Rainbows and Unicorns

I like my life to fit into a nice little box.  A series of boxes actually. I have this idea that life should work a certain way.  Feel a certain way.  And when life doesn’t fit into my neat little boxes, I get grumpy.   To be  honest, I’ve been going through what I’ve called a funk.  Can’t really think of a cool way to describe a funk.

I will describe a little of what I’ve felt and gone through.

Remember the boxes I mentioned?  Well, I feel like my boxes have been turned over.  Dumped out.  Emptied.  I’d try to clean up the mess but nothing seemed to work.  Clean one up and 2 more would fall off the shelf.  Try to catch my breath only to notice one box is leaking.  Clean up the mess!  Refill another box only to have the bottom fall out.  Nothing seemed to work.  I thought I was working hard to fix my boxes but all it got me was feeling tired and frustrated.

What does this look like in real life?

Trying to communicate with your wife but the words don’t seem to work.  Trying to talk with your kids and all you seem to get are blank stares or arguments.  Desperately holding onto any routine or habit – not because it works but its all you know.  The habit may not work at all.  But you feel stuck.  I felt stuck.  I felt as though I could see the answers to my problems…but they were just out of arms reach.  That drives me crazy.

Juli and I stepped back from  a lot of our involvement in Church things.  We were so dang busy.  We still are.  But something had to give.  The changes messed with me.  I think there was a part of me that needed to be stupid busy.  As if my busyness was connected to God’s acceptance of me.  When we stopped some of the activity I noticed feeling depressed.  I felt broken.

This just isn’t a good place to live in.

I felt like the wind had stopped blowing in my sails.  I didn’t have a lot of desire to do much of anything.  I wouldn’t say that I was running from God…but I didn’t feel like spending a lot of time with Him.  As a Christian, there is a temptation to live life with a lot of rules.  I bought into that big time. I would have made a good Pharisee.  Rules, rules & more rules.  Rules for the rules.  How to keep the rules and what rules to follow when the rules are broken.

It is exhausting.

I don’t have any feel good answers to offer.  Some of you may relate to this.  I can’t say I’m completely out of this funk.  Not quite yet.  But I’m getting there.  I know that I have to change some bad habits.  How I see God.  How I relate to God.  Letting God in all of my boxes.  I logically know that God loves me.  But living out that truth is another thing.

Because if I lived like I KNOW that God loves me unconditionally – then I wouldn’t hold onto the rules like I do.  So I am choosing to trust that God really does have a plan for my life and that He will get me there.  He has a plan for my marriage & my boys.  But I have to trust Him.  I can’t relate to God through rules and obligation.

This post may not be all rainbows and unicorns – but I’m pretty sure that we aren’t promised that anyway.  Thanks for reading.

dealing with the pink elephant

Juli and I were stuck in the drift.  That place in a relationship when  you drift apart.  The pink elephant enters the room and parks itself on the couch between you and your spouse.  This is also a place where a lot of people settle.  They see the mountain as too big to climb and they give up.  They may or may not get a divorce.  Some stay together for the sake of the kids.  But their life and marriage has gotten extremely stale and no one is happy.

That sounds miserable!  Juli and I knew deep down that neither one of us signed up for miserable.  Our vows are important to us.  We took a leap of faith and got married again.  Sure it was scary but we loved each other!  We decided that we needed to deal with the pink elephant.

Something had to give.  It just wasn’t going to be our marriage!  So we started having some hard conversations.  I’ll be honest.  I don’t look forward to those conversations.  They make me nervous.  Anxious.  I want to do anything but have those conversations.

But having these conversations and sorting through the drift is what I didn’t do in marriage #1.

I know deep down that Juli is worth it.  I know that God put us together.  I know that God will be with us in all circumstances, conversations, and situations.  How do I know?  Because He said He would.

I know that God is with us in the drift.

Juli and I are talking more.  Dating.  Spending time with each other.  We took the assessment from Gary Chapman’s The 5 love languages.  We know each other’s language and we are committed to speaking that language no matter how hard it is.  Is it easy?  No.  Rewarding?  Yes.  Do we have it all figured out?  Heck no.

