Marriage: You’re Closer Than It Appears

objects-in-mirrorObjects in the mirror are closer than they appear.  Why?  Because the mirror bulges in the middle.  Imagine the mirror as plastic wrap spread across a frame.  If you took a ball and pressed it into the wrap it would bulge outward taking the shape of the ball.  This is a convex mirror.  Light reflects differently in this kind of mirror, bouncing off at an various angles.  In a flat or planar mirror light reflects at ninety degree angles virtually recreating a picture of the object being reflected.  In the  convex mirror on the passenger side of cars the different angles of light compress the image in the middle and expand the image at the outer edges increasing the field of vision by about 30% but making  reflected objects appear to shrink.  Both mirrors are useful in their place.  If you want to see around a corner you’re going to need the convex type, but if you are trying to put in your contact lenses a flat mirror is going to be your best bet.

Have you notice how some people have a wider perspective than others?  They can see things other people don’t see.  On the other hand there are people who are very good at reflecting exact pictures of what they see.  Same light, different reflection.  Mirrors have warnings.  People don’t.  In relationships it is often a good thing to suspend judgment about who saw something in a certain way until you have a better feel for their perspective.  Flat mirror types often feel like the picture they see is getting distorted by convex mirror types.  Convex mirror types often feel like the flat mirror types aren’t looking at the big picture.  Both perspectives have value and can be combined to  help you safely navigate your relationship.  Either way you see things, you are closer to each other than it appears.

How to Improve Your Marriage Today with One Simple Act

Before I go further I want to give you a disclaimer:  simple does not equal easy; simple is just simple, meaning it is not difficult to grasp the concept I’m going to give you.  Applying it is not easy, but if you do, it will improve your marriage or any other significant relationship right away.

The principle is this:  judge your own judgments.  What do I mean?  Well lets use a common marital interaction to illustrate.  I come through the door from driving the school bus and walk into the kitchen where Tina is sitting at her desk  I say hi and give her a kiss.  She barely looks up and gives me a half-hearted kiss in return.  I am a thinker, so I process the world by thinking about things and trying to sequence them with logical patterns.  If action A, then result B.  The cool response by Tina to me must have something to do with what I said to her last night or what I forgot to do before I went to work.  This may or may not be true, but the thing that will help us most at this point is not for me to drill into her about why she isn’t responding to me right now.  How to I know this is about me at all?  Well, all I really know is that if I was in her place and treated her cooly, it would be because she offended me some way.  I really don’t have insight into why she is acting the way she is acting right now, I only have my own way of doing things as possible motives.  Do you see what I mean?  The only lens I have to view Tina’s actions is my own actions in the same situation.  This is crazy!  And it is killing plenty of relationships.

None of us are motivated by the exact same things.  Each of us has a history that makes us do things differently and for different reasons.  My A leading to B is not your A that leads to the same B.  And even when my A leads to B and yours does to, it takes a different Jan2011-March2011-autocritica_799671110path.  Instead of assuming you know why your spouse is giving you the cold shoulder or is not responsive emotionally or sexually in a given situation, judge your judgment.  Recognize first that you only think they are doing what they are doing, that you really don’t know why.  Ask questions.  Use your judgments as entry points to understanding your spouse or your children or your friends, not as evidence to convict them.  Say, “Hey, if I was acting this way in this circumstance, it would be because I was angry/sad/distracted/etc, what are you feeling right now?”

A warning.  The reason this is so hard to apply to our relationships is that we rely on judgments more than we know.  We do it all the time and we think it serves us well; it may serve us well in many cases.  If you are a fairly intuitive person, you may get many judgments right.  You develop a track record and a confidence that you are the kind of person who just “knows people” or you think you “know what makes people tick.”  Trust me on this, you don’t know as much as you think.  I mean, lets be reasonable – do you know why you do what you do all the time?  You perfectly understand your own motives? I don’t.  I find myself doing things I have no idea why I’m doing them.  The implication of this is obvious: if we can’t get our own judgment about ourselves right, what makes us so sure we have anyone else sorted out?

Take this to heart and your marriage will improve today – it isn’t a miracle cure for all that ails us, but is a great way to start cutting down on meaningless arguments and misunderstandings and to begin building some trust in communication.  Try it.  Judge your judgments.

