forward.  The helping themselves therefore is not this monumental task of figuring out exactly how you are going to pay the bills this month, how to get the kids through college, how to deal with your teen daughter’s pregnancy; it is simply focusing on having a productive reaction to whatever happens.  Then trust God to institute his help as He sees fit.  To me this is a lot less daunting.  You are not reliant on having a superior intellect, wellsprings of finance or powers of clairvoyance.  You bring to the table yourself and your mindset and He does the rest.  And you now can clearly see why you are never responsible for another person’s happiness.  Only they can control that by the choices they make.

At the danger of sounding like Zig Ziglar, Anthony Robbins , Joel Osteen or any of the cheerleaders of success, the key to happiness in anyone is to get rid of stinkin’ thinkin’ (I am not claiming this as an original phrase.   I heard it somewhere).    I believe the responsibility for your happiness is squarely on your shoulders, and most specifically a bit higher up, in your head.  The food pantry gave you a fifty pound bag of onions?  Make French onion soup.  The car broke down on the way to the job interview?  Figure out what is most urgent and do it, but don’t kick and curse and scream and ask “why me?”  I firmly think the act of taking responsibility and DOING something is the best medicine to being happy more often than being sad.  It empowers you to feel that something can be done, rather than wallowing in what happened.  It gives you the confidence that you are doing things rather than the withering feeling that things are being done to you.  All of this is a choice you make thousands of times a day.  Is your meddling ex going to irritate you or just be something you have to choose how to react to?  Does trying to figure out why she does it really get you anywhere other than more miserable?  Then why are you doing it?  Do you really think God is going to strike down your ex, make him move out of state never to be heard from again, or fall into a drunken stupor and get arrested?  Then why do you wish for it?  Does it really help make you happy? 

As hard as it is, I accept responsibility for my life and getting to where I’m at.  I do not look for others to blame as it just leads to feeling powerless and sad.  I take the high road in difficult choices as often as I possibly can, because when I think back on those choices, I’m happy.  When I make a poor low road choice, I reflect on what I can learn to do something better later, and that helps make me happy.  Food will not make me happy.  A pill will not make me happy.  Alcohol or drugs will not make me happy.  Screaming at my ex will not make me happy.  Bad mouthing them to my kids will not make me happy.  Wishing or cheering when they fail or “get what’s due” will not make me happy.  They all are low road choices, feeling good in the moment, but bitter later on.  Most importantly, I realize no one can make me happy.  It is my responsibility to build that feeling between my ears each and every moment (waking or sleeping) of each and every day of my life.  Just realizing I have that control over this makes me happy.  I hope it does the same for you.