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When Honoring Your Parents Gets Complicated

July 9, 2015

 photo

We tend to view the commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” (Exodus 20:12) as being intended for children, but the primary audience here is adults caring for aging parents.

Providing loving care certainly falls under the category of honoring, right? Sounds pretty simple. Mom or dad need help —we should help. Then why is it that many of us struggle less with helping complete strangers than we do our parents?

Because there are wounds.

Muddy Waters

Walking out this commandment becomes complicated when the relationship with our parents is strained or broken. We see our parent’s failures as we emerge into adulthood. Things we didn’t notice as children, things we couldn’t have made sense of, now become a source of inner turmoil. Often we’re still grappling with unresolved issues —asking questions like, “How could she have?” or “How could he not have?” well into adulthood.

It can feel like a complicated layer of confusion and guilt as we struggle with the tension of honoring our parents while acknowledging their brokenness.

When it’s Personal

It was my mother.

I went through a period a few years ago when I started to deconstruct my childhood and judge my mother for her failings.

Withheld affection. Isolation. Words.

At first, I tried to ignore it. “Nothing good comes from digging up the past.” But I started to connect some dots between present struggles and childhood deficits. It’s sort of like the saying, “Once you know some things, you can’t un-know them.”

The pain was there, and something needed to happen if the layers were going to stop piling up. Realization. Judgment. Detachment.

For a while I kept the relationship between us mostly surface, but that wasn’t the answer. Detachment was just a temporary detour from the pain. The only true solution was to forgive my mother while also receiving forgiveness for my own judgments.

This required God’s grace.

Empathy

The truth is, my mother did an incredible job in light her own upbringing. My childhood was nothing like hers. There were 11 or 12 spouses between her biological parents and she didn’t spend much time with any of them. She was treated as a nuisance and grew up fending for herself. She met my dad at a bar and the news of my existence came as quite the surprise. Throughout my childhood, my mother sacrificed almost everything to give my brother and I what she never had growing up. Her gifts weren’t time and affection, but rather opportunities and possessions. No one had ever loved her. No one taught her to love. But what she had to give, she gave generously.

Forgiveness (charisomai) is a form of grace (charis), and when grace takes hold of our hearts, empathy is a natural result.

Forgiveness was a lengthy process for both of us that included dusting off painful memories, acknowledging truth, repenting and expressing sorrow, and connecting with suppressed grief. It wasn’t fun or easy, but it was well worth the pain because it restored our relationship. We couldn’t believe the difference once we cleared out the minefield.

Restoration

Forgiveness doesn’t always lead to restoration. Restoration requires a degree of humility to be able to listen well, put another above oneself, and extend grace. The great news is that forgiveness doesn’t require restoration. You can choose to forgive as an act of your will and allow God to fill you with His grace and heal the effects of sin.

But restoration is worth the risk of failure whenever it’s possible. My mom and I had a pretty dismal track record with conflict resolution. Healing family relationships is tricky because of the lengthy history involved and patterns and roles that become so deeply ingrained in us. It’s easier to tip toe around a minefield than risk detonating one in an attempt to clear the field.

What my mother and I found however, was that God used the conflict to grow us. Our default tendency is to ignore the past and/or to judge our parents harshly for their shortcomings. For us, risking the pain of conflict was well worth the tremendous healing that awaited us on the other side.

Recently, one of our mentors held a public tribute for her aging father. She gathered family members and friends for a living eulogy. It made me think of how I’m going to honor my parents in the days ahead. Honor holds several dimensions, but one of them is certainly blessing.

What would it take for you to bless your parents? How will you choose to honor them? If you haven’t done it yet, a great place to start is a forgiveness process where you learn to neither minimize childhood pain nor judge your parents for their shortcomings. And if there’s the slightest chance for restoration, it’s worth the risk.

This is my tribute to my mother,

“You decided early on to protect us from the brokenness in our family legacy. We were going to thrive in ways you were never able to. You made sure of it. You were our first line of defense, and the coach who constantly called out our best. You never stopped fighting for us. We never knew a day when we felt what you felt most days as a child, ‘I have to fend for myself.’ We were always able to risk because we knew you and dad built a home that would always catch us.

