Family Camp Fears

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Last week I went to Family Camp. That may sound completely awesome or absolutely horrible to you. And I would understand either perception. The word “camp” may bring back wonderful memories of your youth spent in little cabins in the woods, or remind you of debilitating heat and humidity and mosquitos the size of attack helicopters. But Family Camp turned out to be a wonderful week for our entire family.

We went to Glorieta, New Mexico and enjoyed time in the scenic mountains, a rafting trip down the Rio Grande, archery tag (you read that right), mountain biking, zip lines, and so much more. We met other amazing families, had some pretty incredible food, and were ministered to by such a great staff. My hat is off to Josh Baker and all his minions!

But it wasn’t all fun and games. There was some soul-searching that I desperately needed. And what I discovered was something both simple and extremely difficult. I learned that my children and I suffer from the same disease: Fear. Not fear of something lurking in the trees, or even fear of crashing on a mountain bike trail. No, a deeper and darker set of fears. Fears so prevalent and anxiety producing that they can weigh us down and keep us from becoming who we were truly meant to be.

You see, one day, as we talked about burdens at camp, many of my children expressed their fears of rejection, insignificance and loneliness.

I get it. Boy do I get it.

Confession time. I come across as pretty confident and self-assured. Yet, deep down I often feel unwanted, incapable, under-appreciated. Sometimes I don’t try as hard as I can because that way when things don’t work out, I can always think it was lack of effort on my part, not lack of acceptance or appreciation from others. Yes, the fears of loneliness and rejection that my children mentioned are writ large in me.

So what can we do? Obviously we should work on our fears. Push through. Talk about them with God. But there is something else I learned that is even deeper than my fears. Family can be the place where rejection, need for attainment, insignificance, and loneliness are crushed under an avalanche of acceptance, love and togetherness. When I think about my fears, they so often have to do with whether someone will think I did a good job, or whether somebody thinks highly enough of my work to hire me. But I do not fear my five-year old daughter will reject me. She and I have a bond of acceptance that runs deeper than any anxiety. Why am I so concerned with what strangers think of me when the most precious gifts God has given me offer nothing but affirmation and love?

I know not every family has that. Family can be the place where some of us feel the most rejected. But even if that is the case, maybe we can be the starting point for changing that. Perhaps I can love and accept and hug and kiss and affirm and honor my family in such a way that their fears disappear when I am around.

The claim of Jesus is that “perfect love drives out fear”. I think the opposite is often true as well, “fear pushes away love and acceptance”. We truly do live in a battle ground between fear and love. May our homes and families become places of refuge, where fears are relieved, and love always wins.

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The D Word

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It may be the worst word in the English language.  Worse than any curse word.  Why?  Because it shreds our emotions and makes us horrible to be around.  The word?  Deserve.

Many of us feel guilty, unworthy.  When bad things happen, we feel like we are getting what we deserve.  Which only makes us feel terrible about ourselves and absolutely no fun to be around.

On the other hand, some of us think we deserve better.  When things go wrong, or the world doesn’t work the way we think it should; we feel let down, abused and mistreated.  Which of course makes us gripey, whiney, and self-righteous.  Even worse to be around than those guilty schmucks.

You see, when we use the word deserve, it typically leads to misery.  Both ours and others.

This is especially true in relationships.  Lots of us feel, deep down inside, that when things don’t work in our relationships that is just us getting what we deserve.  We are not worth being treated well.  So, we give off a vibe that says “spit on me, I won’t mind”.

Others of us feel that we deserve to be made happy by our relationships.  So when someone lets us down, whether they meant to or not, we mount our high horse and scream about how unfair life is and how we deserve better.  (By the way, neither of these positions makes anyone actually want to love you.)

On the other hand, people who find fulfillment in their relationships don’t think about what they deserve.  Instead, they focus on what they can give.  They look at what they can do to improve themselves.  How can I be a better listener?  What can I do to be more welcoming?  Where can I best use my talents to help others?  Those finding fulfillment in relationships drop the “de” from deserve.

It sounds simple, and it truly is.  It is just difficult to do.  Stop looking at what you should get, and focus on what you can give.  Don’t focus on what you deserve; focus on how you can serve.

If you want to be unhappy, if you desire to be miserable, just spend the next hour or so thinking about what you deserve.  You will either feel totally guilty or completely uncared for.  Now doesn’t that feel good?!

But if you want to be happy, if you desire some joy in your life, then drop deserve from your vocabulary.

