Monthly Archives: November 2014

5 Principles to Improve Quality Time with the Kids

1975015_10152240424546599_7203914151302774949_nI take my daughter with me to the office every day. She goes on nursing home visitation with me. Sometimes she goes with me when I visit parishioners in their homes. She spends about 8 hours of every day with me. Unfortunately, there is a difference between time when she is playing with dolls in my office while I work and quality time. I’ve spent some time in previous posts discussing daddy-daughter date nights and tea parties. Those sorts of activities are great, but tend to be spread out. It’s important to spend time with your kids daily. I encourage dads to try to spend at least an hour with their kids daily, just focusing on them. This sort of invested time is important to children and will impact them well into the future. This time investment may seem difficult, but I’ve discovered that it’s all about how you spend the time. It’s easy to look at an energetic kid at the end of a long work day and cringe at the thought of trying to keep up with them for 5 minutes, let alone an hour. Or to look at your daughter’s Frozen dolls with horror at the thought of reenacting a few of the dance numbers. However, there are a few tricks that work well for making the time more enjoyable for both you and your child.
  • 1506038_10151724169801599_53124884_nFocus on the Big Picture– Everything is about the mindset you bring to it. It’s important to remember that the time you are spending is an investment in the life of a person you love and who loves you unconditionally. That investment will help shape their sense of self worth, confidence, and your influence on their values and beliefs. Further, your child is also a child of God, one who you are preparing for a life of knowing Him. Part of how they perceive God will be shaped by their relationship with you. This isn’t time wasted when you’d rather be unwinding. It’s time spent on a job that is far more important than the one you get your paycheck for doing.
  • Spend Time Reading– One of my daughter’s favorite daddy-daughter date night activities is going to the comic book store. I pick up a few comics for her every time we are in town and several times a week she sits in my lap and I read her comics. We do this because I figured out that Wonder Woman comics are more interesting to me than Elmo books. I will happily read old Batman issues to her, largely because I enjoy them, too. She wouldn’t be too excited about getting the books if we didn’t read them to her. My point is that most kids love being read to and reading is a very low key activity that requires little chasing around. It’s possible to find things to read to them that you enjoy as well. Further, reading to kids is one of the best ways to get them to read when they are older.
  • 10488087_10152055705381599_3438918976874211789_nBe Creative- I recently found myself playing with my daughter’s frozen castle and toys on the living room floor. I cannot stress enough how little interest I have in princesses. Rather than phoning the time I was spending with her in, I took out some batman toys I had picked up during one of our trips to the comic books store. Before long, Batman was saving Elsa from the Joker. There was fighting and adventure and princess stuff. She loved the silliness of it, though I suspect that my enthusiasm and energy was what she really appreciated. Kids like being the center of their parents’ attention. Bringing a little creativity to the table is important for making sure that you are able to enjoy the time as well. Don’t hear me saying that spending time with your kids is dull or that it’s all about you. What I am saying is that adult men don’t necessarily enjoy the same activities as small children. Bringing your own interests into the mix can raise the entertainment factor and make it easier to consistently put the time in every day.
  • Let them help- My daughter gets a huge kick out of helping me do almost anything I do. She wants to help do dishes, vacuum, cook dinner, change lightbulbs, and almost anything else I do during the day. Letting her help do my honey-do list often makes the tasks more difficult to complete, but it’s time that she enjoys. She loves unloading things from the car or sweeping the kitchen. Letting them help do the things you need to do is a great way to spend quality time while accomplishing other tasks.
  • Be physical– It’s important to rough house and be physical with your kids for a few reasons. First, children are often extremely energetic. Playing in a high energy way with them is valuable for burning off excess energy. Boys, in particular, need to physically engage and play rough. Doing this with their father is a huge deal. Beyond rough housing, sitting with kids in your lap, cuddling, holding hands, hugging, tickling, etc. are all important. Humans experience affection in all sorts of ways. One of them is touch. Being physically close and touching is something kids need. I worked with a client in a mental health setting who would become aggressive every day, forcing the staff to physically engage him daily. After months of this, one of the staff started hugging the child several times a day. The physical aggression stopped almost completely after that. He wanted to be held, so he found a way to force other people to hold him. Kids need affectionate physical contact, particularly from their parents.
  • 1524634_10152116874261599_8558148131602334420_nPay attention to them– Kids catch on pretty quickly when you aren’t interested in what they are doing. If you sit and surf the internet on your phone while you play with them, they’ll notice. If you ignore the stories they tell you, they’ll catch on. It won’t make them hate you. It’ll adjust where they think they land on your priority list. While you are giving the time they are getting from you, give them your undivided attention. Ask questions. Tell them things. Take the time to teach them new things.
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Real Men Shave? Understanding Biblical Manhood