A Bad Sign for Your Relationships (and what to do about it)

I have several relationships that exist across wide gaps in time and distance.  Friends who live in other states I only get to see a few times each year, and with whom I don’t maintain regular contact (ie we don’t email, Face Book, text, Skype, facetime, etc, frequently or at all).  These relationships exist with a lot of empty space, yet the minute I am together with these people I feel as if I’ve never missed a beat.  We pick up right where we left off and keep going.  Actually we have grown in friendship even without regular communication.  But there are other relationships I have that a week without communication creates something dark.  Its as if the lack of contact creates more distance.  I notice that I fill up the empty space in some relationships with good thoughts and others I fill up with negative thoughts.  Some people don’t call me for 3 months and when I think of them I smile and say, “Wow, I bet Joe is super busy. I should probably check up on him.”  In the other kind of relationship three days go by, and I think of them and say “Wow, what’s Joe’s problem?  I must have made him angry about something.”

It is a bad sign for a relationship when you start filling up the empty spaces with negative thoughts.  Every time you get back in contact with a person in this kind of relationship, you have to expend time and effort checking to see if your negative thoughts were right.  That is time and effort you can’t use to grow the relationship.  Since most of us don’t have huge excess of time and energy, the time and energy lost to the dark space is more than we 604891have to give.  Instead of digging out all the nastiness we pour into the empty space and getting rid of it, we don’t deal with it all.  It takes too much effort.  It accumulates.  The next time we are disconnected from the person we throw a little more negativity into the empty space and it doesn’t get cleaned out.  Like barnacles on a ship, this stuff puts a drag on our relationships.  Sometimes you are right about why your wife didn’t call you while she was away on the business trip.  She was mad about an unresolved conflict over the kids.  Sometimes your friend did get your texts and ignored them because your needs weren’t very important to them at the time.  Add enough “true” situations where your negative thoughts are accurate, and it gets easier to throw even more negativity into the next time there is empty space in the relationship.

This is a mess.  It is full of guilt and shame, presumption and anger and self-righteousness and hurt.  It is the exact opposite of the easy, fulfilling and life-giving kind of relationships we treasure.  If you continue pouring negative thoughts into the empty space, the relationship will break down.  You’ll have the occasional “come to Jesus” meetings where months worth of junk gets pulled out of the dark and you start over again, but those take a lot of effort, and after you’ve done it enough you’ll stop having them.  You will be worn out.  Marriages like this don’t last.  Parents and children like this drift apart and only connect in the mandatory meetings of life.  Friendships cool and die out.

What’s the answer?  Well you could try thought replacement.  Every time a negative thought tries to come into the empty space just squash it.  That is fine if you are strong and consistent.  But it also wears you out and often feels false.  There are some really negative things that come into our relationships and it seems a bad idea to pretend they don’t exist. The root of negativity is the thing we need to get rid of.  How can we find it?  Well what is at the core of those other kind of relationships where empty space gets filled with positive thoughts?  That must be the thing we need to bring into all our relationships.  The thing is called grace.  Grace allows me to think of you in the highest light.  A grace-based relationship is the opposite of a works based relationship.  It means I’ve decided to love you for who you are, not for anything you do.  I make no claims upon what you owe me; not a phone call or text or a birthday card.  If any of those things are missing it has not changed the foundation of our relationship AT ALL.  But in works based relationships, the exchange of goods and services is the basis of how I relate to you and when you or I are behind in payment our relationship foundation cracks and shifts.  I’m not sure who I am any more or who you are.  Am I the one behind in payment?  Have you ever owed money to someone and not been able to pay them back?  It isn’t easy to come around them is it?  You might start avoiding them.  If you see them talking to someone you may assume they are talking about what a no load you are.  This is what a works based relationship looks like.

How do I get grace into my relationships?  Foremost, grace is a decision.  You must decide your relationships are not going to be based upon works.  You have to say that your friends, lovers, and children owe you nothing.  Then you have to put this into practice.  No matter what happens you have to keep a zero balance sheet.  My husband owes me nothing.  My daughter owes me nothing.  My best friend owes me nothing.  Sound easy?  No, it is pretty hard.  But it is the way to go if you want lasting and healthy relationships.  Fortunately the gospel gives us a huge resource we can incorporate into all our relationships if we accept it.  Jesus told a story about two sons.  The younger asked for his inheritance and spent it in a wild extended party until he ended up eating out of a pig trough.  The older keep working at home tending the father’s farm.  When the younger came home, asking to just become a hired hand, the father not only received him back, he put a ring on his finger and a robe on his back and threw a party for his lost son.  The older brother got angry at this and complained to the father.  One of the things the older brother says to his dad is basically, “I’ve never done anything but work and do your will and yet you throw a party for this horrible son of yours…while you’ve never done anything for me.  What’s wrong with this picture???”  The older son had a relationship with his father based hawala-money-changing-handson work.  I do for him and I should expect X out of you.  The younger son had a relationship of grace with his father.  I should only be a servant, yet you call me a son.  If you notice in the story, the father takes the same position toward both sons.  He stands ready to give them what they don’t deserve.  The older prodigal son couldn’t possibly work hard enough to earn what the father offers him – yet the father says to him “all I have is yours.”  Wow!  He gives up everything for the older son.  Grace.  And the father offers the younger son his place in the family even though the younger son, by asking for his inheritance before his father was even dead was saying, “I’m outa here pops, you can drop dead for all I care.”  Grace.

