One Very Good Reason God Created Marriage

My wife went out of town for a few days last week. She visited her parents in Illinois. I don’t mind being by myself for a short time. There’s always plenty I can do around the house. I can find what I need to eat. But a few days is enough. When she came back home I was certainly ready for her to be back. It was a very good reminder for me of one of the many reasons God created marriage.

The wedding service that I have, as a pastor, used dozens of times says this about marriage:

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy, for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity…

I love those three words “help and comfort.” That help and comfort is to be given by husband and wife “in prosperity and adversity.” And that’s one very good reason why God created marriage.

What I noticed when Tammy was gone was that there were certain things I had to do which I’m not used to doing. She does them. For instance, she charged me with watering her newly planted flowers every day. I doubt I’d even plant flowers if I lived by myself. I just don’t enjoy doing yard work and would rather spend my time doing other things.

But I enjoy seeing those flowers when I drive up to our house. So I dutifully watered them. I didn’t want her to come home to dead flowers, especially after she nicely asked me to water them. She also keeps the house more nicely than I ever would. I don’t have the decorating touch that she does. And she washes the dishes when I do the cooking.

I would categorize all that stuff under “help and comfort.” I would hope that when I go away for a period of time, Tammy would miss the things that I typically do around the house. I hope I provide the “help and comfort” that she needs, as well.

Don’t we all need “help and comfort”? Life is often hard. For those of us who are married it’s so very nice to receive consistent help and comfort. And it’s also a reminder to us that we ought to provide “help and comfort” for those who don’t get it quite as consistently: those who are single, or widowed, or divorced.

Thank God for the gift of marriage. And for all those who provide for us any kind of help and comfort when we need it.

From where do you receive help and comfort when you need it?

When God Babysits It’s a Labor of Love

I babysat my three-month-old grandson this week. Mommy and daddy were both at work so I had him for the day. Once again I have come to fully appreciate the life and commitment of all those stay-at-home moms. Caring for a three-month old baby is a full-time job for sure. It’s a fascinating, never-ending cycle: sleep, “play”, eat. Repeat and add a diaper change and some crying. All day every day. It may sound mundane, but there was nowhere else I’d have rather been that day. Caring for a baby is work. But it’s a labor of love.

It got me to thinking about how God has to babysit me. It’s most certainly labor. And it is only because of love that He even pays attention to me, much less forgives, cares for, helps, and heals me. My life must look like an endless cycle of sleep, play, and eat. Repeat and add some mess ups and some crying.

Just like I couldn’t leave my grandson for a minute, God has to keep constant watch over me. If I’m left to myself, as Martin Luther famously said, I will bring it all to destruction.

Caring for me must be a whole lot of work. More than I’d even care to admit. But certainly not more than an Almighty God can handle. I know I don’t make it easy on Him. When I whine, complain, and go my own way He comes after me. I sin, self-destruct, and stray.

But having recently remembered Good Friday and celebrated Easter I know that His care for me is a labor of love. He sacrificed His only Son for me. I can’t imagine the pain it caused Him. My mess ups and inbred sin put Jesus on the cross. It’s difficult for me to accept that my God could love me more than I love my grandson. But He does. Infinitely more.

I feel far less than worthy of that kind of love. I almost want to tell God that He shouldn’t love me. But when I remember there isn’t anything my little grandson could do to keep me from loving him, I get just a slight sense of how God must feel about me. It’s far above my understanding. All I can do is thank and praise Him for His mercy.

It’s a labor of love.

How are you reminded of God’s love for you?

How Adding Serendipity to a Plan Brings the Best Surprises

Serendipity is a welcome guest. At least that’s the way I look at it. “Serendipity” means “fortunate circumstance” or “pleasant surprise.” You can read the story of how the word was coined here. This word came to my mind because we have some friends going to New York. I love New York. And I love the way my wife and I see New York every time we visit. It’s serendipitous. So I love to show others the way we let serendipity happen when we visit the greatest city in the world.