The more clearly I see the past, the more grateful I am for you. You have been refined in the fire like gold and we are the beneficiaries. A Liberian peace activist once defined Ubuntu as the recognition that “I am who I am because of who we are.” You’ve changed our family legacy into a story of redemptive grace where God’s love is made visible. And for who you are, not just what you’ve done, we honor you!”

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Blog, Featured Posts, Healing, Marriage, Relationships

Why Your Husband is “Checked Out”

March 28, 2015

couple jumping to the sea at sunrise

He’s disillusioned.

He’d never say it exactly, but his heart is broken. Life-giving dreams that once energized him aren’t materializing like he expected they would.

  • Michael sees his peers succeed and he struggles with bitterness and envy. “Why not me? I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be at this point in life. Things could have been so different if…”
  • Phillip is forced to let go of his “impractical” dreams and take a job that pays the bills. He harbors a growing resentment, “Is any part of my life even mine? All I do is meet needs for other people.”
  • Jonathan emotionally disengages from his marriage because his wife seems to reject him with her preoccupation with the kids, “Our marriage has become nothing more than a convenient partnership.”

Peel back the layers and you’ll find a sick heart.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When life-giving hopes die, the question becomes, “What now? What takes their place?” Often, his answer is either a passive resignation or an active rebellion. Far too often, a man grows passive in the face of life’s stresses and hurts until there’s a breaking point and he starts to sabotage himself and those around him, almost as a matter of protest, “Fine then! Watch this!”

In a thousand creative ways, his will becomes detached from his being. He starts to give his time, energy, and attention to something other than his true identity and calling. And no amount of sex, drugs, toys, or achievements can mask the inevitable despair that will result.

Let’s rewind for a moment. Before that happens, you have a great opportunity.

Watching from the outside, you may hear his dreams and think, “It’s just his immaturity. Those dreams need to die. He needs to suck it up and do his job.” Some of that may be true, but it may also be that buried deep in his heart is a man waiting for permission to come alive and he needs your help peeling back some fears and insecurities.

Here’s where you can help him.

From Checked-Out to Checked-In

Champion his dreams!

Your belief in him means the world. In ways you’ll probably never know, your belief or lack thereof, is either a rocket booster or a prison chain. When he becomes passive or expresses hopes or fears in a moment of vulnerability, don’t miss your moment. Counter his self-doubt with faith. Encourage him to risk. It’s an adrenaline shot of confidence that will awaken him in every area of life.

Even if you feel like you’re speaking something into existence rather than affirming what’s already present, when you build up his character rather than question it and take the role of cheerleader rather than critic, you will see a new man come to life.

He needs to dream. They won’t all come true, but some of them might and they give him life. When he shares it with you, know that he’s opening his heart. Don’t kill it. Even if you think, “No way could this happen,” let it play out and encourage him in the process. The part of his heart that manufactures dreams needs to stay alive and if he’s sharing them with you, he’s given you one of the keys.

Champion his dreams!

Help him stay focused.

Join him in the dreaming. Help him sort out the potential from its distractions. Name his greatest strengths and how he can best use them. Remind him of what’s most important when he loses sight of it. Call him back to his first love and primary calling. In order to champion his dreams, you need to emotionally invest yourself in his dreaming.

I meet with so many middle-aged men who are simply disillusioned. They’re going through the rhythms of life largely checked-out. Some never rebel, but many do. Many more stop dreaming.

So, here’s a toast to the brilliant, world-changing ideas that exist just underneath a couple crazy one’s and more importantly, to you, who holds the key to the heart of the dreamer!

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Blog, Featured Posts, Healing, Marriage

Our Family Secret

September 16, 2014

trust God

When we walk through dark or difficult places, there are always lessons to be learned. By the time we get to the other side of a trial, we have keen insights. Occasionally, we’ll be pulling from those insights, asking the question: What would you have done differently if given the chance? Today, we’re looking at how to do deal with your “family secret.” Steve and Amy’s teenage daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s, clinical depression, and suicidal tendencies. She attended an “alternative school” before dropping out and spent many nights and most weekends trying to find pain pills or something else to numb her reality. Life was a struggle for her and many days she felt like it wasn’t worth it. Her constant struggles impacted every aspect of the family. And while their situation may be unique, the challenges and lessons to be learned are not. I asked how they responded to the downward spiral their daughter was caught in. Here are some of the struggles that stood out:

Consumed with fear-

Would she kill herself?

