No one asked me this question but I’ll answer it anyway

proverbs 17.9

Whenever I do an interview on the radio with someone sharing advice, I try to ask them one bottom-line question as a simple take-away for people.

For example, the other day I asked John Fuller from Focus on the Family, “What is one thing that would make the biggest or quickest difference in parenting – one attitude or thing parents could do?”

He didn’t pause a second: “Give up control.” He said our kids have a thing called free will which will destroy all your expectations of control. Amen to that, right? What a great answer that helps with more than just parenting; it helps with your expectations for all your family relationships.

Since I’m always the one asking the questions of others, I thought I’d ask myself a question for a change — that bottom-line question with the simple take-away. So here’s the question:

What one thing is the biggest obstacle to family harmony?

The one single change that could have the biggest effect on a family’s ability to get along?

My answer: “Bitterness. Which comes from keeping score.”

When we see the news story about the family member who attacked another family member over a TV show or macaroni and cheese, we all know it’s not about the show or the mac cheese. It’s about everything that’s happened before that. It all adds up to a fight over mac cheese.

It adds up because we keep score. And we wouldn’t keep score if we didn’t think we were winning. If I think I’m more offensive than you, that you’re more right than me, I’m not going to keep score. I only track offenses against me.

Whoever covers over an offense seeks love – Proverbs 17.9

If I think you owe me more than I owe you, I feel resentment towards you. I don’t want to call it a grudge, but that’s what it is. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But I handle it like a Christian, which means be nice on the outside, and feel like I’m sacrificing because I don’t overtly pay you back what I think you deserve.

I pay you back COvertly. My heart is cool towards you. I suspect a negative motive in most everything you do and say. I don’t trust you. I never ask you a personal or caring question. And here’s the worst part that I will NEVER admit – being so offended and bugged by you feels a little sweet, in a strange perverted way. It’s kind of nice to be owed.

The Big Blind Spot

I can’t possibly comprehend that you feel the same towards me. The bitterness, the chip on your shoulder, the cool heart, the martyrship of smiling on the outside, the sweetness of being owed big time – goes both ways?

That is outrageous and maddening to me. That makes it even more offensive. How dare you think it’s me! Sure I hold some blame, but nothing like you.

No way. Ridiculous.

And you think the same thing.

And thus you have tormented marriages, families, and extended family relationships.

In humility count others more significant than yourselves – Philippians 2.3

Families are the easiest place for this to happen. The opportunities to be offended and misunderstood are endless. The impact of endless offenses and misunderstandings leads to tension and bitterness. Marriages, parenting, in-laws, and grandparents end up living in this tension and bitterness.

If what I’ve described here is you, there’s hope. The fact that families are the easiest place for dysfunction to happen means families are also the easiest place for grace and love to happen – those opportunities are also daily and endless.

Here’s what ‘grace wins’ families do

Grace wins families are families characterized more by harmony and unity than by bitterness and anger. Bitterness and anger happen – but they don’t dominate.

Grace wins families begin with grace-filled individuals. Or maybe just one individual.

One individual – you – who realizes you might be wrong. You don’t insist on fairness, even on the inside in attitude. You refuse to keep score. You notice your own offenses more than others. You know by experience the negative consequences of a quick, loud response, and so you practice patient, quiet responses.

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience – Colossians 3.12

You’d rather give in when you’re right than win when you’re wrong.

You’d rather trust a person’s motives when you shouldn’t, than not trust their motives when you should.

You’re confident that giving grace is contagious in a family, and your confidence and grace spreads.

You trust that this one thing – in humility refusing to keep score – kills the seed of bitterness and creates a growing garden of grace in your family.

And you’re grateful that today is another day to nurture that garden.

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it – Mark Twain

Who’s the non-scorekeeper in your family?

How to walk down the sidewalk of love

walk this way~

This is the sidewalk of gratitude, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and love. Smooth, a few turns, nice view, calm.

