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It happened to me again this morning.

I was busy working.

Providing for my family.

Being creative.

And I spontaneously thought of my children.

As I pictured them in my mind, a chain of reactions followed:

My eyes gleamed.

The corners of my mouth curled upward.

My dimples deepened.

My pulse quickened.

Warmth flooded my heart.

I thought not of their immaturity.

Or flaws.

Or my disappointment with their behavior.

(Although those things certainly exist.)

I dwelt on their beauty as people.

Their uniqueness as individuals.

Of how I love them enough to give them my all.

I longed to see them grow.

To laugh until they can’t catch their breath.

To love selflessly and deeply

To savor every moment.

To thrive.

I wanted nothing but good things for them.

If you are a parent, you’ve likely felt the same.

If not, perhaps you can imagine yourself doing so.

Then it hit me:

THIS is what happens when God thinks of US.

The same light.

Love.

And warmth.

The same affection.

And desire for our best.

Why do we imagine otherwise?

Why do we assume that God focuses instead on our flaws?

Shortcomings?

Deficiencies?

Failures?

(Although those things definitely exist.)

I believe God thinks of us often:

“How precious are your thoughts concerning me, O God!

How vast in number they are!

If I try to count them,

there would be more of them than there are grains of sand.

– Psalms 139:17-18

And I’ll bet He smiles wide.

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So, this week’s teaching conversation starts (actually it’s 6:47 into the podcast) with an explanation of the one mantra I’ve taught my kids about public bathrooms.

That’s probably all the intrigue you need to make you listen, right?

Oh- AND we talk about how Jesus welcomes screw ups like me.

And you.

LISTEN IN.

DivorceA while back I put up a few posts about relationships that generated a lot of dialogue.  In the midst of that I heard from several friends whose marriages are struggling.

Today, I heard from another friend about a resource that is blessing her marriage: RETROUVAILLE.

Although (disclaimer) I don’t have any personal experience with this program myself, I take my friend’s recommendation very seriously and really like what I’m seeing on their website.

The program is designed for folks who may be struggling in their marriages and consists of a weekend seminar and 6 follow up sessions.  From what I’ve read, the focus seems to be not on reliving the hurts, but moving on towards healing and gaining positive, practical skills that will enhance relationships.

There are folks all around the country who facilitate Retrouvaille experiences and generally the program works on a donation basis (vs. a set fee).  The sole goal is to help save marriages.

So, if you or someone you know is having a hard time making their marriage work- check out Retrouvaille.  It may be just what you need.

And if you live in the Raleigh area, there’s a weekend experience happening starting 2/19/10.

DivorceI didn’t really intend for there to be a 3rd installment to this discussion on divorce.

But then you all started commenting and emailing.

And since this conversation started with a longing for my friend to hear the stories and perspectives of others- I found myself compiling this post.

First, a couple of different folks pointed me to THIS TIMELY ARTICLE on the long lasting health effects of divorce.  If this research is right, then our emotions aren’t the only things that get permanently scarred when our marriages dissolve.

Second, I got emails from a couple of different friends who are seriously considering getting a divorce.  Each is hurting and wishes they didn’t feel compelled to take this step.  Sadly, both are ladies who feel as if they’ve been abandoned by their husbands.  While the guys are still physically in the picture, these women have been left carrying too much of the burden for their families for way too long while their husbands gave themselves to other things.  Both expressed a desire to see their husbands “man up” and save their marriages.

While I realize there are two sides to every story, as a member of the male half of the species it feels like I’m hearing this kind of stuff way too often.  Come on guys.  Wake up, step up and give your families what you promised and they deserve- your wholehearted love, support, time and selfless leadership.

Finally, several of you were kind enough to share your stories. and thoughts.  Since you’ve said it differently- and likely better- than I have, I wanted to include your comments here.

“When Peter and I went through our pre-marital counseling (8 yrs ago now!) our minister gave us this bit of advice: when engaged and then married, the word ‘divorce’ should be eradicated from your vocabulary. Marriage is a team effort, and teams support each other and work through things together.  It’s not always an easy road but the fulfillment, joy and fun are definitely worth it.