IMG_1061One of the newest trends in men’s grooming is premium shaving gear. This includes all sorts of oils, different shaving cream styles, suggested variations in shaving ritual, and assorted styles of razors. Most of these products are marketed with the basic premise that they are part of rediscovering manhood or some aspect of being a man that is authentically male. A few weeks ago, I came across an old safety razor at an antique sale, and having read all sorts of material on how they were more of a Mercedes shaving experience compared to my Pinto experience with the disposable razor, I invested $3 on a 60-year old shaver. After thoroughly researching the technique involved, I made my first few attempts at grooming with my antique razor. Incidentally, I also learned all about the proper use of a styptic pencil. For those unfamiliar with the styptic pencil, it is used to staunch blood flow for minor cuts and nicks. I also learned that the reason that multi-bladed modern razors exist is because shaving with a safety razor is difficult, more time consuming, and potentially much harder on your face. The other thing I discovered is that shaving with an antique razor, the way my grandfather probably did, didn’t make me feel more manly. I didn’t feel like I had discovered some secret to manhood. Really, all of the mystique of the experience seems to be a little overstated. Perhaps I am doing it wrong. Perhaps when I have completed the hazing period and have the scars to prove it, then I will understand. More likely, I suspect that the ads are attempting to tap into a deep-seated need in our culture. Many men are searching for a definition of manhood because they aren’t certain as to what it really means to be a man. They don’t have a clear definition or standard by which to measure themselves, and as a result, they struggle with a core component of their identity. We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with manhood and where fathers being estranged from their sons is increasingly common. Boys learn to be men by watching their fathers. They observe, imitate, and learn. Without a father who models manhood, many young men grow up with no real concept of what it means to be a man. Such young men must teach themselves about manhood. Self-taught men often grow up with learning about manhood from pop culture, peers, or not at all. Many live with a need, whether it is conscious or not, to be validated as a man or find manhood standards to live up to. These often materialize as success at work, sexual dominance, or even being the opposite of their own dads. They need not be so overt, as some men live out this need by simply swallowing it or drifting in their life course.
GR6-DJT6Ultimately, if you ask most males what it means to be a man you will get a hodgepodge of activities that men associate with manhood and even some isolated values that are associated with male identity. What is far less common is a clear definition of the foundational values or focus of manhood and from where they are derived. This results in some perplexing behaviors that are labeled “being a man” that are likely far from a complete male identity.
There is an obvious opening question to further discussion about manhood: How do we know what it means to be a man? Where does this standard come from? I’d suggest that any conversation should begin with Genesis. The creation of man gives us a hint as to what he was supposed to be.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…
Genesis 1:26
267685_10151393255501835_1082856663_nIn Genesis 5:3, after the fall of man into sin, Adam has a son. Interestingly, the text says that Adam’s son was in Adam’s likeness. The reason for this shift is that man is now sinful. Instead of being as we were created to be, we are fallen. All people fall short of what they were meant to be. However, in Jesus we see the perfect representation of God and man without sin. In Him, we see what we were meant to be. Men may wander, chasing after images of manhood that fall well short of the ideal, because in Adam, we are fallen. In Christ, we can be what we were created to be. In fact, Paul writes that those who are in Christ are new creations. They become new for the purpose of imitating Christ. We can rediscover manhood in Him. The beginning of recovering real manhood is recognizing that He is the perfect model for us to emulate.
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6 Simple Practices to Help Overcome Depression

part 2One of the central realities of depression, and any mood, is that neurotransmitters in the brain affect how we feel. One of the most concrete ways to effect positive change in mood and attitude is by taking up activities that encourage healthy levels of of chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, insulin, etc. This does not necessarily mean taking anti-depressants. There are all manner of ways to affect brain chemistry positively. Here are several simple things that can make a huge difference:

• Exercise: Exercising, even just going for a 20-minute walk, can trigger the release of endorphins, which make you feel good. Exercising enough to raise your heart rate 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time is all that is needed. Exercising outside in the sunlight is even better, as exposing yourself to sunlight tends to trigger the release of chemicals that promote feeling better. Part of what makes this difficult is that depression makes you feel tired and unmotivated. Starting this will be difficult, but it is very effective.

• Spending time with friends and family: Depression often results in aversion toward spending time with others. It takes energy to engage others, while isolating is so much easier. The problem is that isolating tends to make things so much worse. Spending quality, low stress time with loved ones has a positive impact on mood. It’s difficult, but it works.

• Diet: Diet affects mood. While consuming comfort foods may be pleasant in the short term, poor diet can negatively impact mood. A poor diet can result in lower energy, which helps further drag you into depression. In addition, certain supplements can help improve mood. One example is fish oil, which studies have suggested can improve mood. This can be challenging because eating junk food can easily become a “go to” method of coping and it works in the short term. However, it can potentially have the opposite effect in the long term when insulin crashes after sugar binges deflate our good mood or with lowered energy levels as a result of poor nutrition. There are all sorts of books and websites devoted to eating habits and depression. Pursuing positive changes in eating habits are best undertaken with as much education as possible.

• Prayer and religious observance: Praying and engaging God over your feelings can be effective toward shifting mood. In addition, meditating over scripture and reading the Bible can help shift focus away from the sorts of thinking that perpetuates depression. In addition, keeping yourself in a frame of mind that is rooted in hope, based on God’s provision and plan, presents a more optimistic view of the future. Finally, religious observance in the form of serving others, loving your neighbor, and regular worship can impact mood and mental state in a positive way. Part of why this works is that it shifts attention away from self and toward others. This can help alleviate depression.

• Monitor thinking: There is a degree to which thinking effects brain chemistry. If you sit and think miserable thoughts, given enough time your brain will react by shifting toward depression. The opposite is also true. As a result, monitoring thoughts to ensure that you avoid dwelling on topics that can worsen the depression is a valuable habit to develop.

• Talking: Talking through depression can be helpful. There are a few reasons this is true. In the short term, talking about feelings can help with overcoming them. Further, it is not unusual for depression to be the result of past hurts that have been buried with the intent of forgetting them. The lasting effect of the undigested emotions can be depression, anger, or other unpleasant feelings. Talking through situations helps to digest the emotions attached.

This is by no means a definitive list. There are all sorts of other ways options for dealing with depression. Severe depression may require professional counseling or medication. As stated earlier, the beginning of dealing with the problem is making the decision to start dealing with it.

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Dealing With Depression Part 1: Taking the First Steps

depression part 1Earlier this summer, I was out running. A few miles into my run, my right hip started to bother me. A little research provided me with a several stretches, which alleviated my discomfort. Further investigation has led me to understand that I need to do core exercises and more stretches, or I can expect further trouble down the line. Pain, like the “check engine” light on a car, lets us know that something is wrong. In this way, pain is a good thing. Without pain we would not know when we sustain injuries that need our attention. Depression is one way our brain lets us know that something is not right. We experience this discomfort and it reveals to us that we are not operating the way we were made to operate, as such, something needs to be attended to. Simply ignoring the problem won’t serve as a consistent, long-term solution, but many people choose to respond to warning signs with attempts to ignore the problem. I knew a young woman who put a piece of electrical tape over the maintenance lights in her car, so that she couldn’t see them and wouldn’t worry about what might be wrong. This is essentially what we are doing when we find ways to ignore what ourbrains are telling us through our emotions.