It is NOT to be the sidewalk of grumbling, blame, arguing, selfishness, and anger. All broken and cracked, turning your ankle; might as well walk in the grass.

You walk this way the same way you walk any other way

There are no buttons or secret passwords or six steps to get there.

You look down the sidewalk, turn the way you look, take a step, and start walking.

When I walk Delly down this sidewalk there are lots of stops, distractions, and poop. Normal stuff for a dog walk. But we keep going, together. Poop is part of it.

Lift your eyes from the poop.

Standing in any one spot, right now, before I walk much on this sidewalk, I look around and see that even though I’m not where I want to be, this spot here is not so bad. It might even be pleasant.

I appreciate this view right here in whatever way I can.

You can’t live all in the future and miss this decent view.

And you can’t live all in the past and present, believing this is all there is with no hope that things can be better as you walk.

You don’t walk alone

As people are walking all the time, in the same spot, a path appears – John Locke

Your family is with you, since you can’t help influencing them. Your walk may be slow if they don’t understand or appreciate this sidewalk yet, but you can lead, just a step ahead. Who doesn’t like grace and patience and encouragement? By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.

And the Lord is with you – if you’re with him on this sidewalk that he made, and if you let him lead.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness – Psalm 26.3

What’s the view from your sidewalk right now?

8 ways to give Christmas to your family this week

These 8 gifts come already unwrapped. No shrieks of delight when they’re opened. They’re quiet and don’t draw attention to themselves. Yet, the mood, the feel, the quality of your family time together will be enhanced in un-measurable, meaningful ways.

These are not Christmas gifts, but gifts OF Christmas. Maybe one will be perfect for you and your family this week:

1.

Let Plan B become Plan A. The manger was Plan B. Plan A was the Inn. You have plans and expectations for your family time, but stuff will happen. Don’t argue or get frustrated. You could end up in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day singing Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra!

2.

Accept generosity. Let others be generous towards you. Let them give, clean up, pay for a meal, give you more than you gave them. Receiving is a gift to the giver. All that back-and-forth insisting “no I’m not going to let you do that,” and grabbing the check stuff is demeaning to generosity. Baby Jesus couldn’t give back until later (and then boy did he give). You’ll have a chance another time to be overly generous to them.

3.

Sing. I hum absentmindedly, inventing themes and choruses as I go. People stop me and say, “you must be happy.” Singing, happiness, contentment, and peace seem linked. When  Jesus’ birth was announced to the shepherds, an army of angels sang; a singing army! Even if you DON’T feel like it, singing will surround you with an aura of happiness, contentment, and peace that touches your family.

4.

Fear not. Don’t put high expectations and pressure on yourself to meet a standard you made up that no one else is even aware of. The shepherds at Christmas were at the center of a majestic appointment between heaven and earth. Now, THAT’S big. Who could stand it? They were told to “fear not.” Take your invented idea of a perfect Christmas and family time and exchange it for the simple expectation of “good news of great joy.”

5.

What you give is good enough. The wise men brought riches. The innkeeper had only a stable. The shepherds just showed up. Resist comparing the number or value of your gifts to the gifts given by others. Money and presents are one kind of gift. Hospitality is another. So is attention, patience, grace, gratefulness, and words of encouragement. Give what you have.

6.

Resist the urge to dish out justice. Joseph believed Mary was pregnant by another man. Yet he would not publicly and shamefully send her away, even though it looked like she deserved it. Of course it turned out things were not at all how they looked. The argument, the slight, the insult, the unfairness may beg for retaliation, but for this week leave fairness to God and go to him for the satisfaction you would get from justice. Your family will notice.

7.

Take inner joy that your family is important to God. Do this secretly while you’re with them. Walking the dog with my wife the other day, I had a great sense of appreciation and gratitude for Brenda as I walked behind her. I thanked God for her over and over for several minutes. I think my attitude, without saying anything, influenced the quality of our time together. The Christmas story in Matthew and Luke begins with establishing the identity of of the families of Joseph and Mary. When God blesses the world, he starts with family.