But that’s why I haven’t been writing.  I love writing.  God’s given me a gift of speaking my mind on this blog and I enjoy it.  But my marriage comes first.

I know that the benefits will come.  The ripple effect of our efforts will make our marriage stronger.  Our boys will see what  a marriage is supposed to look like.  All of the work will pay off.

How does this hit you?  Where does it land?  Do you need to deal with a pink elephant in your marriage?  Don’t waste any more time.  Do it.

when history repeats itself – part 2

Thankfully, God revealed to me that I couldn’t stay how I was and expect a great relationship.  Did He want me to be happy?  To be married again?  Yes.  But He wasn’t done transforming me yet.  I wasn’t ready for a relationship.

By the way, He is still transforming me.  That is a process that won’t stop until we are face to face with Jesus.

I was on a mission.  I wanted God to show me the things that I needed to work on.  I wanted to heal.  I wanted to do whatever I had to do so that I could be “ready” for another relationship.  God started showing me what I needed to tweak, change, and let go of.  Areas of bondage in my life.  Pride.  Stubbornness.  Porn.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Communication.  At one point I was ready for God to stop.  I thought I had enough healing to do!

After a time of healing, counseling, and some single living, God blessed me with an amazing woman. I had been single for about 4 years when I met Juli.   We dated and married after a year.  Juli and I believe that God pulled the 2 of us together.  He knows our hearts.  He knows our history.  He knows what we need.  He also knew it would not be easy.

When Juli and I were dating, I was, again, very involved in my church.  Men’s ministry.  Small group.  Youth group.  Pedal to the metal and go – go – go!  I made an assumption that Juli would want to get involved with the church too and didn’t think about all of my commitments.  Juli did get involved.  God took her into some situations that really pushed her out of her comfort zone.

In the back of my mind I knew we were maxed out.  Our calendar was full.  Between church activities, Juli’s retail job, and the boy’s busy schedule – we were tired and stressed out.  I knew we couldn’t really maintain at this pace.

But we pushed on.  The calendar stayed full.

That is what a good Christian does, right?

Then my past came knocking.

I need to spend time with my husband.

We need a consistent date night.

Am I important to you?

I struggled with these questions.  How could this be happening?  Again?  Does she not see all of the things we are I am doing?  Men’s ministry.  Youth group.  Small group.  Juli was involved too. Don’t get the impression I left her at home while I went out and made myself busy.  But Juli knew that a full calendar and a stressed marriage wasn’t going to work over the long run.

I felt the drift.  The drift is never a good thing in marriage.  The drift is when you are in the same room as your spouse but you feel like your 300 miles apart.

Something needed to change.

Again, I will respect your time.  Back with more soon.

How did this land with you?  Can you relate?

when history repeats itself – part 1

I haven’t written in awhile.  It’s not because I don’t have anything to say :) I’ve had a lot going on in my life.  I’ll get to that in a bit.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that I have a desire to be as real as possible.  Being open can be an encouragement to you.  If I can share and talk about real life things – then you can too.  Maybe the things that I write about will hit home for you.  If these words touch you in some way, then take it to God and ask Him to help you be obedient.

It is hard when you start seeing your past repeat itself.

That’s how the saying goes, right?  That history will repeat itself?

Well that’s great when it’s someone else’s history.

Allow me to tell a brief piece of my story.  I was married straight out of college.  21 years old.  That marriage lasted 12 years on paper.  Emotionally it was over after about 10.  Problem was I didn’t really know the marriage was falling apart.  You may be wondering “how can you be married and NOT know your relationship is crashing?”  Well, that may be another post for another day.

During my first marriage, I completed a Graduate degree and my ex-wife went back to school when our son started kindergarten.  We were very busy and involved in the church we attended at the time.  In year 11 the wheels started falling off.  I was in a spiritual rut.  I was going through the motions.  And I ignored all of the requests from my wife.  Problem was that I had ignored these requests for years.

We need to spend time together.

We need a date night.

When can we get away, just the 2 of us?