How can you and I change the basis of all of our relationships at once?  Get some perspective.  The gospel is God being in relationship with you regardless of what you do.  Wish him dead and just want his stuff?  He doesn’t change his mind about you.  He will still call you son or daughter.  Think you are pleasing him and earning your keep by all your hard work even though you couldn’t know your left from your right unless he gave you air to breathe?  He doesn’t change his mind about you.  He will still invite you to come in out of the field of works you’ve made for yourself.  At what cost does God extend his good thoughts about us?  How can he afford to fill up the empty space with good will towards us when we are so obviously messed up?  He gave up his son.  He let Jesus do all the work of the older brother and make up for the inheritance the younger brother blew with prostitutes.  If you and I see the grace God extends to us, it puts our grace in perspective.  It shrinks the burden.  When I want to think ill of you the gospel reminds me that God thinks well of me when I don’t deserve it.  It also reminds me that God is thinking well of you too.  The cross is the evidence of how God feels about you and me. Grace.  It is fresh air.  I have so much I have plenty to spare.  Now I can give it to you and I still haven’t lost any of God’s infinite supply.  No wonder Paul opened so many of his letters with “Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ.”  He was filling in all the empty space of every relationship in and around the church with the most positive thing he could think of.  Grace and peace to you.  Give this to all your relationships in the name of Jesus Christ.

How to Stop Shooting Off Your Mouth

“In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” (King James Version of Proverbs 10:19)
“The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.”
(The Message, Proverbs 10:19)
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
(English Standard Version of Proverbs 10:19)

Sitting in a public spot early this morning I had a few extra moments before getting out to drive the school bus (yeah, that is 1 of the 4 or 5 jobs I have).  I try to redeem the time when waiting and for me the best way to do that is to read.  I broke out my phone and opened my pocket Bible app which if you don’t have one I suggest Laridian, I’ve used it for years and its cool.  But I couldn’t read it.  I read the same line 5-6 times and still could not get it going.  The problem?  The morning coffee klatch that is always going on in this place.  Same three people.  Same volume of words.  Words, words, words, words.  A flood of words.  Not especially loud and certainly not offensive in nature; just a multitude of words that washed over me drowning out all coherent thought.  I considered moving to another part of the lobby, but realized it was not far enough away.  You know how it feels when you weren’t paying attention to some sound but your mind gets locked in somehow and you can’t help hearing it?  The dripping faucet in the night.  The irregular banging of a hammer on the construction site near work.  But to me there is nothing so distracting as an endless drone of words.

I’ve quoted the verse from Proverbs about this so much over the years it immediately came to mind this morning.  A bunch of words means a bunch of room for error.  The more we talk the more we open ourselves up to saying something we should not say.  Words are 1375738928_free-speech-words-are-weaponsweapons.  Some are so sharp just a touch opens up a serious wound.  Others are barbed fish hooks.  Once they puncture a hearer they will not come back out easily. There are double-edged words that cut both speaker and hearer, and cudgel words that smash people.  And some words are quicksand pulling us in and choking out all air and light.

I have a conceal carry permit for a gun, although I rarely carry.  In fact I’ve only carried my .38 revolver once, and even when I did I kept the rounds in one pocket and the gun in another (gun enthusiasts please don’t write and tell me how stupid I am).  I did it because I am very aware of the damage I can do with a gun and I was being extra cautious.  The first time carrying a gun in public I was more comfortable knowing there was an extra step between me and using it.  I am no where as cautious with my words in public or in private.  I generally shoot first and ask questions later.  I make a lot of mistakes.  It has taken me years to slow down the words I use with my friends, my coworkers, my kids, my wife.  I swear it feels like a balloon blowing up inside my chest sometimes when I want to spew words back out over a person.  I can hardly keep it in.  But I’ve learned to do better.