8.

Serve with humility. Release expectations of credit or reciprocation. This might help: tell God you want to do good and serve your family, and you do not want anyone to say anything thanking you for it. NOW you’re ready to be unappreciated and you’ll thank God for it. God humbled himself and came to earth as a lowly human, born as a baby in poverty and humility. He deserved worship, but received rejection and punishment. You’ll be in good company.

Which Gift of Christmas is talking to you? Can you think of others?

Here’s why Christmas means wonderful hope for your family

I wanted to tell Jerry the trees in his backyard Christmas tree farm are too neat. Too many straight edges. They don’t look real. Everybody knows real, living things feel a little ragged and unpredictable. Which should encourage those of us in ragged, unpredictable families; we’re part of something real and alive.

When God does big things, he starts with family

And it starts at the top, at the core of God himself: God says he is the father and Jesus is his son. They have a FAMILY relationship.

Then God created a nation to bring his son the savior into the world. That nation started with the FAMILY of Abraham and Jacob.

God made a promise to that nation. When he fulfilled the promise to the nation that started with a family, he started again with another family. The son of God was born into a FAMILY, with a mom and a dad, brothers and sisters.

So your family is part of something that’s a big deal to God. Family is his idea; he loves it; he delights in it; he uses it. You’re part of an institution created for glory.

When God does big things, he starts small and grows it

The work Jesus came to do would be done by the adult Jesus. Why start with a baby? Why take thirty years to get him to adulthood? Isn’t that a waste of time? Isn’t it risky? Why put him on the same path as every human ever born? Shouldn’t he be an exception? Why choose the slow way for such an important mission?

God must take great pleasure in patience.

Are your expectations for change and growth in your family more aggressive than God’s? Is what you see small and baby-sized and far from adult-hood? Are you in a bigger hurry for family progress than God was for mankind’s redemption?

When God does big things, he uses unimposing common leftovers

Jesus entered earth at a place where animals were born and fed. Do you think one of the first things he smelled was straw and dung? Straw is what’s left when the good stuff’s taken out, and dung is too. Can you have a more unimposing, common beginning than that?

Your family’s problems, issues, and limitations may stink, but probably not more than the stink in that stable. And Jesus was put there on purpose.

—–

So if you’re in a family, but the progress of your family hopes and dreams feels stagnant, and you don’t see how you can get past all this junkie stuff; you’re in good company. That’s how God saved the world.

What’s slow and stinky – and ripe for the hope of Christmas – in your family right now?

Four lessons from a Russian cat herder to help achieve your dreams for your family

Gregory Popovich herds cats. Sort of.

He created a world-famous circus show with cats and other animals pushing strollers, walking tightropes, answering phones, and putting out fires.

How does he get the cats to do what he wants? He doesn’t.

But what he does do can help shape expectations for our dreams for our families.

1. Patiently pay attention to how God is forming your family

I don’t necessarily teach a cat anything. I watch them for a while to see what they can do.

I (allow them) to show off their individual personalities and talents. Just like people, every pet has a special quirky little thing they like to do. This is what makes them who they are.

He knows he can’t mold another living creature into the image he wants. Their creator has an image in mind and is already molding them. His job is to discover that molding and cooperate with it.

Doing this with your family honors God’s dream for them. God had something in mind when he made them. Your job is to cooperate. To do that, you have to pay attention.

2. Turn loose your personal expectations

Popovich doesn’t go out looking for cats for a role. He doesn’t say, “This one will be the fireman. This one will ride the dog like a cowboy.” His expectation is to see the cats fulfill what they seem created to do.

This is challenging but also freeing. You’re free from the stress of owning your agenda for how your family turns out.

But you still have an agenda: God’s agenda for them as individuals and as a family.

You’re forced to be selfless.

You’re forced to pay attention so you can cooperate with their ‘specialty.’

You’re forced to be purposeful.