I am not saying we’re anywhere NEAR the ‘perfect’ married couple, however I do wish that advice could be taken to the rest of the world, and taken to heart by those about to be married, and who are already married.”  – Lea

“I think divorce can force you to look at yourself through other people’s eyes. A failing marriage is the result of two people –the fault doesn’t lie with just the one who acted the worst.  To me—-divorce is like looking at yourself naked in a three way mirror. You aren’t going to like what you see—but you can either change stuff to make yourself better or ignore it and make the same choices again and again.

The lessons I learned are priceless- and it didn’t kill me ( but there were days I wanted to just lay down and die) I know who I am now—-and although it isn’t always a pretty picture I can embrace it. I thank God everyday for the trials I went through in my first marriage—and I would repeat the entire painful experience again if it meant getting to the place I am now.”             – Dana

“Divorce to me brings up a physical ripping image. When this subject comes up I often relay the story about friends from CA from our bible study group. (As it turned out two of the five couples divorced that year, plus a dear family member. A tough year.)  Jeremy and I were living about an hour away from town at the time and we were visiting for various reasons and found out when we contacted them to get together that they would be moving out of their apartment that weekend. We offered to help.

It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done. I stood in the garage with my friend as she pointed to boxes and pieces of furniture, “that’s mine, that’s his, I’d like that, he can have that”. She cried, I cried. They hadn’t been married long, hadn’t acquired much stuff, and didn’t have any children. We helped her as best we could and were on our way the next day.

I don’t remember if it was in the car or if I waited until we were home, but I turned to Jeremy (tears in my eyes, voice cracking) and said, “Don’t EVER make me do that. I CAN’T do that.” Just splitting our stuff would have been unbearable, in was too intertwined. I couldn’t even fathom the division of emotional/spiritual/intimate feelings as well.  Unfortunately, we have had to look into the box labeled Divorce, thankfully we were also able to pull ourselves away, and lived to tell about it.”  – Jen

I know this conversation has not only made me appreciate my own marriage, but also made me more sensitive to those who are struggling in theirs.  Hope it has been helpful to you as well.

To Recap: So there I was, with a dear friend who saw divorce as the thing that would fix his life- and I had a deep longing for him to hear from someone who could share their own experience on the subject.

fitzsimmonsEnter singer/songwriter William Fitzsimmons.

I stumbled on William’s art a while back and featured him in an earlier blog post.  On the musical end of things, William mixes a gentle, easy-to-listen-to voice with some fine acoustic guitar work and fluid melodies.  As a songwriter, he brings the unique perspective of a trained (and formerly practicing) therapist to his craft.

And while therapists are usually all about listening to others, Fitzsimmons uses his songs as a means to speak.  Only instead of telling others’ stories, he puts himself on the couch and lets the rest of us listen in.

My first foray into William’s music was his “Goodnight” project.  Most of the songs on that album deal with the pain and processing of his own parent’s divorce.  I was struck by how raw and honestly he expressed the things most of us fight to hold in- and sometimes end up going to therapy for.

Then, right around the time when my friend was contemplating divorce, I grabbed Fitzsimmon’s newest collection of songs- “The Sparrow & The Crow”.  The topic for this batch of stories?  The dissolution of William’s own marriage.

Please don’t get me wrong- I don’t think that ending a marriage is the unpardonable sin.  I realize there are times when it sadly may be the best available option.  And I know plenty of folks who have survived a divorce and end up happy in the long run.  My main concern was that my friend was hurting so much that he saw divorce as nothing more than relational morphine with no long term effects.

The Sparrow and The Crow Album CoverwebMaybe that’s why I’m so drawn to “The Sparrow & The Crow”.  Listeners get to play the role of the nodding, note taking counselor as Fitzsimmons turns his heart inside out during this 46 minute therapy session.

Without violating doctor/patient confidentiality, I can tell you that these songs provide an unfettered look into the full range of emotions and longings that one is likely to experience during a divorce and in the months and years that follow.

From feeling numb enough to walk away from the one you once swore you would die for to aching desperately for reconciliation.  From owning your own failings to the point of being willing to pay almost any price for forgiveness to acknowledging that the other person was complicit in the train wreck as well.  From holding on to all of the good years you had together to begrudgingly accepting that what was for the two of you will never be again- at least not with each other.