How about you?  How careful are you with the words you let out of your mouth?  Try an experiment the next time you are with a few people.  See if you can just listen.  See if you MUST speak.  Don’t be rude.  Answer any questions directed your way, but attempt to throw the talking back to someone else and try to steer away from giving your opinion, your achievement, your advice, your feelings.  Just. Listen.  Warning:  this is very hard.  Another exercise:  when you are with a group of people and engaging in conversation, do not Words_as_Weapons_by_dickie0speak about a person who is not present unless you would say the same exact thing in their presence.  Do not contribute to a conversation that tears down another person with jagged edge words.  Warning:  you may not think this is hard, but if you really are keeping away from talking about others in a disparaging way, you will notice at first you don’t have much to talk about.  No kidding.  The first time I did this I was shocked at how much my words are devoted to dismantling other human beings.

Once you get a feel for using fewer words and for using less damaging words, you will agree with the Proverb.  You will see how hard it is to control your words and how many opportunities there are to do damage with them.  All your relationships will benefit from cutting down on your words and practicing restraint with the words you do use.  You know what I think when I see someone who can’t stop talking?  Who floods the phone or the lobby with words?  I think they must not be heard.  No one is listening to them, or that is their self perception.  When I hear a person who uses weaponized words I think this person must be trying to get higher by making others lower.  I can tell both of them the truth in a few words.  The truth is that they (we) have the ear of God.  God listens.  Your boss may not hear you or your teenager may ignore you, or your spouse may talk over you, but you are heard by God.  Let that sink into your heart and the urgency to make people hear you will diminish.  It will give you peace.  Your heart is heard and understood by the most important being in the cosmos.  The truth is also that God makes much of us.  He elevates us.  You could tear down all the people in the world and never get a higher reputation.  You could shrink down every person who ever lived and not get the place God gives to you.  That will put out the fire in your heart and words.  It will make you reconsider just what you hope to gain by ripping and tearing at people when it gets you no where compared to where God takes you.  And it will humble you to see that God uses good words about you; “son,” “daughter,” “faithful,” “beloved.”  This is our power to use fewer, better words; God’s ear and God’s opinion both revealed in Jesus.  And this power over words is the power to change more than just our patterns of speech, it is the power to change our marriages, our communities and our world.

How Our Sorry State is Ruining Our Marriages (and an accessible solution)

“I’m sorry.”  “He offered an apology.”  “She made a public plea for forgiveness.”  It is hard to imagine a day’s news cycle without hearing something like this.  Everybody is sorry about something or wants someone to be sorry about something.  It permeates everything we do.  It is a smog of sorriness.  Our kids bring it home from school.  It seeps in through the TV and the internet.  We start to think sorry is our normal condition and we wonder what may be wrong with us when we find we really aren’t sorry. We are living in a sorry state.  A sorry state is a “pressed down” state.  It sits on us, this feeling of being sorry. forgive-meIt lingers over us until we start saying it for no reason at all.  A little girl who we keep in our daycare walks around all day saying, “I’m sorry.”  She just says it out of the blue.  I ask, “What are you sorry for?”  She never answers, she just starts telling me about whatever she is doing.  It makes you wonder though doesn’t it?  It makes us feel like we must be doing something wrong if this child feels compelled to say “sorry” ten times a day.  But it is a pretty good reflection of what goes on in our culture every day all day.  Many of our relationships are suffering because of this sorry state.  We are like the little girl.  We walk around with the feeling we ought to say we are sorry, but we’re not sure why.

Let me tell you a few things about being sorry.  First of all, and so obvious you may not notice it at first, feeling sorry is not natural.  If you and I are cosmic accidents who are only part of the animal world and making a way through it by being bigger, faster, stronger, then sorry is stupid.  You ever see a lion who was sorry it stole the last bite of antelope right out of the mouth of the slower lion? No.  Feeling sorry is unnatural, meaning it is something outside of us we can’t explain based upon what we see.  Second is that sorry is just the tip of the iceberg called forgiveness.  The real ruinous part of our sorry state; the thing that kills marriages and all our significant relationships, is the idea that “feeling sorry” is how forgiveness is accomplished, and if we don’t “feel sorry” we are not truly able to experience forgiveness, and if someone asks us for forgiveness who doesn’t feel bad enough (whatever that means – it varies from person to person) can’t or shouldn’t be forgiven.  Since it is almost impossible to make ourselves feel bad enough, or to know exactly how bad someone ought to feel in order for us to get on with the business of living, we end up with a lot of loose ends in our relationships; a lot of unease about ourselves and our spouses.