Let’s say you’re on Say Yes to the Dress with your daughter. You want her to be happy. Yes, you have a personal favorite dress. Yes, you’re convinced you know what looks best on her. But selflessly you pay attention and help her discover the dress that she adores and that fulfills her dreams.

You steer and influence, but in the end what gives you the most joy is her joy. You’ve already influenced her for twenty-plus years. So you let your influence mature in her personal decisions.

3. Help them be who they are becoming – some are stars, some sit in chairs

Popovich pays attention to who his cats are and what they like to do. Then he helps them be that and do that. Training is five minutes per day. He doesn’t sweat it. He knows it all adds up.

Some climb ladders. Some do handstands. Some don’t fit anything for the show he has in mind. They sit in chairs on stage. “They’re my chorus line.” He doesn’t fight it.

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepeared beforehand, that we should walk in them – Ephesians 2.10

You can’t stop God from shaping your family to what he has in mind. We all have unique drives, motivations, and personalities. Some cry all night, some sleep. Some eat their veggies, some don’t. Some sing, some love numbers, some are stoic, some study dolphins, some love an orderly bedroom. Some sit in chairs.

You can try to get the dolphin student to keep an orderly room, and you can try to get the orderly one to study dolphins. But when you major on what they’re already majoring on, everyone will have more fun and be more successful.

4. Family membership is more important than any dreams

All of Popovich’s cats come from shelters. Unwanted house pets. Strays. He rescues them and makes them his family. They’re family members first, performers second. They stay in the family if they are stars or if they sit in chairs. They stay in the family when they retire.

You can sense when you’re not meeting the expectations of someone important to you. We all have a people-pleaser gene. It’s a powerful thing when someone senses that the highest expectation you have is for them to feel security and worth just from being in your family.

Acceptance in heaven comes from the work of someone besides me. I’m supposed to perform, but not for acceptance. The family puts skin on this picture of the role of performance: First comes acceptance, then performance.

What unique shapes and directions do you see in your family?

4 things my wife needs to remember I can’t do (and that your man can’t do either)

  
(photo from awkwardfamilyphotos.com)

As we walk out of Amor de Brazil after her birthday dinner, she says, “Why did we go there? I feel like a caveman! You need to go back and take your buddies.” She’s half-joking.

Men walking around with meat on sticks asking, “Want some?” What a great concept for a restaurant. Brenda enjoyed the surprise, sampled everything, and loved being together, but it wasn’t her thing.

I took her there because I wanted her to experience something different and I had no idea what kind of surprise she might like. So I made an executive decision.

After forty years of marriage I have accepted that there are some things I cannot do. She of course has known this all along, but she may have hopes that it can change. I know at least four things that will not change and so here’s a reminder of these Four Male Marriage Incompetencies that we have to live with.

1. I can’t read your mind

If you’re going to tell me, “I really didn’t want to eat there,” AFTER we eat there, then you can tell me before. No, the birthday dinner was not an example of this, but every other time we eat out is. Seriously, I want to know beforehand, because I want to make you happy.

I don’t know how you feel.

I don’t know what you want.

I don’t really know if you’re happy.

I should know (if I really loved you!), but if you haven’t told me, assume I’m clueless. This applies to the serious stuff, not just where to eat.

So you could: Pretend you’re married to a person with a part missing–the ‘read your mind’ part. Then assume you have to make up for that missing part by telling me how you feel and what you want.

And I should probably: Ask you and believe what you say.

2. I can’t keep up with your logic and thinking

You’re way too fast for me. This is not a compliment or a complaint. Before I understand what you just said, you move on. So I try to move on with you but my mind can’t nimbly change subjects like you, so I end up back yonder somewhere.

Then it happens again. And again. In the same conversation. In the same minute. Now I’m WAY back there. I’m so far back there I can’t even hear you anymore. That’s what that blank look is on my face. When I say, “You have to stop,” it’s not because I don’t want to listen or because I disagree. It’s because I’m tired and must rest.