Unlike automotive problems, which are often much simpler to diagnose and repair, depression can be a more daunting task to take on because it is less cut-and-dry. Emotions tend to be harder to figure out and deal with.  The other challenge in finding the root of persistent depression is the malaise that accompany depression. Symptoms of depression also tend to perpetuate the problem, particularly low energy and difficulty concentrating. These tendencies make it difficult to take the steps necessary to begin climbing out of the hole that depressed people often find themselves in. Because of these difficulties, the first concrete step that must be taken by an individual suffering from depression is acknowledging the problem to themselves and, if possible, another person. Following closely at the heels of this first step is making a decision to deal with the problem. This involves recognizing that there is hope for a better tomorrow and that living with depression doesn’t have to be the norm. God designed us for better and promises comfort for those who hurt. Recognizing that God will help us is valuable because He is the great physician, who is capable of healing us of these hurts. None of these steps is easy. It is difficult, particularly for men, to acknowledge depression because there is a stigma associated with emotional struggles.  Unfortunately, this first obstacle is daunting enough that many suffer in silence, sometimes for years, until they reach the point that their emotional discomfort outweighs the dread of being labeled as personally weak or defective in some way. These labels are unfair and inaccurate, but the stigma remains.

Once the decision to work toward overcoming has been made, the groundwork has been laid for the work toward freedom from anguish to commence.

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Seeds Planted in Our Children’s Hearts

A couple of weeks ago, my 3-year old started going to our church’s midweek program. One of the things they do each week is memorize Bible verses. The first week, my beautiful 3-year old learned Genesis 1:1

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

We’ve had her practice it a few times, and she has enjoyed sharing the verse she learned.

Every week, my daughter also goes to the nursing home in town to visit. She has been eating meals with and helping residents there for over 2 years. One of the gals we have spent a lot of time with, who always shares her dessert with my girl, passed away this week. On receiving the news, I sat down with my daughter to explain that we wouldn’t see our friend any more. I began to explain that our friend had died and we will see her again one day when we go to be with Jesus, too. When I said that she had gone to heaven, she immediately recited her Bible verse. I didn’t prompt her to say it. She just heard me say heaven and immediately associated it with the scripture verse she had memorized. I don’t think she fully grasps death or heaven. But, I know that she is remembering God’s word and that word will always be there. Even from this early age, she can connect God’s word to the things we discuss.

That morning I received a powerful and convicted illustration of a concept I’ve been talking about with people for years. Kids remember what we teach them. The seeds we plant in our children’s hearts can sprout and grow. It’s easy to assume that they don’t understand or don’t remember such things, but the seeds we plant and water will grow. It’s so important to plant the seeds.

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Raising Kids that Keep Their Faith

1618445_10151891598676835_1094650859_nAfter 15 years as a professional minister, working with kids for 13 of those years, I have watched all sorts of young people grow up and make decisions to continue in the faith of their youth or opt to walk away. I have also read arguments as to who or what is usually at fault for the exodus of young people from the church. Colleges with secular agendas, public high schools, federal education standards, pop culture, and television are among the favorite targets. While all of these things may play a part in the trend, one of the major factors that gets far less attention is parental involvement. While there is no guarantee that anything will guarantee that kids will continue in the faith after growing up, there are several common factors I have observed that influence outcomes enormously.
  • Parents who are active in their faith. Parents who actively live out what they believe raise kids who follow their parent’s example. Teaching kids to love their neighbor as themselves, to forgive enemies, the importance of caring for widows and orphans, etc. are all part of living out the teachings of Jesus. Children are observant and know when their parents say one thing and do another. Earnestly living out the teachings of Jesus is the best way to teach kids how to earnestly live out their faith.
  • Parents who talk about their faith with their kids. Talking with kids about what you believe on a regular basis is a vital part of teaching them. This is important because kids learn to think through issues and make decisions as they grow up. Teaching them how to consider various aspects of life and decisions from the perspective of their faith is important. It doesn’t happen naturally; it is the product of teaching.
  • 15807_10152392291191835_2354946417354094654_nPray with and for them. Prayer is like breathing to spiritual life and development. It’s also powerful and effective. Going before God and raising up your kids daily is important. It’s also important to teach them how to pray and its importance. Thanking God together, praising Him in prayer, learning to confess our sins against Him, and seeking His assistance in our lives are all practices we teach our children when we pray for them.
  • Active participation in their faith life. Raising a child who learns the value of their faith requires participation that goes beyond dropping them off for Sunday School or Youth Group. Asking questions, encouraging them to talk about it, participating in service opportunities together, and studying the Bible as a family. Parental involvement is important.
  • Parents demonstrating the importance of weekly worship. Attending worship as a family demonstrates the importance of worshipping God. It’s of particular importance for the father to be involved in family worship, because kids tend to watch what their father does and learn from it. Sitting together, worshipping together, praying together, and other worship activities are central to the task. Family worship participation is an important key to raising a child who values their faith.
When children grow up, they make their own choices. The best things a parent can do are 1) teach their children values and 2) teach them about their faith so that their kids can make an informed decision when they are mature enough to do so. Until then, training in the faith is more than a passing acknowledgement of it. It’s a demonstrated lifestyle.
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Meeting Your Husband’s 5 Most Important Emotional Needs