Would she get pregnant?

What did they do wrong?

How could they help her and limit her damage on the rest of the family?

What was going on that they didn’t know?

Why couldn’t they help her?

What were legitimate fears and which one’s were completely irrational? Such questions and a constant barrage of “what if” scenarios plagued them.

Isolation-

They felt like people would judge them and their misguided attempts at help would only produce more pain. And the only real way to keep people from knowing what was going on was to withdraw from real relationships.

Grasping for Control-

When you feel like you’re losing control, your immediate reaction is to grasp for control, over whatever you can. They tried to control her, each other, and every aspect of their lives that would offer some much needed stability.

Failure and Despair-

They struggled with a deep sense of despair and personal failure. How could this not be their fault? They felt extremely helpless and couldn’t find a way out of the tailspin. Their struggles spiraled into every area of their lives.

Divorce Contemplation-

Normally, when one spouse is struggling, the other is able to compensate. But they were both languishing and were taking out their frustration on each other. Every small crack in their marriage was stressed almost to the breaking point.

Looking back, here’s what they say they’d do differently:

Humble themselves and reach out quicker for help-

Their main regret was their isolation from others. Amy said repeatedly, “It would have been worth the risk.” 

 Allow God to truly be Savior, Lord, and Healer-

They needed God’s healing but they were too caught up in their own pain and problem solving efforts to open their hearts to His love.

Simplify their life-

“Between everything going on with our daughter, and our individual jobs and evening activities that kept us apart 3 or 4 nights a week, our lives were on separate tracks and we weren’t deliberate about being a family.”

Release outcomes to God-

Guilt doesn’t change the past and worry doesn’t change the future.

Steve said, “I wish I had learned how to release outcomes after doing all I could do. We needed to trust her to God and remember that ultimately, God was sovereign.”

Go on a marriage retreat when they hit the wall of despair-

“We both expected our marriage to end in divorce and kept sliding further and further in a downward spiral. Neither of us knew how to get out of it yet we didn’t stop life to address it. It’s crazy to say this, but I’m not sure it felt worth it at the time. Fortunately, we pressed through, but we would have saved ourselves a lot of heartache by setting everything aside and focusing on healing our marriage.”

The plans of the enemy are not new. Isolation is the ultimate tactic. Just like the “roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” spoken of in Scripture, we become so much more vulnerable when we are broken off from the herd, so to speak. Reaching out to God and to others is vital during crisis.

Have you been through a similar situation? Have you found healing in your marriage or family? What did you learn? What would do differently?

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Blog, Featured Posts, Healing, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships, Spiritual Formation

Help…They’re Stealing My Peace!

July 22, 2014

conflict resolution strategies

“Help, they’re stealing my peace!” How often have we said this? The day starts out right. Coffee by the pool… A little worship music and a reflective read through a morning devotional…

…but then it quickly spirals into what feels like an all-out assault on our peace.

The phone call.
The words with your spouse.
The kids’ third argument of the day.
The inconsiderate tone, again.

Relationships that are already strained can quickly chip away at the peace you’re “supposed to be able to enjoy in your home.”

When Peace Seems Elusive

That’s good news —especially when we are feeling robbed. There is a higher place than the one we are seeing at the moment.

I have found, after overcoming some great hurdles in my own family, that we can run right to Jesus’ teaching when family difficulties and a clear lack of peace arise.

Pray for Those Stealing Your Peace

Don’t go to other people to talk, vent or validate. Go to God. Search His Word. Pray for them. Pray that God helps you see them as He sees them. Ask God to search your heart, flood you with His love, and renew your mind. Ask God for wisdom:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. —James 1:5

It’s incredible how often our struggles with people will stop right here. We don’t have to go any further. God softens our heart, changes our perspective, and we’re good.

When that’s not the case and it’s clear that a resolution is needed, it’s time to convene a peace conference.

Convene a Peace Conference

A peace conference is simply going to the person and facing the conflict, in the pursuit of peace.