I asked a couple this week what they thought forgiveness was.  They told me it was about owning our mistakes and then agreeing to go on together.  I thought that was a good start.  Then I asked this:  So you uncover the fault and agree to go on together.  What happens if a week, or a month or a year from now you bring it back up again and demand more answers or more concessions or whatever?  What if every year on the anniversary of the offense the offended person brings it up again?  Is that forgiveness?  Have you really forgiven?  They both laughed at that and agreed it was not forgiveness.  I agree.  But what is forgiveness then?  Does it mean forgetting an offense ever happened?  Try that.  Many of us have tried to do that.  It isn’t very practical is it?  And it doesn’t feel healthy.  It feels like I’m trying to fool myself into believing something bad never happened, and that can’t be right.  I also discovered that when I most need to forget the offense I am in the worst position to do it.  When do you need it most?  When things are forcing you to remember the offense, right?  Triggers.  People, places, words, things.  Forgetting just can’t be the right answer.

imagesForgiveness is a decision, not a feeling and not forgetting.  Both the person needing forgiveness and the person extending it must decide.  It is not a mutual decision, but a personal one.  A decision?  Yes.  A decision about cost.  Who is going to bear the cost of the offense.  In real forgiveness the person who is hurt must decide to bear the cost of the hurt alone and not try to make the other person pay for it.  And there are plenty of toll booths set up along the way where we can make others pay; plenty of decision points.

Years ago my wife collected ceramic figurines called Precious Moments.  She put them all in a cabinet in a little walkway just off the kitchen.  Some of them were limited editions and many were no longer made.  One day my daughter hit the cabinet as she walked by it.  It came off the wall and fell onto a tile floor. The sound of breaking glass went on and on.  Out of perhaps 50 pieces only one or two survived the fall.  It was a total loss.  I remember the look on Nicole’s face and Tina’s face.  “I’m sorry Momma!  I’m sorry, I’m so sorry Momma!” she said.  It was pitiful really.  What could she do?  What could Tina do?  The mistake was made.  The pieces were never coming back together again and never could.  There was no replacement cost because there were no replacements to be had.  It was an accident, you say.  Surely you have to be forgiving when accidents happen.  Right.  And do we usually set out to hurt our spouses?  Our friends?  Our children?  No.  Forgiveness isn’t easier because it was an accident.  It is the same thing.  It is a decision to bear the cost rather than break the relationship. It is a decision to take the loss rather than to make the other party pay for it.  If every time Tina saw a Precious Moments figure from then on she reminded Nicole of how she destroyed her collection, she makes Nicole bear the cost.  If someone asked Tina where her cabinet full of figures was she used the opportunity to run Nicole down and call her clumsy, then she decides to make Nicole take the loss.

Someone is going to bear the cost of an offense.  It doesn’t matter if it was an accident or on purpose.  And here is another angle that we often miss:  if you are asking for real forgiveness you are agreeing to let the other person bear the burden for your offense.  You are not asking them to let you pay it off in an installment plan, you are leaving the decision with them and you can’t do anything more about it.  If you keep trying to pay for it, you really aren’t asking for forgiveness, you are asking them to tell you when the account is paid off; and most people will never be able to tell you when that happens.  Do you see how different this view of forgiveness is from what we’re being sold in our sorry state?  How upside down it is?  Our culture is obsesses with extracting the cost of forgiveness from the person who committed the offense.  True forgiveness is squarely on the shoulders of the offended party and their decision to bear the entire cost.  How did this get flipped on us?  Take God out of our collective consciousness and we have a real problem.  We do feel sorry.  We do feel guilty.  We are not like the other animals.  But we have no explanation for it.  No God means no right or wrong.  It means there are no burdens to bear and no apologies to make.  If you are bigger, faster, stronger you win.  And why worry about accidents when everything is an accident including your own existence?  Leave God out and you get a sorry state with no remedy, no forgiveness.  The problem is that letting God in means having to face up to offending him; to having to ask him for forgiveness.  What about that?  What if God doesn’t want to bear the cost?  How are we going to pay off that debt?  What happens when we knock all his Precious Moments to pieces?  If God decides we owe him for the things we’ve broken and wants to make us pay for them, how long will it take to pay it off?  When we’ve broken things of infinite worth we are in for an eternal work day to make it right.  Can you see now what the gospel is?  Can you see how it is God accepting the cost of calling us his daughters and sons?  When things are broken someone must bear the cost.  God decided to bear it.  The cross is the payment for God to stay in relationship with us and never abandon us.  We must accept it or try to come up with the payment on our own.  It is hard to accept true forgiveness.  Very hard.  I’ve had to watch my wife’s face when I put hurt into her life.  I had to see the struggle to decide not to make me pay while I stood by helplessly, knowing I did that to her.  I did that to the person I love.  It is terrible and wonderful to see.  What is the resource she has to do this?  How can she bear it?  She believes the cross is God’s forgiveness for her and for me.  She sees that God bore the cost of her failures so she could be his daughter.  That gives perspective.  It shrinks the size of my offenses against her.  But she also sees something else, something that releases her heart and clears her mind to remember my offenses but images (1)to live without the heavy burden.  She sees that when I hurt her it was an offense against her,yes, but it was also an offense against God, her Father.  He takes it personally.  It is his to take.  All things are his.  All abuse is abuse to his property.  All the offenses against people are offenses to his family.  And he decides to forgive. He decides to bear the cost.  Now my wife sees that she isn’t bearing the cost alone, that Jesus is under the full strain of her husband’s offense.  This is how our marriage works.  This is how we escape the sorry state.