We do it by making a plan but allowing serendipity to happen. The plan comes every morning when we get out our deck of New York City Walk cards. We pick two or three cards that guide us on neighborhood walks. Then we head out to the subway and make our way to that part of the city.

The great part about it is that the cards are only a guideline. We never fail to have something serendipitous happen when we use the cards and walk the neighborhoods. In New York City there are pleasant surprises all along the way. We find restaurants, or shops, or street performers, or any other of a myriad of things that New York has to offer. The walking plan is great. But the surprises in New York’s wonderful neighborhoods are even greater.

Isn’t this all part of what makes life so grand? We have a plan, but then there are surprises. Sometimes those surprises are trying or difficult. But other times they are filled with the best kind of fortunate circumstances we could ever imagine. Either way, a plan that is deviated makes life fascinating, creative, and interesting. If everything went according to plan life would be so humdrum.

Why not try it today? Make a plan for the day. Try this one. Then watch for the surprises that come along. More often than not they will teach you an important lesson or fascinate you with a new idea.

What serendipitous experience have you had today?

5 Things to Do This Good Friday

The Friday before Easter is the day that we call good. Some Christian traditions call this day “bad Friday.” For instance, in German the day is called Karfreitag, “Sorrowful Friday.” But in the end, it’s good. It’s Good Friday because though it was interminably, excruciatingly bad for Jesus, the benefits of His death on the cross are incredibly, eternally good for us.

Good Friday is the very center of the church year. The original one was, in fact, the center of history. It may seem obvious, but without Good Friday there would be no Easter. Without the suffering and death of the Son of God there would be no life and salvation. All of history led up to that Day, and all of history flows out of that Day.

Here are some ideas to help you mark the significance of Good Friday:

  1. Cross Yourself. It’s always a good idea to remember your baptism every morning by making the sign of the cross. But this day makes it even more significant. When you wake up and sit on the side of your bed, make the sign of the cross. It will remind you that what Jesus purchased and won for you on Good Friday has been given into your life today.
  2. Sacrifice Something. Jesus sacrificed His life for you and your salvation. A good way to show some appreciation for that great gift is to sacrifice something in your own life for the sake of someone else. Give up some time to help a friend. Sacrifice money for the sake of someone in need.
  3. Mark Time. It doesn’t seem to happen anymore, but it wasn’t that long ago that many businesses closed from noon to three on Good Friday. It was a way of allowing workers to mark the time Jesus spent on the cross. It was a good practice. I wish we still had it. But we can all do so in our own little way. Look at the clock at noon and remember. Set an alarm for three o’clock and reflect.
  4. Attend Church. It goes without saying that a significant day in the life of a Christian should be partially spent in church. Pray. Reflect. Praise. Worship. Experience the darkness that comes before the light.
  5. Eat Wisely. Many Christians give up something for the season of Lent. Others don’t eat meat on Fridays. A short fast might be a good reminder of the eternally generous sacrifice Jesus has made for you. Our family tradition is to eat fish after church on Good Friday. We give up the small sacrifice of eating meat, and remember that persecuted early Christians marked themselves with the sign of the fish.

It’s a significant Day. Remember all that it means for you.

How do you mark Good Friday?

What I Would Do If I Were Rich

What would you do if you were rich? You know…if you had more money than you needed to sustain yourself and your family for more than a lifetime. There is a certain responsibility that comes with wealth. I’m convinced that’s why a great majority of us do not have it. Too many of us would be irresponsible with it. And yet it’s fun to think about what we would do if we never had to worry about mundane bills or paying the mortgage.

The thought came to my mind as I helped my wife at a farmer’s market. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that she recently started her own business. We were at the farmer’s market to sell the items she has worked so hard to created and produce. I was watching all the people there who came to sell various and sundry items. They all do what they do for various reasons. For some it’s a hobby. Others do it as a second job. And still others are present to chase after their only source of income.

So what would I do if I were rich? The first thing I would do is give a proper portion back to the Lord. I’d love to support the churches I’ve had the privilege to serve. Then I would see to it that my wife and I, and our kids and their families, were taken care of by making the proper investments. And then I’d like to give a good portion of it away.

