My Mountain is My Greatest Ally

The things that made me, shaped me, and defined me all came out of seasons of pain and struggle. I have not once been deeply shaped by a success that I just stumbled in to. I hate it to be true but the reality is, my mountains have been my greatest allies in reaching peace, contentment and true joy.

We look at the Biblical heroes and they also were all profoundly shaped through deep struggle. Joseph, David, Ruth, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter… Jesus. Not once does the Bible say, “and then they had a wonderful life and God was glorified, Amen”.

Yet, these mountains we find on our journey… we fight them, hide from them and sometimes are ashamed of them. These mountains are the sins we wrestle with, the disadvantages we face, the pain that knocks on our door at the most unexpected times.

But truly, the whole Biblical narrative shows one thing: facing that thing that causes us the most struggle is the only pathway to peace, contentment and joy. We think the absence of mountains brings joy but deep down we simply know this is not true.

Mountain_allyWhat if this year ahead was the year we faced our mountains instead of: pretending they aren’t there, wishing them away, hoping for them to just vanish. What if, on the other side of that mountain is exactly what we were hoping for all along.

This is true with our children also. It is so tempting to search longingly for every glimmer of worldly success. We downplay or secretly fear the struggles our children have to face. We are convinced that the struggles will ruin them so we make it our job to safeguard them from struggles and pain. Is this really helping them though?

Here’s my honesty: my children don’t win any awards. They aren’t the top of their class for reading, math, science or anything else. They have been in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and the whole list. My one son was so afraid of swimming, he wet his pants at school when faced with the prospect of the school pool. When he told me I instantly wanted to make the whole situation go away. The embarrassment he felt was terrible for him. Struggles like this are a 1st world recipe for parenting anxiety!

But when I go back to the Bible I see that I shouldn’t feel anxiety at all. Ease of  success promises my kids nothing. Lack of challenges doesn’t safeguard them at all. Teaching them to face their struggles and never give up is the greatest hope I have as a parent. We don’t seek the challenges but we can’t can’t cower from them either.

What if, we as parents, embraced our child’s mountains eagerly? What if we taught our kids to tackle that mountain like it’s their destiny? As painful as it would be, facing that struggle could be our child’s greatest opportunity and gift in their life.

I fear that today we are teaching our children that happiness, joy and contentment can be had without a fight. We do this because we  desperately want it to be true. But, in our own lives this has never been true… and it won’t be true for them either.

Do we face the mountains in our personal life, marriages, families, and friendships like it is our greatest opportunity or our greatest threat? Do you see your mountains as an ally or an adversary? It doesn’t make the struggle any easier to embrace this reality. But the truth is, mountains are our ally if we face them with courage and don’t give up without a fight.

What have your most formative events in life? Was it mountains or easy victories that most shaped you?

Choosing Christmas

Recently I overheard a mother at school saying, “This year I’m not giving in to a frantic and busy Christmas. I’m going to relax and put my feet up!” This is something many of us have probably said at one time or another but it was unique because I live in South Africa. I smiled and thought to myself, “Your ‘busy’ is an American’s ‘relaxed’”.

Seriously, as an American spending Christmas in South Africa, I love the relaxed and family feel of the Christmas season here.

We are in the Southern Hemisphere where it is summer. So, our Christmas traditions involve camping, hiking, picking Strawberries and a whole lot of swimming. Our Christmas vacation photos look something more like this than Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”:

 

Christmas_swim

 

Christmas_Braai

But really, we can all have a relaxed and relationship orientated Christmas no matter what hemisphere we live in. We have to choose it yet we don’t. In the news, on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else I see a repeated theme; a desire to rid ourselves of a consumer based and frantic Christmas.

Here are some thoughts to consider as you head in to Christmas season wherever you find yourself:

Complaint:

“Christmas is just so busy”

Christmas comes with expectations for the food, parties, gift buying, making memories, taking pictures, traveling far and wide… the list goes on. The reality: this is self-driven. There is no secret Christmas monster that is making you do this under threat of bodily dismemberment. We will be driven by the expectations that we deem important and give power to. Busy-ness is a choice. I choose to be busy, no one makes me be busy.

Someone once said,

“…the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection.”

Our choice to be frantic and busy in front of God, our children and the whole world to see only reveals our own betrayal of what is truly valuable.

Complaint:

“Family dynamics are so complicated”

Yes, this is true. There are in-laws and out-laws and everything in between. Christmas comes with expectations and that’s what makes normal family relationships suddenly a lot more dramatic and complicated this time of year.

Here is a deeper truth. What really makes it more complicated and dramatic for us is our own participation in the drama. We can’t make all the drama go away but we can choose to not engage. It seems, though, that we see ourselves as victims of the drama instead of adults with the power of choice.