After Eighteen

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18 years ago this weekend, I married the most wonderful, caring, hard-working, beautiful woman. But as lovely as my wife is, and as much as I looked forward to our wedding, I had no idea what I was getting into. This became quickly evident to me.

Two weeks after we wed, my father-in-law passed away. We knew this was coming as he had been sick for quite a while. He fought just to make it to the wedding. But suddenly, I am two weeks into marriage and there is this massive family crisis. I had no idea what to do. No clue how to be a good husband, much less a good husband in the midst of pain and suffering.

I was suddenly part of a family dealing with a devastating loss. I was grieving with relatives I barely knew, many of whom I had only met for the first time two weeks before. I was an insider but not really. I was family, sort of. And more than anything I wanted to help my wife, but I was woefully inept.

The night before the memorial service we gathered at the funeral home for a visitation. Many family, friends and church people came to show their respect. I did the only thing I knew to do; I stood by my wife and held her hand. Many people came to us and offered a strange mix of congratulations and condolences. It was surreal.

But then, it went to a whole other level. A young couple came up to speak with us. I didn’t know them, but assumed my wife must (as it turned out she didn’t, to this day we have no idea who they were). They offered their sympathy and then the woman said something I will never forget. She said, “My father passed away almost ten years ago. And I just want you to know that after all this time it still hurts the same. It never gets better.” Then they walked away.

I was horrified. I probably should have felt some tinge of sympathy for the woman but all I could think about was my wife. How could anyone say such a thing? My wife stared straight ahead as the couple eased away. She began to shake and I gripped her hand as tightly as possible. I prepared myself for the devastated mourning about to be unleashed. And then she turned and looked at me, and laughed. Not a polite little giggle, but full on laughter. And I immediately began laughing with her. What else could you do?

We pulled away from the crowd and tried to compose ourselves. There was sadness in my wife’s eyes, but also a strange joy. We talked about how we felt sorry for the young woman, but also discussed how we couldn’t believe anyone could say such a thing at that moment. We laughed some more. We kissed. We laughed. We returned to the crowd, stronger and more truly married.

As I have reflected many times about the events surrounding that time in our lives, I always end up in the same place: the two of us laughing in a funeral home. I think in many ways that moment distills the essence of marriage.

Life is certainly not perfect. You don’t get to pick when tragedy happens. And even now, although I believe I am much better equipped, I still don’t know exactly what to do in the face of real pain. But in that moment I learned something so valuable, so precious, so life-giving that it has propelled me ever since. Marriage is about knowing you have someone you can laugh with in the face of death. It is about being able to be truly you, completely you, no matter if that seems inappropriate or counter to the situation. I may not have known what to do in those difficult days, but I had found someone who I could look in the eye and love and laugh with. No matter the situation. I had found something priceless. Not a good wife or great marriage. No, more valuable than those. I had found a best friend, a soul mate, a partner in crime for all eternity.

Every Day Valentine’s

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Valentine’s Day is upon us.  Oh the glorious holiday that wreaks havoc on our relationships.  The day when most of us are unsure what is called for.  Do I make it a big deal?  What if I get her a gift and she doesn’t get me one?  Does that make things awkward?  Is a date mandatory?  If so who decides what we are doing?  Should I try to make it romantic?  (what even is romantic?)

Oh the consternation.  So much pressure for one silly day.  And that is the key to regaining some sanity.  IT IS ONE DAY.  We roll all this pressure into one evening to try to have the perfect night.  But what if we took a different view of days like this?

What if on Valentine’s Day you could do absolutely nothing for the love of your life because all the rest of the year you loved them so well?

What if you didn’t have to do something special because every day you try to shower them with kindness and small acts of service?

What if all the roses and jewelry and chocolate meant nothing because they can’t compare to all the washed dishes, mopped floors, and scrubbed toilets you give daily without complaining?

Don’t hear me wrong, it is great to be romantic, thoughtful and creative for special days.  But that should be an outgrowth of our daily love routine, not a massive break from it.  It takes way more thought and creativity to find little ways to love each day.  It takes serious creativity to maneuver an act of love between picking up kids from practice, getting dinner on the table and making sure someone changes the cat litter.  It really is romantic to unexpectedly vacuum and wash the car, or just get the kids out of the house so mom can take an uninterrupted bath.  Finding ways to love each day, that is the heart of any true romance.