This frustrates me, and leads to us bumping heads. We may not even really disagree, but since I don’t understand what you said or what you want–and then you pause and expect a response–I just do the best I can with the little I understand.

You’ve heard that men think in boxes and rooms. It’s true. Now, we definitely look for ways to connect the boxes and rooms, but for the most part we must leave one room in order to enter another. Your rooms don’t have walls. You live in all the rooms at once.

So you could: Slow down. Just talk slower. Pause. Say, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” If I say yes, say, “OK tell me what I’m saying.” That will probably bug me so you’ll have to remind me I told you to ask.

And I probably should: Lighten up. No need to get frustrated. A frustrated man is not very attractive, right? (See I DO remember what you say). And I should ask questions as you go to make sure I understand.

3. I can’t stop trying to solve your problems

It’s a man default. It goes with my manly chest and my virile head of hair (hahaha!) I know you just want to be heard, and I do want to just listen, but I can’t. I

must . . .

solve . . .

problem.

The chances of this changing are the same as the chances of you hating chocolate. This is actually good, because when you DO have a problem to talk about, here I am wired and ready.

So you could: Give me a heads-up when you just want to share your feelings. Yes, you actually have to say, “I’m not asking you to fix anything.” No, it probably still won’t work.

And I probably should: Ask you, “Do you want me to fix anything?” This is where you would sacrifice your desire to just share and be heard, and you would say, “Yes! Please fix it!” so that I might have my purpose fulfilled.

Which reminds me . . . (#4 continues after this)

Sorry for the distraction. Finally . . .

4. I can’t be Jesus for you

I’m just a man. I cannot be a source of deep inner satisfaction for you (that hurts me to say because I want to be that).

You know all those wonderful love songs about how awesome and perfect and wonderful the other person is? Those songs are about Jesus’ perfect love but the songwriters don’t know it. That love exists, but not from a man, not from me. It’s not fair to either of us for you to expect that of me, and it hurts our marriage.

So you could: Let Jesus be Jesus, and let me be me. Go to him for what only he can give, and to me for what a man can give.

And I should: Try to be more worthy of your love, even if I can’t be Jesus. Because you deserve a far better version of me than you’re getting.

What else does a wife need to remember? Are there other Male (or Female!) Marriage Incompetencies?

The foot-long Christmas chili dog

What new scene or story from this Christmas is going into your family hall of fame?

Every family and relationship has stories you repeat year after year. Happy, sad, tragic, funny, unforgettable stories. They describe and affirm you and the people in your family. They’re a picture of how you all relate to each other.

You don’t get tired of repeating the stories. You don’t get tired of hearing them. In fact, you must repeat them to keep them alive. They are an oral history, part of the legacy of your family.

Little family legends.

Our daughter the Nester and her family head for her sister’s house – our other daughter – on Christmas day. They stop for gas. Her husband runs into the gas station for a snack to hold him for the ninety-minute drive. He comes out with a foot-long chili dog and a package of Little Debbies.

The Nester tells the story and says, “What kind of man gets a foot-long chili dog from a gas station for lunch on Christmas Day? The gas station clerk must have thought that was so sad.”

“What kind of man. . .” Precisely.

If the man is in your family, you know exactly what kind of man, and this is another wonderful piece of evidence of the uniqueness of your family. And from now on “foot-long chili dog. . . on Christmas. . . . FROM A GAS STATION,” will be another legendary catch-phrase in your family hall of fame.

We need these stories. They are the colors on our family flag.

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and into the stories they share about you

- Shannon Adler

What new scene or story from the holidays is going into your family hall of fame?

I can’t decide how to be selfish

Thanksgiving is at our house this year.

That means what it always means when you’re the host. Time to spruce up.

So my wife wants to change the bedroom around, make it better. At first I do the guy default and think, “That means work and money.” Of course I don’t say that.