Unguarded Beauty

My wife is a beautiful woman.  I knew this the first time I saw her walking down a hallway in High School.  I just turned right around and followed her.  She had Sun-In bleach blonde hair and a ribbon around a single ponytail in back with wings in front, and she used a lot of blue eye shadow (it was the 80’s).  I have a very clear picture in my mind of this moment – this first “seeing.”  But I also have other moments when I saw her for the first time again.  I old_pix_0002wish I knew how this happens so I could teach it to people, but I don’t know how to make it happen.  It just happens.  There is no particular pattern to it.  Some times it happens a lot in a short period of time and then it may be a very long time before it happens to me again.  It is always a surprise and a delight.  I think it is a gift God gives me, like many of his gifts, for no good reason other than He delights to delight us.  The most interesting part of this gift is that Tina never provokes it.  She never poses or tries to look a certain way that triggers this gift of re-seeing.  In fact, most of the time I’ve never told her about it because it was too hard to explain.  So she may be reading about this for the first time along with you.

There is a kind of beauty in this world that is unguarded.  It is raw and real and striking.  You may not immediately recognize it because it hides in plain sight.  Advertisers know this about us; that we are susceptible to capture by unguarded beauty.  That’s why they try so hard to make their spots look like they just happened; that there was no real preparation and this beautiful thing or setting just popped out of the background.  We know its fake though.  In our true hearts we know this is not unguarded beauty – it is well fortified beauty.  Beauty built from scratch and etched and carved and photoshopped.  We know lies when we see them because we feel the truth when it hits us.  It isn’t trying to be true or beautiful; it is true and it is beautiful.  C.S. Lewis said in his famous essay The Weight of Glory that we are far too easily pleased, and he was right.  We are also far too easily deceived.  It is almost as if we let ourselves stop hoping for unguarded beauty because we can’t produce it ourselves.  And since we can’t be in control we start to say to each other that the less than and the plastic; the faked beauty is real or it is all we are going to get so we might as well embrace it.  I’ve done it myself.  I do it myself.  But I’m sharing my glimpses of unguarded beauty with you in hopes that you will throw off the lies and stop contenting yourself with less.  I’m sharing with you so that you will share with me too.  Together we may be able to live more authentically in light of our accumulated unguarded beauty.  Of course this is a gift.  Being able to see it at all is a gift.  All of these gifts come IMG_2560from the greatest unguarded beauty of all, Jesus.  The Bible teaches that in his light we see light.  In other words Jesus is the light that shows all other light – he is the beauty that makes everything beautiful.  He fell into darkness and brought us light.  He was marred beyond recognition and made us beautiful.  Do you realize that in Jesus we can know that God looks upon us like I look upon my wife?  We don’t have to guard ourselves or pose or create; we are completely unguarded and completely beautiful to God.  That is beauty unguarded and unassailable.