Yesterday I was sick.  24 hour stomach bug thing.  In a house with seven kids, having one parent down (even if it is me) drastically effects the day.  My wife woke up and immediately had to make massive adjustments.  She was a little frantic.  She left the house with many kids in tow and I had no idea when she would return.  Next thing I know, I am lying in bed and my wife is entering the room with a drink in her hand.  A Sprite she picked up at Sonic.  When my stomach is upset, the only drink I want is Sprite.  I didn’t ask for it.  She didn’t make it a big deal.  She didn’t complain about the effort it took to get it with all the other things she had to cover for me.  But it’s more than just a drink.  It is love in a cup.  A relationship distilled down to a moment of kindness.  And for me, it is better than anything she might get me tomorrow. (unless she has convinced Led Zeppelin to reunite and do a private concert in our backyard, then that is better, way better, but short of that)

 

Best Gift Ever!

V0040214 A family playing cards: the husband is looking over his wife

Valentine’s Day is a week away. (Warning-Warning, Alert-Alert, Gentlemen Reread That First Sentence!) Ladies, there is a chance he will get you the perfect gift.  The exact piece of jewelry you would buy for yourself, a big bouquet of roses if you are a flower person, a sentimental homemade craft (sure).  But there is also a pretty good chance he will botch it.  A waffle iron, a giant box of those antacid chalk hearts with phrases on them, a mix tape that would be wonderfully romantic if you owned anything that could play a tape.

So when he comes through or crashes and burns remember this; he may already have given you a tremendous gift, only you haven’t noticed.  This gift doesn’t come in a box or wrapped up in fancy ribbon.  In fact, this gift can never be purchased.  The gift: his view of you.

Over time I have talked with so many husbands who tell me the same thing, “my wife is amazing!”  They talk about how dedicated a mother she is, how hard she works, how well she does all things domestic, how beautiful she is.  One thing I try to always ask when these superlatives start rolling out is “do you tell her?”  Most guys say yes they tell their wife, but…and here is the kicker…”she doesn’t really believe me.”

We can all be really hard on ourselves.  It is difficult to look beyond our faults and failings.  We can be so aware of our struggles that we cannot hear someone’s compliment.

Sometimes it is helpful to look at ourselves through the eyes of someone who loves us.  To see what they see.  So ladies, this Valentine’s Day, why don’t you open up a Husband’s-Eye View of you.  If you did, it might look something like this:

1.  You are the hardest-working, most efficient wife in the world.  You see the specks and crumbs that you missed when wiping the table.  You notice the laundry which is dry but not folded, that rug you meant to vacuum last week, the clean room masking the disastrous closet.  What he sees is a woman who does more to keep a home going than he thought was possible.  A relentless, energetic wife who out of love does more than her fair share of the work.  He has no idea how you get things so clean so quickly!  Before he married you he never would have believed he could be so impressed with someone’s ability to fit dishes into a dishwasher.

2.  You are beautiful.  What you see is gym workouts skipped, too many cinnamon rolls, not enough time to do your makeup or hair like you want.  You notice the lines by your eyes that weren’t there a few years ago.  What he sees is a goddess.  A woman much more beautiful than he ever thought he would nab.  A wife who looks great in a fancy dress or a set of sweats.  You worry about your makeup, he prefers you without!  When you ask if your clothes still fit, and he says you look great, he means it.

3. You are an incredible mother.  What you see is the mismatched outfits and uncombed hair.  You notice that your six-year-old is not writing her e’s correctly and you keep meaning to work on that but where does the time go.  You feel you spend too much time correcting or doing and wish you played more.  Your mantra is “they grow up so fast”.  What he sees is a mother who nurtures and loves his children in ways he can only dream about doing.  A mom so dedicated to her kids that she will sacrifice much of who she is so a child can feel safe and loved.  He sees a woman who says she would do anything for her children, and often does.

For me personally, I am astounded by the routine things my wife does so well.  Like how much my wife can clean up with a single diaper wipe.  I have changed lots of truly horrible diapers.  I use handful after handful of wipes.  At the end I am dirty, the changing table is dirty, and the kid isn’t completely clean!  Yet my wife can clean a similar diaper with one wipe.  How is this possible?  It’s just one more way my wife amazes me.

What if, just for a few moments, you saw yourself through his eyes?  Would your stress level drop?  Would you feel different about what you see in the mirror?  Would you find no need to tackle those baseboards today?  I don’t know.  But rather than taking his compliments as niceties, what if you heard the truth in them?  That he really thinks you are an unselfish, hard-working, self-sacrificing, unbelievably hot, how did I get this lucky, wife.

Enjoy the gift ladies.  You deserve it.