Despite what people say, time doesn’t heal everything. Time can bury things, but buried things can still yield influence. It’s like a field with buried land mines in it, you just hope you know where not to step. It’s there, it’s damaging, and so we avoid it. It’s much better to clear out the land mines and the only way to really resolve conflict is to face it. Hold a peace conference.

Peace Conference 101

In the pursuit of peace, we need to be willing to take the first step. It’s not about blame. It’s not about our rights or who was at fault. Only the end goal of resolution should be in mind. It’s about sowing peace. If it’s not, go back to step one (prayer).

This is such a big deal to Jesus that in his first teaching he prioritized it over worship.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. — Matthew 5:23-24

“But leave your offering.” I love that! Reconciliation takes priority over worship. Don’t put it off, don’t wait for them to come around, don’t wait until it’s 6 feet under ground, go, do it today.

When you get there, don’t forget to remain vulnerable. It’s so easy for good intentions to turn into a venting session. Certainly, both grace and truth are necessary. If we’re all grace and no truth, it’s not real. If we’re all truth, no grace, it’s really bitter. We need both, together, interlocked at all times.  It’s not instinctive, but when we can have the humility, love, and courage to face the truth, face the person, and possibly hear some painful truth as well, growth is a certain result.

For further reading, The Peacemaker by Ken Sande is a practical and insightful book on how to live in this world and walk in the peace we are intended. Another wonderful book is The Healing Presence by LeAnne Payne. Click on the image below for your opportunity to win your copy.

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Blog, Featured Posts, Healing, Parenting, Relationships, Spiritual Formation

A Better Way to Ground Your Teen

July 17, 2014

rooted and grounded

In a moment of desperation, have you ever announced to your teenager, “That’s it! You’re grounded for life!” These words are actually a better vision of what we want for our teens than they appear to be at first glance. Teenagers need to be “grounded.” They need deep roots and a strong sense of identity that comes from nurture and structure.

In reality, your teen will become grounded. She will find a place to belong and a community to affirm her identity. Will it be your home? Or will your lose your role to a peer group? The challenge we face as parents is how to ensure that our family remains their home base.

How does this happen? What does this healthy, nurturing soil look like that is conducive to being “grounded?”

Belonging

Your teen is becoming more independent, but still needs to feel like he belongs in your family, that he is an insider —never an outsider.  As he naturally starts to pursue this independence, it can translate into family exclusion. Priorities drag them away from the home…Friends, activities, school and family need to be reversed so they remain in proper order (family, school, friends and activities).  It’s essential to hold a healthy tension here, allowing them to grow in independence while preserving a strong emotional bond.

Affirmation

Celebrate and affirm your child’s uniqueness and gifting. Make sure YOU are his biggest cheerleader, not a critic or judge.

Here’s a helpful image: Let’s say you’re teaching someone to ice skate. You’re in front, but you’re moving backward with an open posture and your eyes are on them. At first you are holding their hands, but you soon let go and give them some space, encourage them to stand up and skate on their own. If they fall, that’s okay! You’re encouraging them and not shaming or berating him. They feel safe with you. Safe enough to continue to improve, until they are finally skating on their own.

It’s like this with your teen. They are learning. You can’t allow your discipline to fracture your relationship or bruise them spiritually. Discipline is discipling, teaching. What I have to constantly tell myself is to be patient with repeated failures! Keep calling them up. Never push them down.

parenting teens

Love

Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love always believes the best in him.
Pray everyday for him, “Father help me to see my child the way You see him. Help me to bless him and affirm him as the man you are calling forth.”

Stay away from lectures. They can be filled with words that communicate disappointment, anger, and rejection. Instead of lecturing. try active listening, re-do’s and natural, consistent consequences.

As your teen becomes more independent an emotional connection becomes more challenging. Always be willing to be “the pursuer” of the relationship. This provides a clear picture of the way our heavenly Father pursues us.

And above all else —never withhold love. Love is not synonymous with approval. We are called to love unconditionally. Learn to make that clear separation that allows you to love and encourage while still upholding the consequences you have laid out.

A secure, consistent and loving space to fly, and occasionally fail are necessary elements to a well grounded teen.

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