After a day or so I start realizing how happy it would make her. Then I remember how happy I get when she’s happy. And how easy she is to please. And how she gives me more credit than I deserve.

Hmmm

Then I realize she’s just talking about some paint and accessories. Not all new furniture. Sure I’d have to paint the bedroom, but it’s been seven years–I’ll have to do it sometime anyway.

Let’s see, a couple of days work, minimal expense, nice bedroom, super-happy wife, hero status.

So what’s more selfish? Complain, do things grudgingly, and maybe she even gives up and so you get out of the trouble? Is that selfish?

Or is it selfish to think of how happy you’ll be when she’s happy? So you gladly do it for her but really it’s for yourself.

Are you selfish if you do it or don’t do it?

Getting joy from the joy of someone you love sure makes life complicated.

He coulda been a hero

 

Guy’s wife is standing next to a booth at the fast food restaurant. He walks up with their bag of food and says, “I’d rather sit at a table.”

She pauses. “But, I’d really like a booth.” She looks at him.

This is the moment where heroes are made.

He looks away from her toward the table and starts walking. “Well, I’d really like a table.” He’s not mean. He just wants what he wants.

Would you rather have a table or a happy wife?

Put it another way: would you rather have a table or a wife who sees you as caring, unselfish, giving, and sacrificing.

Just letting her sit where she wants will make her happy?

She won’t add up the good all at once. She may not even notice that you gave her what she wanted. But if you repeat it, and it’s a lifestyle, she’ll feel honored, and in her heart you’ll get the credit.

When you get the credit, through her attitude of gratitude towards you, you’ll be happy. It will be a happiness that affects every part of your relationship together. It will be a happiness that you didn’t anticipate. A happiness that grows on you.

And then something magical happens

You begin to feel selfish for being generous and selfless.

You feel selfish because the good will you’re getting from your wife feels pretty good, and is worth more than what you gave up. You look for more chances to be selfless. The more you do it, the better she feels, and the better you feel.

The more you do it for her, the more she does it for you. Before you know it, your disagreements are about giving in, not getting: “I promise I just want what you want..really, it will make me happy.” And you mean it.

Or

you could get your way for twenty minutes and take the table and eat your burger and live with a woman who knows you care more about yourself than her.

She won’t say anything. But she’ll feel it. And you will too.

Ask while you can

Tommy was my brother-in-law. He died about 25 years ago. He was a gentle, generous man to my wife, the little sister of his wife.

Tommy was a car salesman all the years I knew him. I had heard he was a boxer in a previous life, but I never asked him about it. I guess it wasn’t interesting to me at the time. I had my own stuff going on, with kids, being unemployed, and all that beer I had to drink.

Recently, we had a big family get-together for a few hours and Tommy’s wife and daughters were there. As we were leaving they brought out a scrapbook the girls created for their mom.

It was filled with clippings and stories and photos of Tommy’s boxing career. Photos with Jack Dempsey. Tommy was a little guy, a Golden Gloves amateur. He lost only 4 of his first 36 fights. He won the California State Featherweight title. He fought in Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, and the Cotton Bowl.

His family has a gold badge giving them lifetime admission to any Golden Gloves event.

I never knew

I’d love to ask Tommy about that fight with Ricardo Moreno. It was Moreno’s first fight in America, and 6,000 of his fans from Mexico filled the stadium. Another 2,000 were turned away.

What was that like, to have everyone booing you and rooting against you, screaming for another guy to clobber you? What was it like in the dressing room after you lost?

And when you were knocked out in the first round of your last fight, did you know at the time it was your last? Why’d you retire? You were only 24.

I’ll never know

* * *

You don’t have forever to ask questions, to be curious, to care. Things change fast, and when they do it’s permanent. Your chance to make a first-hand connection with someone’s heart, life, and story, evaporates. Instead of a flesh-and-blood, eyeball-to-eyeball encounter with a scene from your family movie, you get to stare at flat yellow clippings in a scrapbook. If there is a scrapbook. Your loss.