I’ve listened through the whole album nearly 30 times by iTunes count and I’m still drawn in by the transparency Fitzsimmons displays as he captures not only what he has been through, but what so many others have experienced as well.

If you want a taste of what I’m talking about, check out William’s intimate performance of “I Don’t Feel It Anymore”

If you know someone who is going through a divorce, consider grabbing this project to get a feel for what they might be dealing with.

Been through or in the middle of a divorce?  These songs will introduce you to an empathetic soul who has walked a similar path and can offer you a dose of hope.

Thinking about ending your own marriage?  Please take a listen and find at least a small measure of caution in what may lie ahead.  And if you are about to divorce and can’t afford to buy the music- email me and we’ll figure it out.

iStock_000000813699XSmallDIVORCE.

How do you feel when you hear that word?

To be completely honest, sometimes that particular combination of letters registers nothing more from me than a small sigh.

It’s not that I’m complacent, but that divorce is so commonplace.  Even the most conservative estimates figure that over 40% of all marriages end in the courthouse.

Other times though, the word “divorce” pulls a deep groan from my heart and mouth.

Especially when it involves people I know and care about.  Or if I’m granted a closer look into the reasons behind, feelings about and effects of the relational dissolution.

Not too long ago a friend from another church I used to be a part of asked me if I had heard the news about 4 or 5 different couples from that community.  “No.  What?”, I replied tentatively.  The one word response was somber: “Divorce”.

I felt like someone had knocked the air out of me.  I thought about those folks, the love I’d seen them display for each other, and about how life had irrevocably changed for them, their families and friends.  I found myself shaking my head even though the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t see my physical response.

Some months back another old friend stayed with us for a night on his way through town.  Nearly a decade ago I stood by his side as his best man and listened in as he promised to devote himself to his bride as long as God gave him life.

Now ten years later I sat next to him on my couch and listened as he spoke about his deep longing to abandon his wife and start a new life.  He had convinced himself that if he could only end his marriage then everything would get better.

His sadness was palpable. It stained his voice, hung on his face and weighed on his carriage causing him to slump deeper and deeper into the cushions of my couch.

What felt much less solid was his perception of divorce as a panacea.  Although I wasn’t inside his head and heart, it seemed to me that he was dramatically underestimating the damage and mourning that would come from walking away from his marriage.

Just so you know, my friend knows what the Bible has to say about divorce as well or better than I do.

However, he, and lots of folks who find themselves in similar situations often need more than a few scriptures tossed their way.  They need to hear from others who have walked that path and found out that what God says about divorce is true.  Specifically- that it is less than what He wants for us and is to be used as a last resort because it has long lasting, deep running effects.  Yes, God stays by us through divorce, and forgives and heals us as needed.  But that doesn’t mean that leaving a marriage will be easy or enjoyable.

For the next week I found myself wishing for someone who could share their own story of divorce with my friend.  To warn him that abandoning his wife wouldn’t fix his life- and would likely increase his pain and dissatisfaction more than he bargained for.

In a previous church community I would have sent him directly to Steve and Sharon.  They are a married couple who both love God deeply and have the kind of wisdom that only comes from living life for a good long while.  They had also each gone through a tough divorce, married later in life and created a blended family.  They are exactly the kind of couple people point to as if to say, “Go ahead and get divorced.  God will make you be happier in the end like Steve & Sharon.”

But if you sat down with them, you’d quickly hear a different message.  They’d be up front with you that the healing takes a long time and that while divorce may get you out of a marriage, it doesn’t fix all of the dysfunction that you brought to the relationship.  Steve and Sharon would tell you about the guilt you’ll feel, the doubts that will nag you and the regret that will build as you come to wish you wouldn’t have hurt your spouse and all the others who suffered collateral damage when the relationship ended.

As you can tell, I have the utmost respect for Steve and Sharon. But my friend doesn’t know them.  Nor does he live anywhere near them.  So I longed for another voice.

And then I found one.

I’ll explain more in the next post.

In my reading this morning I came across this great quote:

“Only if we serve, will we experience freedom.

Only if we lose ourselves in loving, will we find ourselves.

Only if we die to our own self-centredness, will we begin to live.”