9780800719388Willard F. Harley’s excellent marriage book His Needs Her Needs, is an exploration of the major emotional needs of husbands and wives. He asserts that the major cause of extramarital affairs is unmet needs, spouses rely on each other to have their needs met. When one partner goes long enough without major needs being met, they are more susceptible to temptation. He presents the 5 most important needs for each spouse, interestingly demonstrating how the corresponding need in the opposite gender can either compliment or conflict with it. For example, the most important emotional need for wives is affection. They need shows of affection, like touching, thoughtful gifts, loving words, etc. The corresponding need in men is sexual fulfillment. Men tend to do well meeting their wive’s affection need during the courting phase of the relationship. However, after marriage meeting the affection need becomes less urgent, though for most men having their own sexual needs met becomes a more pressing concern. As focus on fulfilling the wife’s need for affection dwindles, wives tend to be less in the mood for meeting their husband’s sexual needs, largely because affection in other areas of life is a large part of foreplay. It’s important to note that this cuts both ways. When women become less interested in ensuring their husband’s sexual fulfillment, men become frustrated and are less inclined to put effort toward showing their wives affection. When both parties take a stance of intentional selflessness toward their partner, the system works better. When one or both become overly focused on their own needs, things tend to break down.

Yesterday I posted an article that looked at the 5 most important needs to women. The following are the 5 most important emotional needs for husbands:

• Sexual fulfillment- Men are sexual and sexuality tends to be the most important need for many men. Please note that this is being classified as an emotional need, not a physical one. There is a tendency to think of men’s sexuality as being a mere physical need, but men largely experience affection sexually. There is a element of physical need, but the emotional element cannot be ignored. It is to men what affection is to women. Men’s sexuality is usually deeply connected with their sense of identity, which makes it important for this need to be met, as not having this emotional need met will affect the husband to his core.

251604_10151004434496599_528697307_nRecreational Companionship- Recreational companionship refers to engaging in activities together. Where women need conversational connection, men need to do fun things with their spouse. During the courting phase of the relationship, this is easier. Dating usually revolves around engaging in activities together. After marriage it’s not uncommon to find it easy to engage in their own hobbies and activities, going their own ways. Men have a need for companionship in activities. They like it when their spouse does things with them. This is largely because men tend to be doers and enjoy action over discussion. Relational companionship need not be active participation, though it’s a good thing when husbands and wives engage in activities together. Wives can watch their husbands, support them, or take an active interest in order to meet this need.

• Physical Attractiveness- This is a harder need to understand for many people. Men are very visual creatures. They tend to experience a lot of sexual attraction through what they see, which is why pornography for men is largely visual, because men respond to visual stimulation. This doesn’t mean that the wife must fit into the same dress she wore on their wedding day or resemble a supermodel at all times. Rather, a wife’s attention to visual cues is important. It’s generally important to men that their wives take care of themselves or try to look attractive. I’ve spoken to men who lament that their wives wear lingerie with less frequency the longer they are married or stop taking care of themselves physically altogether. It sounds shallow and crass, but it’s more a product of how men are hardwired. It’s not uncommon for men to become frustrated when they find their wives less attractive, but cannot discuss it because of the overall sensitivity of the subject matter.