A few years back a friend asked me, “How can I make Christmas day work? I have to get my family to 4 parties that day… any ideas?”. I did happen to have an idea: “Choose 1 or 2 and skip the rest!”. “But people will be so upset with us!”, she replied.

Well, that is only a drama if you choose to engage with it… if you don’t, you will have a lovely day!

Complaint:

“Christmas has been taken over by consumerism”

It is a marvel to me that everyone complains about this but yet doesn’t do anything about it in their own home. Authors make a lot of money writing about how they “took back Christmas”. This is amazing! It is so astounding to us that people would choose to buy less gifts that we will read a whole book about it like we are reading about an alien invasion.

Yes, our children spend more time writing Christmas lists than learning about the greatest gift. Is this their doing or ours?

If we truly believe that we are not defined by the things we own then it will not be an issue to own less. If we truly believe that our children will find their deepest joy in Jesus, as opposed to the latest toy, on Christmas morning then it will provide no anxiety what-so-ever to choose to buy less gifts at Christmas. The problem, I think, is what we truly believe is not what we profess we believe.

This Christmas, choose to make it a great one. One free of busy-ness, drama and consumerism.

I really do believe it is the most wonderful time of the year… so from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!

Friends wanted, mind reading may be required.

I often talk to young single women about their hopes of falling in love and getting married. I like to ask them what sort of man they are looking for, I find the answers so interesting and revealing.

Amongst the diversity of answers is a very common concept of finding a man “who finishes my sentences”. It’s the ideal that relationships entail so much closeness, intimacy and deep knowing that you no longer need to talk, “we will just know what the other is thinking”.

This idea is not restricted to romance and marriage. I talk to multitudes of people who basically expect this same thing from all their relationships. Several years ago I was talking to a woman who felt deeply hurt by the missions community I served with. She relayed a list of offences. Amongst them was that, “no one has visited me at my home”, “I had a baby, felt so depressed and no one asked me how I was coping”, and “I never get invited out with other women”. Her pain was real and I knew the most caring thing was to simply listen and show care. I likely didn’t know the whole story. But, as I listened, it seemed that everything she listed involved a superpower that I rarely see: mind reading.

In romance, friendship, family, parenting, and churches it seems that we expect that true love and true relationship involves mind reading.

The rule-book we are living by is this: If people truly love me, they will be able to know what I want without me having to express it. If I have to ask for help/care/friendship/assistance/companionship then it’s not real. People should just know what I need, when I need it.

We do this in our marriages, don’t we? I walk in the house with slumped shoulders and eyes to the ground. I walk to my room, lay on my bed, sigh loudly and wait. My husband carries on with whatever he is doing, completely “ignoring” my obviously distressed state! I get more and more annoyed at his disregard to my emotions. We’ve been married for 11 years, he should know when I need support and care! If I have to ask for it then that just feels that he doesn’t truly know me or love me.

The problem is that Jesus models the complete opposite. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus was at an emotional low, his death was imminent. Mark says that he was “distressed and aggravated” and that he “threw himself on the ground” to pray. His friends should have seen and known that he needed help. It should have been obvious to all that something was wrong. What does Jesus do? He asks for help. Once. Twice. Three times.

Jesus shows us that healthy and whole people ask for the help they need. We can’t expect people to read minds (they can’t). We can’t hope they see the “signs” (obvious to us but not them). Relationships are not more real if we can finish each others sentences.

Stating how you are doing is not asking for help. Saying, “I sure am struggling” is not asking for help. Telling your husband you had a bad day is not asking for help. Telling a friend that you are exhausted from the newborn phase is not asking for help. We often think it is, but it’s not. There is still a lot of mind reading required to figure out what is actually wanted based on how you are doing.

What should I do on my bad day? Walk in the house, go to my husband and say, “I’ve had a terrible day, I was hoping you could sit and listen so I could talk it through… could we do that?”

For any and all relationships to actually work, real communication has to happen. How are you doing in being like Jesus and communicating what you need? Do it once, twice, three times… or every time for that matter!

The Language of Shame

Last week I did something I hadn’t done before. I was picking up my boys from school and couldn’t find a parking spot… so I parked over a crosswalk. The children from the school use this to cross the road, so the school asks us not to park over it. I knew that. But I was late and I justified it in my mind.

By: Aaron

As I walked up to the school gate a grandfather was waiting for me… with guns loaded. He proceeded to yell at me, accuse me of wanting every child at the school dead (yes, he did say that), arrogance, being a law-breaker, the list continues. I ignored his tone and words. I knew I was wrong so I immediately apologised and said I would move my car as soon as I collected my boys. But he kept going. And going. I physically moved away from him. He followed me and kept at it. My self-control was gold-medal worthy, I didn’t loose my temper with him!