May this be the orientation of our hearts and lives this week.

iStock_000005181551XSmall

img_1536This is Addy with her “friend” Shepard.  (She’s the penguin, he’s the dinosaur.)

He’s the young man who has a mild crush on my daughter.  Or at least I thought it was mild.

After pre-school, his mom sent Jen an email.  Turns out that on their way home, Shephard announces out of the blue:

“When it is time for me to get married, I’m going to marry Addyson.”

So, it looks like it is time to begin the betrothal process.

Now we just have to figure out how many cows to ask Shepard’s folks for.

Yesterday Jen’s mom called and offered to watch the kids so that Jen and I could go out by ourselves.  The idea of spending time alone was so appealing that it took us all of 3 seconds to accept.

As we made our plans for the evening we talked about where we wanted to have dinner.  Since the kids weren’t coming with, we were free to choose places that don’t offer chicken nuggets or i-spy fodder (see my post earlier in the week).  After cycling through a few of the usual suspects, I remembered that I had some gift cards.

I performed a wedding ceremony for a really sweet couple back in October.  To thank me, they gave us some gift cards that work at 5 different Raleigh restaurants.  We looked at each eatery’s website and decided on The Twisted Fork.

It was our first visit and the contemporary, open space was inviting- feeling both a touch upscale and casual at the same time.  As we sat down we discovered that we’d stumbled upon the “Wednesday Night Special for 2”- an appetizer or bottle of wine, soup or salad, two entress and a dessert- all for $40.  How fortuitous.  Especially since we had $50 in gift cards.  Even though we gave ourselves the option to get something else, we ended up settling on the special.  Our waiter revealed that it was about $80 worth of food and that was all I needed to hear.

Here’s a photo recap of our meal:

My beautiful dinner companion, candlelight and the house bread- which was fresh, warm and had a hint of rosemary baked in.

(That’s the bread, not Jen.)  A good beginning.

photo1

The dip sampler. Crab dip, Brie/Apple/Bacon dip and Roasted pepper & bean dip.  All served hot with a light flatbread.   All the flavors were distinctive and a little went a long way.  Which was ok, because we still had plenty of food coming.

photo3

We both went for the wedge salad with Ranch Dressing. The blue cheese and bacon canceled out the fresh veggies nicely.  Don’t want to be too healthy, right?

photo21

Time for the main course. Jen had a blackened flat-iron steak with mashed potatoes and asparagus.  The steak was tender, flavorful, and cooked correctly.  The veggies were forgettable.

photo4

I had the Shrimp Diablo. Fresh pasta with shrimp, a spicy marinara and pine nuts.  Nice dish.  The spice was warm, but didn’t continue to build as I kept eating.  Lots of shrimp in here.  I took 2/3 of it home.  Which almost never happens for me.

photo5

We finished with a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice-cream. Jen had been adventurous enough for the evening, so we kept this simple.  Good choice.  Satisfying, but not overly rich.

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Overall, I’d say that we had a positive experience.  The atmosphere, service and food quality were nice.  Not sure that we hit anything was so good that we’ll crave it and have to come back.  But I wouldn’t rule out another visit either. Especially on Wednesdays.

After dinner we bumped around what is possibly the lamest Ross I’ve ever been in.  It’s like they haven’t restocked since Christmas.  Half of the store was empty.  I was tempted to buy a pink hoodie, but mostly because Jen told me I’d never wear it.  As much as I like a good challenge, my cheapness…err…better judgment kicked in and I passed.

On the way home the reality of our parental obligations intruded and we headed to the grocery to buy some food so that we could pack Addy’s lunch in the morning.  Apparently one is deemed irresponsible if they don’t feed their children.  Go figure.

Earth shattering sutff?  Nah.

But how can you go wrong when you get to spend the evening with the person in the world you love the most?

For the last couple of months I (Fred) have been trying to plan an overnight getaway for Jen so that we could spend some time together without kids. My first two attempts were foiled for different reasons. Persistence paid off and yesterday we headed to Asheville for the candlelight tour of the Biltmore decorated for Christmas. Pics aren’t permitted inside and when we finally finished our tour it was dark and foggy. But we took a few shots anyway.





We’re heading back today to see it in the daylight. Sure I’ll have more to say later.