• Domestic support- Whereas women often have a need for their husbands should work to support the family, men tend to want for their wives to help maintain and ordered household. This may come across as a desire for the ideal 1950s TV wife. However, it’s more a need for a spouse that helps take care of the home. How pressing this need is depends on the husband and the family composition. Many men are happy to help take care of domestic responsibilities, but feel a need for their wife to help with cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

• Admiration- Men have an inborn need to be respected and looked at with admiration. When a man feels disrespected or looked down upon by their wife, their pride can be significantly wounded. This need is generally a counterpart to family commitment. Women have an emotional need that the husband be committed to caring for and raising the family. Men, on the other hand, have an emotional need to be looked on as the leader in the family. They have a need to be treated with respect and admiration.

The key to understanding the proper handling of emotional needs as presented by Mr. Harley in his book is a degree of selflessness. Meeting needs in the marital context works best when both partners set out to meet their spouse’s needs without concern for seeking out the meeting of their own needs or judging your partner’s needs. Further, communication over these things is important. People will generally vary in their relational needs. Open communication is key to helping each other know what needs to be done in order to meet needs effectively.

5 emotional needs

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Meeting Your Wife’s 5 Most Important Emotional Needs

9780800719388One of the better books I have read on marriage is His Needs, Her Needs by Willard F. Harley. Harley’s text deals with the major emotional needs that are typical of husbands and wives. He argues that one of the major causes of extramarital affairs is unmet needs in the relationship. Spouses cheat because they are looking to have their needs met. The books operates on the premise that meeting each other’s needs is a way of affair-proofing your marriage. Aside from affair-proofing, meeting the needs of your spouse is a good way of helping to ensure happiness in the marriage. Further, knowing the needs of your spouse is important for selflessly serving her or him.

The book addresses the five most common emotional needs found in husbands and wives. Interestingly, each of the major needs corresponds with a similar need in the spouse of the opposite gender. Often, these needs can make meeting the spouse’s corresponding need difficult if either partner is wholly focused on themselves. A degree of selflessness is vital in this discussion because it requires that we stop looking to what we desire and instead focus on meeting their needs.

This post will focus on the 5 most important needs for women, as described by Harley’s text. A future post will consider the most important needs for husbands. I am choosing to start with wives’ needs because I would argue that husbands have a special obligation to serve their wives, as a matter of divine directive.

  • 221957_10150160757389352_1925480_nAffection– Affection is the expression of care and attention. Acts of affection include hugs, touching (generally non-sexual), holding hands, giving flowers, going for walks, writing love notes, thoughtful gestures, etc. Women largely experience love through shows of affection. During the courting and early stages of the relationship, this need is usually well met. However, as time passes, men often shift out of courting mode and affection wanes.
  • Conversation- From an early age women are more verbal. They learn to talk earlier and tend to be much more expressive. In relationships, women need communication. They feel connected when talking takes place because it involves sharing openly of themselves. It involves attentiveness, balance, and sharing. One of the challenges that takes place in marriage involves the tendency of men to talk less. They are typically less verbal and tend to see less value in conversation.
  • Honesty and Openness- Wives tend to feel more secure in their relationship when their husband shares his thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs with them. The connection created by openness builds trust. Many women feel more fulfilled when their husbands are open with them.
  • Financial Support- This need can be misunderstood. It is easy to misperceive this need as a wife wanting her husband to work while she fulfills the 1950s housewife role. The reality behind this need involves a sense that men ought to work and provide. At a minimum, they ought to contribute to the family’s financial security. Expectations in this area are often difficult to express and deal with because there is a sense that it is a shallow expectation or counter to romantic love. In the real world, a working/providing husband is important.
  • Family Commitment- The need for family support is the need for commitment to family. Wives have an emotional need for their husbands to be committed to caring for and raising the family. Family commitment goes beyond just sticking around to help take care of the family, though that is certainly a part of the need. It also includes mentoring and loving the children. Wives need husbands to be committed to being fathers to their children.
These needs are not definitive of every wife in the world, largely because all people are different. However, these represent the typical needs wives have. For husbands, this list is best used as a guide for serving and caring for his wife. His major job in the marriage is showing Jesus to his wife through his actions and attitudes. Knowing the right areas to serve his wife is vital to doing this job right.
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Daddy-Daughter Date Night Idea: The Last Minute Tea Party