I was good at putting on band aids.  Fix the problem just enough to stop the bleeding.  Over time, those band aids were useless.  Unfortunately, that marriage ended in divorce.  There were a lot of issues and problems in that first marriage.  Communication.  Addiction.  Pride.  And when those weren’t dealt with, the relationship got sick and was severely malnourished.

So I entered a time of healing, reflection, and soul searching.  I asked a LOT of questions.  Made some mistakes.  Had to learn how to live life as a single dad.  Ultimately, I wanted God’s healing.  I spent a lot of time looking for that “right” girl because I wanted to get remarried.  Honestly, I got tired of looking.  I just didn’t seem to have much luck in the dating world (which is pretty brutal today :)  God shared with me that I needed to focus on becoming a man worthy of dating – THEN He would take care of a relationship for me.

I’m going to stop here.  Too much to tell and I want to respect your time.  More to come soon!

This isn’t meant to be a Debbie Downer post.  Just part 1.  How do you relate to my story?

Time for a change

I am in the process of drawing some lines in the sand.  We all need them.  Moments when you finally tell yourself that you’ve had enough.  These moments can come in any number of circumstances.

You’ve put on 15 lbs and you absolutely refuse to buy bigger clothes.

Your marriage has been on the rocks and you refuse to get a divorce.

You’ve been smoking for years and you finally want to quit – for real.

You’re tired  of that dead end job and you’ve decided to try something new.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand.  You can’t do it anymore.  What you’ve done for months or years isn’t working and you’re either going to change or go crazy.

There is a good chance I’ll be expanding on this thought in the future.  I happen to be in the middle of this and don’t know how it will pan out just yet :)

God has been gracious enough to show me (more than once) that I need to keep pursuing Him.  Chasing after His thoughts.  Running on His path.  Expanding my faith.  Trying new things.  Why?  Because I feel stuck.  I don’t like feeling stuck.

I don’t like being stuck in my relationship with God.  I know that it is possible to hit plateaus with God.  It is possible for me to hit a plateau.  God doesn’t get stuck like that.  The only time God is “stuck” is when He is waiting on me.  For the past few weeks I have felt stuck.  There are a number of reasons for that.  Juli and I are talking/praying our way through those.

But I’ll be honest.  I haven’t felt like reading my Bible every day.  I don’t know what to say when I pray so my prayers are minimal.  I am not doubting who God is or His existence.  I know He loves me and hasn’t gone anywhere.

I don’t want to go through the motions.  Last thing in the world that I wanna do.  It isn’t worth being fake.  I don’t want to be fake with God & I don’t want to be fake in my marriage.  Those are the 2 big ones for me.  What really is the point of being married if my relationship is built on a facade?  I don’t want to turn into a couple who puts on a happy face for my friends so they think everything is OK only to close the door and watch my marriage transform from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  There are too many couples who live behind fake facades.  Juli and I refuse to be one of them.

Many of you know I am a big Joyce Meyer fan.  I read this today and I will be chewing on this for awhile.  Joyce shares a time in her life when she reached a time for change:

I came to a point in my life where I wanted to be relaxed about my relationship with God and my walk with Him.  I wanted to be relaxed around people and not afraid of their disapproval.  I wanted to be relaxed about my gifts and calling in life.  I wanted to be relaxed about everything that concerned me.  I wanted to enjoy God and not spend most of my time with Him afraid he was angry because of my flaws.

I know that is heavy – but read it again.  That hit me between the eyes.  This describes me.  Not fun to admit that really but I’m tired.  I’m tired of slipping into the motions.  I won’t say I’ve lived my life there.  But I am ready to move out and not go back.  But I can’t do it on my own.  I’ve tried for 39 years.

It is surrender time.

My way or the highway

I will be very direct with today’s thought.  I will go out on a limb and assume that a LOT of men feel this way.  Holding onto this way of thinking has most likely affected your relationship with your wife & kids in some form or fashion.  What is it you ask?  