What to Do When Your Kids Start to Sound Like Liberals (or Conservatives)

Is reading your kid’s Facebook or Twitter feed making you wonder if you went seriously wrong somewhere along the way?  Are they spouting Fox news talking points?  Do they sound like they work for the DNC?  I remember being home on leave from the Navy and telling my mom and dad about a book I was reading which had a very particular political slant.  As I explained it and how I thought it made sense I saw them making eye contact with each other.  It was a very subtle thing; gone in an instant.  Their expressions toward me never changed from interested listeners, but they offered no opinions about the politics liberal-conservativeI was trying out on them.  I remember that look.  It made me curious but not to find out what they thought about my new ideas.  It made me curious about them.  For some reason that look said that I was missing something and it wasn’t in a book; it was in my parents.  They were people!  Do you know what I mean??  Do you remember when you finally figured out that teachers were people, not just a set of lectures and homework assignments?  It takes longer to see parents as people.  Don’t ask me why, but something in that shared look cracked open the parent suit a little.  I knew my politics didn’t agree with theirs right then, but it didn’t seem like they were going to pursue me over that.  They were willing to let me go, but they were not going there.  Interesting.  Ever see the toddler trick where they run away from you while they look over their shoulder to see if you’re going to chase them?  Best way to handle it?  Don’t chase.  Don’t get your panties in a wad.  It takes a certain kind of parent to do that.  It takes confidence that the kid isn’t going to get hurt for one, but it also takes confidence that they know your voice and you’ve got enough influence to keep them from going too far.  Parents who don’t know who they are lack the confidence to let their children run.  What I saw in my parents was the opposite.  They were not scared to let me run.  They never were.  Where did it come from, this assuredness?  I think they built it together.  They were a unit.  They believed in each other.  I also think they were confident their views of morality and politics weren’t just right because they were theirs, they were right because they were right, and sooner or later, right would assert itself.

So I had and still have a great mom and dad.  Now its my turn.  My kids have given me plenty to think about.  I hear more of their ideas because of social media.  I’m also friends with their friends so I get a taste of a lot of political opinions from younger people.  How do I (actually Tina and I) handle it when our kid’s opinions seem out of line with our values? First, and this is more important than anything else at all, if you are in your kids social network it isn’t your right to be there after a certain age.  It is a privilege.  You get to participate in their life.  Be glad.  Not everyone is invited in, and you can be invited out. Once I get that firmly in place I ask myself why a comment or post or whatever bothers me.  I think about motive.  Is my child expressing a desire for righteousness and justice?  Or is it just trolling?  Do you know what trolling is?  You may not know what it is currently, but you’ve seen it before.  A troll is that kid in your school that always went fishing to get someone stirred up.  Put a little bait in the water and see who would bite. Once they get one on the line just keep cranking it up until they’ve made someone so mad they want to fight and then walk away.  Some of our kids are trolls.  They spout liberal or conservative talking points to see if they can start a fight with anyone.  If that is your kid, well, you’ve got problems besides trying to help their politics.  Maybe just go back to basic human decency.  Trust me on this; I’ve read lots of your kid’s posts and quite a few of them are pure trolls.  Maybe engage them on the level of taking them to dinner and giving them some of the attention they so obviously crave.  If I sort through this and believe my kid is earnestly putting out their ideas because they want to share them with others and have others speak into them, I look at what they say and ask myself again; is this the pursuit of righteousness?  It may sound very different than the way I would express it, but that isn’t the reason it works in the world.

Righteousness works in the world because it is a created world.  I have a lot of confidence in this.   Maybe more than my own mom and dad.  I’m not afraid of letting my kids run because I know Righteousness not only prevails in the end, it prevails in them.  They have their own relationship with Righteousness and so instead of exchanging political ideas with my kids or trying to correct their politics, I cut my eyes at my wife and say ‘I know our kids know Jesus so why get worked up over this thing that appears to contradict him?’ Most of you Christian parents are actually pretty crazy.  You want your kids to know Jesus and to know him well, you just don’t want to let any of the things that came into your life and broke you to the point you sought Jesus and grasped him to come into your kid’s lives.  Let them run with bad ideas and/or great ideals that seem so full of hope to them.  They won’t run too far.  Jesus is the hope of the world.  He really is.  The only hope of the world.  Ultimately thats how I handle it when my child starts sounding like a liberal or a conservative; I remind myself that neither of those will save the world, only the gospel will.  That gives me urgency and peace.  Urgency to ground my kids beliefs in the gospel and to point them back to that in all their thinking.  Peace that Jesus is who I need to help my kids see, not my flawed politics.  I need to help them see God is a person.  That is more profound, interesting and life giving than anything else we could discuss.