When I got home, I was still calming down when my oldest son began his own gold medal performance in attitude, back talk and sarcasm. I sent him to his room. Not because he deserved it but to protect him from me. I contemplated how to respond to him. His attitude was so bad, I was at a complete loss of what to do.

As I rehearsed all the possible scripts in my mind a realisation came to me: I was planning to do to my son, exactly what the grandfather had done to me. I was about to shame him like the man had sought to shame me. I would have done it differently but the roots are the same.

In this process I identified 5 ways we can communicate which produces shame. This applies to parenting, marriage, friendship, even work relationships.

Consider if you do any of the following when you communicate:

1. Rhetorical Questions:

Phrases like, “How could you?!”, “Don’t you care?”, and “What were you thinking?” are not said because they want answers. They corner people and heap guilt, with no way of escape. Rhetorical questions heap shame because they don’t need answers, they are statements of guilt. Rhetorical questions judges motives and finds them guilty as charged.

This style of communication says, not only are your actions worthy of shame but so are your motives. What was I planning to say to my son? “Don’t you have any respect for Mommy?”  Ouch. So quickly said but the shame will linger for days with no way out for him.

2. Generalisations:

The grandfather made so many generalisations about me, “You obviously don’t care about a single child in this school.”  Ouch. It really did hurt me because I do care about the children. He took a small action and made a blanket statement about me, my values and my love for others. This is wounding and shame-producing. I could say to my son, “Your tone of voice shows you aren’t being loving to anyone in this family today”  Really?! Never, ever generalise with anyone, ever.

3.  One-way communication:

Want to produce shame in someone? Talk a lot, talk over them, don’t truly listen. When they are replying, use that time to think of what you will say next. All of these communicate that I don’t truly value you because I don’t value what you have to say. Thus, shame increases.

4. Tone & Body Language:

This is something that doesn’t get talked about enough. When we communicate, what is our tone of voice and body language? I think it is so interesting that the Bible says, “Speak the truth in love” not “speak the truth”.  This tells me that it doesn’t just matter what I say, it matters how I say it. It doesn’t just matter that I say what is true… how I say it matters so much.

5. Be Relentless:

Are we interested in making a point or making a difference in the situation? The grandfather was only interested in making a point. But in our communication, we should be interested in making a difference.  People pick up immediately which one we are after. Relentless communication may help us make a point but what else have we lost in the process?

Back to my son. I dodged a bullet that day to be honest. I ended up taking a chair in to his room, sat next to his bed and said, “Son, I love you and I know this is not you. I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m at a loss for words because you’ve never treated me this way. What is going on?” I was truthful and truly wanted to hear from him. He listened, it was silent for a minute and then came a torrent of heaving sobs… he had been bullied at school that day.

How many times have I missed truly hearing from someone because I used shame based communication? Shame says, hide yourself, don’t be seen because it’s not worth being seen.

Loving communication says, no matter what I see in you, it’s safe and I want to hear it.

Attention married couples, here’s your friendly reminder!

By: wilB

Marriage has it’s ups and downs, season, cycles… you get the picture. In the routine of  life it is easy to forget to take initiative in showing love, value and affection towards our spouse. For many, marriage is not made up of the “big events”. Marriage is more often an accumulation of little acts of love, affection and service to one another.

We can get in the lazy habit of doing things out of response. We hug our spouse because they said a kind word. We plan a date because they mentioned it first. Those are reactions, which are natural. More powerful is to be the one who takes initiative in the little things.

We often need a reminder or a little kick in the pants to get us moving. So consider yourself reminded. Do something. Today. Take initiative. Really. Do it.

Here’s a list of some ideas. Pick one and do it today and over the week ahead.
1. Text message a thank you to your spouse for all they do for you, your children or for others.
2. Text message something you love about them.
3. Give them a hug or kiss next time you see them… don’t just say “hi” and move on.
4. On your way home stop at the store and buy them something that you know they would love… flowers, a chocolate they really like, something for dessert, a magazine they love to read, etc.
5. Plan or cook a meal that you know they love.
6. If you have kids, surprise them by saying, “I want you to relax. Go relax on the couch, I’ll get the kids in bed tonight”
7. Initiate sex tonight.
8. Initiate plans over the weekend which communicates that you love them and want to be with them… “let’s go for a walk” or “Let’s go out to breakfast tomorrow morning”
9. Hold hands next time you are driving somewhere in the car or when you are walking together.
10. Write a hand written note and leave it on their desk, pillow, etc.
11. Text message them that you can’t wait for them to be home so that you can *ahem* enjoy yourselves tonight.
12. Find a way to publicly affirm them to others. Do it when they are around so they can hear you say it!
13. Go find them right now and tell them several things you love about them.
14. Say “thank you” when they are kind and generous to you.
15. Compliment them on how they look, tell them specifically how you find them attractive.
16. Plan a date and handle all the details.
17. Randomly ask them if you can make them coffee, tea or a special drink.
18. Send them off to do something fun on their own… this is especially wonderful if your spouse is an introvert!
19. Plan to do something new together, that you have never done before.
20. Affirm them in their life calling. Tell them how proud you are of what they are doing with their life.