Needing to be right.
This comes in a variety of attitudes.
My way or the highway.
You’re idea is ok but it isn’t as good as mine.
I’ve always done it this way so…
How can you tell if you think this way?  I’m willing to be that a lot of you just mentally argued with me.  I don’t do that!  Craig, I’ll pray for you since you obviously have that problem, but me?  No way.  Come on.  Men are very good at generalizing and minimalizing.  You can tell if you think this way if you get upset when your wife or kids do it differently than how you’d have done it.  Then you find yourself arguing about how it has to be done the way you’d have done it.  Why?  Because you need to be right.
Example.  I’ve got 2 teen boys in my house.   Juli & I want them to be functioning members of society.  One very important thing they need to learn is how to do laundry.  The last thing I want is for my 34 year old son to bring his laundry over to the house so he can have clean underwear.  So Juli and I are teaching them (with close supervision) how to do the laundry.
After showing him how to add the soap & clothes to the machine…
Me:  you set the time with this button – the 28 minute load is just fine…then you set the temperature with this button.  Hit the button till it goes down to cold.  Then…
Teen: why do you have to set it on cold?  Mom leaves it on warm.
Me:  because you can wash all clothes in cold…whites or darks.  Then…
Teen: but Mom washes clothes in warm.  Can you wash all clothes in warm?
Me:  I guess you can – it’s better to wash in cold though.  Anyway…Next you…
Teen:  why?  why can’t you just use warm?!?
Me: just put it on cold!!! (sigh)
I got stuck.  I had to have my way.  In the big scheme of things, does it really matter if the clothes are washed in warm or cold water?  Really?  No.  It doesn’t matter.  But I got so focused on doing things my way that I was willing to argue with a teenager on laundry cycles.
What about you?  How do you get stuck in this?  Do you have to have your way?  Do you get upset if your plans get off track?
I’ve had some pretty intense conversations with my wife about some pretty silly things.  I know, deep down, that the world doesn’t revolve around me and that I need to loosen up.  I challenge you to think about this.  How many intense conversations are you going to have before you realize that it may not really be worth it?  Remember, everything you say and do leaves a ripple.  It may be a pleasant or grumpy ripple.  Either way, your actions leave an aftertaste with your wife and kids.
What kind of ripple are you going to have?

Learning to love when you don’t feel like it

Loving unconditionally is hard.  Especially when we live in a culture that doesn’t.

We live in a world of feelings.  Over time we have been conditioned to live, react to, and make decisions based on how we feel.  Don’t think this is true?  Watch the news 30 minutes a day for a week and see how you feel.  The media tends to feed the feelings of panic, worry, or fear.  There is always some new link to cancer, a story on terrorism, or a random shooting that took the lives  of innocent people.  Your feelings get stirred.

Still don’t believe me?  Watch an infomercial.  You will soon learn that you are way out of shape and you need the latest diet system, weight loss system, or exercise program.  They know that the commercial is only 30 minutes long & you may watch it for 7 – so they have to hit your feelings hard and fast.

Because we have a roller coaster of feelings, it is difficult to do anything with consistency.  Some days you may feel like mowing the yard.  Other days you don’t.  The same is true with errands and chores.  We may not be able to control how we are feeling – but we are responsible for the choices we make.  That isn’t very popular today.  I may not feel like grocery shopping, but if I don’t, then our fridge will be empty.

This brings me back to my opening line.  Unconditional love has to be one of the most difficult things we can attempt to do.  A friend of mine sent me 1 Corinthians 13 the other day.  The Message version is refreshing.  Keeps things simple.   The simplicity of the Word doesn’t mean the meaning is any less powerful.  Look at a portion of chapter 13:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love never gives up.  I have been challenged really hard the last few months.  Most of you know that Juli and I have 2 teen boys living with us.  They are now freshman in high school.  There are multiple challenges that we both face.  Loving our boys as they transition into young men.  Loving each other even when we don’t always see eye to eye.  Loving our boys as a part of a blended family.

I thank God for the transition our family has had thus far as Juli & I have blended our family together.  We have heard some horror stories!  But it isn’t always rainbows and unicorns either.  Teens will push the limits.  Whether you are their blood parent or a step parent.  Teens lose their filter too.  What flies into their head flies out of their mouth.