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IMG_2878The last few days, which were supposed to be days off, wound up being impromptu work days for me. When I came home this evening, my 3 year old attacked me with pleas for attention and play time. It’s important to understand that as a dad and a follower of Jesus, I consider it my duty to love my daughter in a way that shows her who Jesus is. It’s a job I take very seriously. So, I spent some time playing, but I had to start making dinner. It was late and I was tired, so dinner was not going to be anything spectacular. I put a frozen pizza in the oven and made sandwiches and salads for my wife and I, all the while my daughter was danced around me in an effort to get my attention. Then, I had an idea. I put on the kettle to boil and made tea in her teapot, one I picked up specifically for tea parties with her. As soon as she saw it out and me filling it with water, she started squealing about having a tea party. I set the table with candles, put out teacups and saucers, put her in her fancy dress, and put on my suit. My wife quickly joined the act, putting on a dress. The result was a IMG_2868 2tea party with our little girl over a regular dinner of frozen pizza and salads. It’s not an elaborate daddy-daughter date night, but throughout dinner she repeatedly exclaimed how excited she was to have a tea party for dinner. It wasn’t my preferred daddy-daughter day together. However, given the brief time I had available to plan dinner, our impromptu candlelit tea party was a huge hit with one of the people who matters most to me.   IMG_2879 IMG_2883click here for dad daughter

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A Boy Named Sue and A Different Point of View on Pain

A Boy Named Sue is one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs. Most people are familiar with the tune, but for those who have never encountered Cash’s humorous song, it tells the story of a man whose father was a worthless drunk who abandoned his family. Just before leaving, the drunk cruelly named his son “Sue.” The monicker brought teasing and mockery from an early age, which forced Sue to get tough, fighting anyone who picked on him. Intent on revenge for his unfortunate name, Sue hunts down his father with murder in his heart. Eventually, Sue finds and attempts to kill his father. Before he dies, Sue’s dad explains that the name was intended to toughen his son up, because he knew he wouldn’t stick around to help him learn to be a man. Sue realizes that as much as he hates the terrible name, it has made him into the man he is. The song ends with Sue walking away with a different point of view, thankful that he learned to fight and win through his difficulty.
I relate the content of the song because, though humorous, it makes an interesting point. Over the years, I have counseled with many people who curse bad parents, lament difficult circumstances they went through at different points of their lives, or rage against God for past hurts. Often, these hard circumstances in their lives resulted in them growing resentful or carrying a grudge. In such cases, I usually point to Johnny Cash’s song. I have never met a person who went through difficulty without growing strong, learning important skills, developing a deep sense of empathy, encountering God in a meaningful way, or developing a deep and abiding spirituality. Often, these qualities remain unnoticed in the individual because they simply accept them as a part of surviving hardship. In reality, some of the best qualities in people develop from going through difficulty. Diamonds are formed with intense heat and pressure and gold is refined with intense heat that burns away impurities. Further, God often uses our areas of brokenness to minister to the needs of others with similar issues. There’s a reason Alcoholics Anonymous is so effective. It’s because God is able to us alcoholics’ past brokenness to help deliver other alcoholics from their addictions. I have spoken to all sorts of believers who have effectively ministered from their own broken past, regardless of what the brokenness in their past is.
imagesThere is an important principal in this. Comfort, a sense of meaning, and purpose for difficulty in relation to hard circumstances in our past can be discovered by recognizing God’s refining us through the pain we experienced, reflecting on the good it produced in us, and reflecting on how our experiences have shaped us into the person that we are. Doing so requires that we learn to take a different point of view in relation to our past. This can be terribly difficult, because hardship often creates bitterness, which tends to blind us to anything positive that may come of unfortunate incidents. It can also be hard because it’s easy to confuse finding positive outcomes with being glad a bad thing happened. We don’t have to be happy that tragedy has been present in our lives in order to recognize how hardship has shaped us. We can be thankful for what we have become without having joy at what made us the way we are. Learning to shift our perspective in relation to past pain can bring great comfort and release. As difficult as it is, it becomes easier to shift our perspective the further displaced we are from the events. This is often the first step toward healing.
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