Porn 101: Marriage Edition

Recently, during a class break, I was chatting with one of my students. Our previous hour I had been teaching about porn. He clearly had some urgent thoughts he wanted to share.

Confidently, he said, “I have struggled with porn, but I am soon getting married so it is no longer an issue. Once I get married I will be having sex with my wife, she will satisfy me, the porn will be a thing of the past.”  I calmly listened, not sure whether to laugh at the absurdity of what he was saying or cry at the tragedy of his deception.

By: epSos .de

But so many of us are saying, “Porn is terrible, that’s why I’m so glad our marriage doesn’t have a pornography problem!”  Here’s the deal. Unless you are actively talking, communicating and acting on the reality of porn then you, quite simply, are deceiving yourself. Too many of us have a fantasy world that simply is not reality (read my post on the reality of porn).

By “porn problem” I do not even mean that one or both of you is regularly engaging with porn. I simply mean you have a big bulls-eye on your marriage in this area.

Even if neither you nor your spouse has ever looked at porn (which is unlikely), we need to humbly say, “that could change tomorrow.”  All of us are tempted sexually. Even Jesus was tempted sexually (Heb 4:15). I’m guessing you and your spouse are not more pure, holy or stronger than God himself.

With this in mind, here are 4 ways I think we can practically protect our marriages:

Start Talking:
This is the hardest part. If you’ve never had this conversation with your spouse, then it won’t be easy. Perhaps the topic is embarrassing, you both avoid deeper issues, are afraid to be honest or hear your spouse be honest. It may be painful, embarrassing or scary… but do it.

Today, go to your spouse and say, “I read this crazy lady’s blog and it got me thinking… we should make sure that we are protecting our marriage against porn.”

My friends, if I had one prayer for you it would be this, “Lord, let them talk”. That’s it, just start the conversation. Stop being passive and living in a dream that porn is an issue for every marriage but ours. Stop thinking, “I will never look at it again”.  If you need help because of what you might hear or what you have to say, get a trusted friend to help… but do it. Talk.

Keep Talking:
Once you have started the conversation, keep it going. This is a conversation that should be happening for the rest of your married life. You should both agree to actively protect your marriage, in this area, as long as you both shall live.

Remember, this isn’t based on your past or if one or both of you have a problem with porn. It is based on humble wisdom: “We live in a porn-filled world and we are both tempted sexually. Therefore, we will walk in a way that assumes we are susceptible at any time.” Check-ins don’t have to be daily or weekly but they should be regular. There should be the freedom to simply ask one another, “how are you doing in this area?”.

Take Action:
After you have the conversation going, talk about practical safe-guards. These are steps which will bring safety and build trust in your marriage.

Each of you can tell the other two things:
1. Knowing my own weaknesses, these are steps I should take.
2. It would bring me peace if you did this.

So, you are both saying things you need to do for yourself. But, you are also telling the other person what you would like from them.

At a minimum, you should both be putting safe-guards on all devices that have access to the internet.  X3Watch.com  has free and paid apps for all computers and devices.  You can also turn on SafeSearch for Google on all devices.

What are other practical steps? Perhaps one of you sets a self-imposed limit on the types of movies you watch because it’s just not helpful. Or maybe if you are traveling alone, more strict steps are put in place. We had a friend who asked my husband to call him daily while traveling alone, just to check in on how he was doing and provide accountability. Another friend calls hotels before hand and requests that all paid TV is turned off. His wife knows he does this. It’s different for each person, but think of practical steps, communicate them to each other and start taking action.

Make it a Community Effort
I highly recommend both the husband and wife have a friend, outside the marriage, that they are accountable to. Women and men can have different views, experiences and struggles in sexual temptation.

I once knew a couple that were struggling with his porn problem. They were trying to do the right thing, so he was telling her every time he was tempted to look at porn. She couldn’t handle it, it was devastating to her. It would have been so much better if he had another male friend whom he could go to, be honest with and get the support he needed.

Both my husband and I have close friends that we talk to about these deeply personal topics and we know who they are for each of us. It is so helpful to us that we are not alone in protecting our marriage for life!

Start talking, keep talking, take action and make it a community effort.  What other ideas would you add?

*Please be aware that if you have a serious, compulsive and ongoing struggle with pornography I would strongly suggest that you talk to a mature friend, pastor or counsellor, before telling your spouse. Get their help and input on a way forward which gives the support that will be needed for both you and your spouse.