Can I be honest?  That is hard to live with all of the time!  My feelings get stirred up.  I want to react.  I want to win the fight.  I want to have the last word.  I want the boys to do it my way! Now!  But they are changing.  Growing up.  There isn’t a lot of logic being used in the teen brain.  All of the logic has been ejected and emotions have taken its place.

Juli reminds me that we have to be the adults.

God reminds me that Love never gives up.

Between the 2 of them I am learning that I can keep doing things my way – and live a very frustrated life while pushing my boys away…or I can learn what it means to never give up.  God’s love never gives up.  According to Phil. 4.13 I can do ALL things through Jesus because He is going to give me the strength to do so.

So that must mean that I can love Juli, Saul & Noah with God’s love.  Easy? Nope.  Do I have it figured out?  Not yet.  Work in progress.

When you hear that Love never gives up – what comes to mind?

I would like to buy a pallet of pickles

Juli & I have some friends who frequent Costco.  For those of you who may not have Costco, this is a store similar to Sams Club.  A store where you can buy whatever you may need in large quantity.  Juli has been on a few shopping trips with our friend and was excited to join this movement of buying in bulk.  Juli & I planned a trip to the warehouse so that I could experience what all the fuss was about.

I’ve never been in such a place.  First, you need a  membership to get in.  I didn’t understand why I would need to “join” a store.  Do I need a password?  Is there a retinal scan?  Will I get frisked as I walk in?  I’m going to spend money here – why pay extra money to join the club?  Is membership really necessary?  Now I have a card that says I’m a member.  Can’t say I’m going to flaunt this one around.  I haven’t bought the bumper sticker declaring my allegiance to Costco.  But now I can buy a 5 gallon bucket of mayo.  And you can’t.  So there.

Second, buying in bulk is something I’ll have to get used to.  From what I could tell the prices were pretty good.  They tell you what the price per unit is.  So instead of spending $3.50 on one stick of deodorant, you’ll only spend $1.25.  You just have to buy 15 at a time.  Then there’s the toilet paper.  This is where it gets fun.  You could buy 12 rolls for $9 at a regular store.  Or you could bulk buy it.  Why not pay $15 for 82 rolls?  You won’t have to buy toilet paper for 6 months.  And TPing someone’s house just got economical.

I’m going to admit that my numbers are a little inflated.  Just making a point :)  There are things I’ll probably never buy.  Unless I was feeding an actual army, I don’t think we’ll need the giant tub of mustard or the 10 lb bag of croutons.

I don’t have any spiritual lessons to draw from this.  You may be waiting for my God moment.  I could say that buying in bulk is like Jesus’ miracle of multiplying the fish and rolls to feed the 5000.  Twist bulk buying into some story of a miracle.  All we needed was 3 boxes of tissues but now we have 20!  But I won’t.  I wanted to share a fun experience is all.

I can sleep better at night knowing that we are now members of a store where we can buy pickles by the pallet.  What are your thoughts on bulk buying?

engine trouble

I’ve had the same lawn mower for about 10 years.  It is a Toro that I bought from Home Depot.  I’ll be honest.  I’m not the most mechanical guy in the world.  My son, Noah, is a LOT more mechanical than I am.  He likes to take things apart, figure out how they work, and fix things.

Me?  I want to put gas in it, pull the cord, hear the engine come to life, and cut my grass.  I’m not too concerned with how things work or why.

mowerAnother honest moment.  I haven’t taken care of that mower like I should have.   The mower does have a small engine, therefore I have to maintain it.  Oil changes.  Air filters.  Spark plug.  Getting the blade sharpened.  If I don’t take care of the engine, then I’m going to have problems.  I have a tendency to think that if it has oil & gas in it and it starts – then I’m good to go.

All of you motor heads can quit rolling your eyes at me.  I know I’m not doing my mower any justice :)

I knew it was coming.  That day when we pull the mower out to cut the grass and it doesn’t start.  Of course the grass is getting high – 3 more days and I could lose a small dog out there.  Now I’m stuck with a mower that doesn’t work.  I changed the plug and air filter.  Nothing.  My friend took a look at it and determined I’m having carburetor problems.  Thankfully he is going to look at (and hopefully fix) my mower so I don’t have to buy a goat to eat my high grass.