10 (counterintuitive) Ways to Have More and Better Sex

1. Get Married (yes this is a statistical fact)
2. Become a Christian (another statistical fact)
3. Stay Married
4. Talk to your spouse about stuff; any stuff that is on your mind
5. Listen to your spouse when they talk about stuff
6. Read the Bible to get good tips about sex (much better and more explicit than Cosmo)
7. Be generous with your possessions (sex is about giving and stingy people make bad lovers)
8. Plan spontaneity (fun things happen when we make room for them to happen)
9. Wash the dishes, clean off the desk (an ordered living room makes for a free bedroom)
10. Practice (no one does anything perfect the first time and every good thing takes practice to perfect)

counter-marketing

The Simplest (and best) Recipe for a Healthy Marriage

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband
(Ephesians 5:25 and 33)

Love and respect.  Two ingredients for a healthy marriage.  Which one comes first?  How does the recipe work?  Is it two portions of love mixed thoroughly with two of respect?  Is it a quart of respect poured over a pound of love?  What goes in first?  This recipe doesn’t tell us the proportions.  It doesn’t say how much respect to use or how much love is enough.  It doesn’t tell us if we are supposed to add the love to the respect or vice versa.  The recipe for a healthy marriage is very simple, but its application is hard.  If we read it correctly it is actually impossible.  The recipe is love without proportion and absolute respect.  And these ingredients are not added one after the other, but simultaneously and continually.  In other words the recipe is to love your wife completely all the time and to respect your husband completely all the time NOT to love your wife when she is lovely and respects you or to respect your husband when he is respectable and loves you.  In other words, the recipe for a healthy marriage is an all-encompassing, non-negotiable mixture of love and respect.  So go right out there and get loving and respecting and everything will be better and you won’t botch the recipe…sound about right?  No.  This cake will fall in on itself.  Something major is missing from this recipe.  Its gospel context.  It is the mixing bowl we throw ourselves in that contains us and sustains us.

We are not made for absolutes.  We don’t love completely and can’t claim to offer love unconditionally.  We lack the capacity for absolute respect.  We run down mentally and physically.  Our emotions wear out.  None of us can be a source of love and respect for another person on our own without limits.  So is the Bible teaching us a recipe for a healthy marriage or is it giving us instructions to bake a futility cake?  The mixing bowl is what we need.  The gospel is the context we can use to cook a good marriage.  Just before the Bible sets out the well known love and respect teaching, it gives a not so well known or repeated instruction:  submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph 5:21).  This is the preeminent piece of the teaching and nothing in the rest of it makes sense without it. a22 The gospel is love and respect without measure.  Unconditional love and utter respect given to all people by a Person able to deliver both and to sustain them indefinitely.  A husband who reverences Christ (actually is the same word meaning “have respect to”) experiences a love he did not earn from a source he does not have to create or sustain.  Husbands don’t need to be a primary source of love to their wives if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible love overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage.  Wives don’t need to be the primary source of respect for their husbands if they have reverence for Christ, they only need to let that incredible respect overwhelm their hearts so that it overflows into their marriage.  The love and respect shortage in our marriages isn’t a supply problem, it is a source problem.  There is more than enough love and respect to bake into our marriages, we just need to stop trying to get it from our spouse and get it from the gospel instead.

Not feeling respected by the wife today?  Stop looking at her and look to the cross where the most important boss in the world focused all his attention on you, held you up as an example of the person he’d love to promote, and promises to forever dedicate himself to making sure you become everything you’re meant to be.  If that isn’t enough respect, your wife doesn’t have a chance at making you feel respected. Not feeling loved by your husband today?  Stop looking at him and look at the white knight who stormed The gate, slew The dragon, bought you the perfume of eternal life and lives to make you into your full self.  If that’s not love enough, your husband hasn’t got a prayer of making you feel loved.

If we want satisfying and healthy marriages the recipe is love and respect, but not the way most of us try to bake it.  It is not a knock off version of love and respect found in a second hand market; it is the real stuff imported from God’s storehouse and accessed by turning our eyes away from our spouses and onto Jesus.  This is too simple you say or it isn’t scientific, or I can’t trust it.  Well, the statistics say clearly that Christians experience a higher rate of marital satisfaction (yes, including sexual satisfaction).  And consider this final point: no one has a marriage without faith.  It isn’t as if we choose between trust and not trust.  We trust or we don’t have a marriage at all.  Believing the gospel means marriage with faith in God.  Marriage without the gospel means faith without God.  Good luck with that – and I do mean that – without the gospel there is nothing to depend upon but luck, and it means finding your own hearty supply of love and respect you are sure will never run out.  Marriage with faith in God is much simpler and sustainable.  It is healthy.