Raw Reflections from the Journey

Monday, February 14, 2011

To Have and To Hold

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother
and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
~ Genesis 2:24 (NIV)

I was almost too nervous and too emotional to say my vows, let alone really understand their meaning. I just wanted to make it through the ceremony.

As Jill was escorted down the aisle by her father, my knees quivered. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I realized she was making me her one and only, forever. I was so humbled and overwhelmed. And, I suppose I was scared, or at least I should have been scared about holding her in love, the rest of our lives.

To have a wife is a gift. To hold her is a responsibility that is fulfilled only by selfless love. That’s something I’m still learning.

Privilege comes with responsibility. I get to have her and I must hold her. While I have exclusive rights to emotional and physical intimacy with my wife, I also have responsibility to love and to provide for her. Maybe this was another reason my knees were shaking – my subconscious knew that I was getting in over my head.

Jill often shares with couples that she and I have grown up together. We’ve been learning love for a long time. I feel sad when I contrast my bride’s happy and hopeful expression at our wedding with images of her tear-stained face when I’ve hurt her. If there was anything I vowed not to do when we married, it was to not cause pain. But I have. Being human, it’s impossible not to. I find that sad.

Life outside the Garden of Eden is tough. Pain is inevitable. It’s a clear consequence of sin. Sadly, in relationships, we hurt each other by what we say and don’t say, and by what we do and don’t do. Our best intentions sometimes go unnoticed and sometimes they are misinterpreted. Sometimes we don’t cooperate with our partner’s right to have us or to hold us. And sometimes we make it hard for them.

Recently we coached a couple by phone. She was full of pain, anger and frustration. We facilitated her sharing lots of angry, sad and scared feelings. He admitted that he had to clench his teeth and bite his tongue to keep from rebutting with his own thoughts and feelings. After she was done, he described that she was holding him, but that he wanted to pull away. She felt held by him hearing her heart and wanted to be close, despite having been hurt. He was struggling with anger about some things she said, and confusion about how she could want to be close to him. I think that’s a good picture, a realistic picture of what it’s like and what it takes to hold on to our vows in marriage; to hold on through hurt.

The pastor who officiated our wedding could have commented on our vows. It wouldn’t have been romantic, but it would have been realistic. “That’s right, Jeff and Jill, to have and to hold. You’ll have to hold on through the rough times and hold on through hurt. The happiness of this moment and the newness of your marriage will wear off at some point. Reality will set in and you’ll probably have a fight. Feelings will be hurt and your vows will be tested. When those times come, it will be important to hold on through the hurt.”

Are you hurt? How are you holding your partner? How are you holding on?

Lord, you are one who holds on through the hurt. As you hold us, we can hold each other. Thank you for your stubborn love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why Boundaries? To Protect Your Purpose

Boundaries sometimes get a bad rap. Some people don't understand or like when you say no, or when you live by a calendar. Saying "no" or "not now" is taken as personal rejection, "You don't like me or value me enough to spend time with me." But that's not always the case.

Some of the most Kingdom successful and productive people I know set and defend firm boundaries to protect time and energy. They know what their life is to be about, and therefore say no much more often than they say yes. They live by the maxim Gordon MacDonald made famous in Ordering Your Private World "If you don't schedule your time, others will be glad to schedule it for you."

What got me thinking about this? Two things: 1. Clarification of boundaries between professional time and personal time with a friend who also employs me as a Leadership Coach for his business, and 2. Desire and determination to finish a book to teach as many couples as possible how to coach their own marriage.

First, the former. Do you know why some counselors avoid telling people on seatmates on airplanes what they do for a living? Because we will inevitably be told about their problems as if they are doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to work a little bit more. No thanks. Believe it or not, asking, listening, conceptualizing, diagnosing and treatment planning are energy intensive, and those services deserve to be compensated. But, I'll admit that when led by the Holy Spirit to answer directly about what I do, I will be truthful. The rest of the time I say, "I work in healthcare." All but the persistent and insensitive passengers get the point, "He doesn't want to talk." Not the best 24/7 witness, I know, but this blog is Raw Reflections so I'm trying to keep it real. When it comes to friendship, I want to relax in reciprocal relationship and not be "on duty" to access my psychological or Leadership Coaching database of experience to perform these professional functions.

The second reason I've been thinking about and identifying and setting boundaries was the impetus for this blog entry; protecting time and energy needed to fulfill some of my life purpose through a portion of Jill and my mission: To inspire and equip as many Christian Marriages as possible to have a pleasurable, hopeful and purposeful marriage for the Kingdom of God and to help them to help others to have the same. One means of doing this is in writing, and we've had a book "in the works" for way too long. It bothers me every day that it isn't yet in the hands of couples who don't know what they don't know about essential skills and attitudes they need to heal, strengthen and protect their marriage and to help other couples do the same.

The point? Since we live in time and space, there are a finite number of hours in a day that we can be productive; yea, a finite number of hours left to live this life, and to fulfill our God-given purpose before we hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

So, boundaries are good, not bad. They protect people and purpose. They define how much of us we give to others, and when we give that. Since time and energy are in limited supply each day, stewardship demands that I judiciously parcel these out to the people and purposes that God puts on my path. So, if you hear me say "no", or "not now", it doesn't necessarily mean that I don't care about you, or that I don't value an endeavor in which you are involved. It means that I'm continuing to do my best to do my best with the purposes that God designed me to fulfill, and the people He's given me to love and care for.

Hmmm. Back to work!

Blessings, Jeff

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making Desires Reality, One Day at a Time

I'm psyched, and I want to write about it.

Today ended the 7th week of P90X for Jill and me. We began December 20, and one day at a time we now find ourselves at day 49! The results? Fewer pounds, less fat, more muscle, better flexibility, greater strength, cardiovascular fitness and a positive sense of well-being. There's a really big difference in all of these measures between day one and now, but the psychological benefits are the ones I probably appreciate the most; confidence and a sense of accomplishment from doing something my body didn't want to and my mind said it couldn't.

What broke the inertia of relatively sedentary middle-aged mindset that included aches, pains and low moods from lack of vigorous exercise? Desperation and desire to look and feel different. Note the emphasis on desire. Many programs work but only if we work them, and working them consistently is a result of motivation.

If you asked me in December what I wanted, my list would have looked like this:
- to be able to reach my toes again
- to be fit and flexible enough to get on the racquetball court again
- to wear my current wardrobe comfortably
- to eliminate neck and lower back pain
- to be able to ride my bike comfortably through mountainous terrain
- to be comfortable in my own skin like I was when I was fit

The list of desires was enough to break the inertia of fear of failure in a tough fitness program. I wanted the results bad enough to endure the discomfort.

Now, not to trivialize or be sacreligious in any way, but this reminds me of what was said about Jesus, "For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross" (Philippians 2). In common vernacular this is expressed as, "No pain, no gain."

Forty-nine days of exercise* were strung together as single days, one day at at a time. It was only about a half-hour ago that we completed today's routine, so we're not physically or psychologically ready to tackle tomorrow's workout. We'll deal with that tomorrow, and we'll be rested and ready. Today has enough other objectives to fill it, and so we'll give ourselves to those too.

I think the instruction of Jesus to live one day at a time is often overlooked and undervalued. Not only is one day at a time all that we've been made to handle physically and psychologically, but it's also the key to relaxing in relationship with God and others. Just today, it's all I have to think about, and as I do, it will become a strong link to tomorrow, and the next day...and the next, and...

So today, do what you can do. Don't do nothing, because you can't do everything, do what you canand see how far it gets you.

Blessings, Jeff