God sort of nudged me and let me know that the maintenance is a good thing.

Does God really care about my lawn mower carburetor?  Really?

Well He does.  But the maintenance He was talking about was people related.  How am I taking care of my relationship with Juli?  With Saul & Noah?

My relationships with my wife & kids is a little like a lawn mower.  I have to make sure that my “engine” has fresh oil.  My air filters aren’t clogged.  My spark plug is firing.  If not?  I’m going to have a dead mower.

What does this look like in real life?

I have hard conversations with my wife.  We talk about the things that need to be talked about.  We don’t sweep anything under the rug.  Hard? Heck yeah.  Sometimes I don’t want to talk.  Sometimes I let my feelings get in the way.  There are times when the conversations aren’t polished like an Oprah interview.  But we keep talking.  We push through.  We don’t go to bed angry. We pray.  And keep praying.

My mower doesn’t work because I haven’t taken care  of it like I should have.  Now I’m paying the price.  I don’t want the same to happen to my marriage or how I relate to the boys. I’m still learning how to do the little things in my relationships that will keep my family in good maintenance mode.  But with God’s patience & grace, we’ll figure it out.

How’s your engine running?  How would your spouse describe the engine of your marriage?  Need work?  Is the engine light on?  Go have the conversation.  Find out.  Do the fine tuning you need so that your relationship is all God intended it to be.

You too can be transformed in 3 years! Just sign here.

I’d like to think of myself as a person who loves.  Being able to see the good in people.  Loving people no matter what they have done, are doing, or will do.  I mean that’s what Jesus does & we are supposed to follow His lead, right?

I read out of Mark today.  Jesus was recruiting His disciples.  He came to Peter as he was fishing.  The recruiting technique by Jesus has always boggled my mind.  ”Hey!  Fisher guy on the boat! You’re fishing for fish, not very well I might add, come join me and I’ll teach you how to fish for men!  What do you say?  It’s a 3 year commitment.”  Then they’d actually drop what they were doing and go.

We have the luxury of reading the Gospels from start to finish, like a book.  We can see the struggles that Jesus will face.  Not only in His line of work, but with all the people.  Travelling evangelist (with a team of 12) coming to a town near you.  He heals the sick, can cast that demon out of your crazy uncle, will also heal your sins.  ** footnote at the bottom: He will also need a place to stay and some of His meals if possible.

Then Jesus has all the people to deal with.  Some people loved Him and wanted more.  Others would see an amazing miracle and still not believe.  The religious teachers?  All they wanted to do was argue and get Him alone so they could kill Him.  Those are the outsiders.

His inner circle wasn’t easy either.  Peter could fly off the handle at any given moment.  Others were arguing about who’d get to sit next to Jesus in heaven.  They doubted everything and couldn’t remember one miracle to the next.  Typical men I guess.

Yet through all of this, Jesus loved people.  He loved them when they doubted.  Feared.  Ran the other way.  Challenged.  Argued.  Doubted again.  Did the opposite of what He said.

No matter what His disciples did, He loved them.

No matter what the Pharisees said, He loved them.

No matter what you did yesterday, He loves you.

Joyce Meyer puts it this way:

 God knew what He was getting when He saved me, and He saved me anyway!

Jesus knew Peter was a hot-head.  He also knew that it’d take 3 years to get Peter transformed from fisherman to evangelist.  Big 2×4 moment for me when I think about raising 2 teenage boys.  I’ve gotta give God some time & room to work.  Not only on them, but in me too.  It is tempting to want to look super spiritual and tell people you love them.  But I want it to be real.  I want to love my boys through all the stupid they’re gonna do. Not just say it.

God love me through all the stupid I did.  Sigh.

God, continue to transform me.  Chip away all the ugly stuff and replace it with Your fruit.  Teach me how to love others no matter what shape they’re in.  Thank you for loving me no matter what!

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