If you’ve ever taken Financial Peace University you know that Dave Ramsey encourages people to get out of debt. One of the reasons is so that people have the money left over to make a positive impact on the world by giving a portion away. I agree with that philosophy.

Which brings me back to the farmer’s market. If I had more than enough money to spare, I would go around to random farmer’s markets and purchase the entire inventory of every vendor in the place. Those people are so creative. They work so hard. These vendors scrimp and scratch and create and craft to bring things before the public that they hope will sell. They have a creative, entrepreneurial spirit. Slow days at the market can really hurt their home life. But one thing you find in abundance at most farmer’s markets is hope.

I’d like to reward that hope by — just once — purchasing everything they have to sell. I’d like to see where that takes them. What next steps would they take with their newfound success? I would like to think that it would spur on further success.

Since I’m not (yet?) “rich” enough to do that, I do my best to help as I am able. I like to tip waiters and waitresses at least 20%. If there’s a tip jar on a counter I’m sure to put something into it. I’ll stop to buy lemonade from a kid with a lemonade stand. And when we participate in farmer’s markets I try to patronize as many vendors as I can.

Would you be willing to do the same?

When Enough Became Enough

Today’s post is a guest post by a new friend I met at a writing workshop I recently attended. Elizabeth Ivy Hawkins holds an MFA in Painting, and currently is an Adjunct Professor at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI. Elizabeth’s artwork has been exhibited regionally and nationally, including exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles. She speaks on the importance of the artist’s voice, and coaches individuals and groups on how to cultivate individual expression as a way of being fully present in our daily lives. She writes on her blog about creativity, relationships, and spirituality. Her story, Where I Fell in Love, was recently featured on the Story Gathering Podcast, and is a contributor to the online publication Off the Page. She is a wife to the dashing and strong Bradford, and stepmother of one, and mother of two naughty and smart children. She shows us in this post that enough is enough.

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When I was completing my Master’s Degree in Fine Art, I studied abroad in Italy. What I learned there changed everything. I had come with the idea that I would encounter an ancient culture, and by ancient I mean a culture that was less advanced than what I knew. I found just the opposite. As I was walking through the remains of the city of Pompeii, I realized that we have not done things better than in Renaissance Italy. Partially because of the intelligence, the design, and the innovation. But mostly because of the hand-made craftsmanship that you see everywhere. The handles on cutlery found in a Pompeiian home are painstakingly well crafted. The quality of the marble floors and intricate detail of the mosaic walls, the expanse of the architecture, it all holds up and surpasses anything that would be made today. In a postindustrial, information saturated age, the cost of such craftsmanship is irreplaceable. We couldn’t afford it.

When St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that, “…We are God’s handiwork…” I consider his words in the context of the culture Paul was writing in, a culture similar to what I observed in Pompeii. I am not talking about Religion or a Christianity that is overly Westernized or simplified. I am searching for what it means to be fully alive and human. The Greek word Paul used for handiwork is “poiema.” It is where we get the English word for poem. Some researchers would go so far as to say that Paul is describing humankind as God’s Artwork. In Paul’s day, artwork wasn’t in some quiet museum waiting to be observed, it was all around. A part of everyday experience. Everything was handmade, and considering what I observed in Pompeii, handmade extremely well. 

Paul was a craftsperson, financing his travel through work as a tent maker. I imagine craft would have meant a great deal to him. Considering where Paul lived and traveled, he would most likely have been exposed to Etruscan frescoes that depict beautiful landscapes and Roman Architecture with its grand and expansive columns and ornate reliefs. I wonder if Paul was thinking about a particular work of art when he wrote this passage, and if so, what kind of significance did it have to him? I do know that he asks me to remember my identity is a beautiful, one of a kind, hand-made thing. Maybe he knew something about creativity and craftsmanship that we have forgotten today. Maybe this is how we are designed, to make and invent things. Innately, just because…

I used to think my value as an artist came from what I did, but now I know that the real flesh and blood matters are found in my artist’s heart. The heart I was born with. I used to put the mantel of financial success on my work. Or how popular my work became. Or praise I got for its uniqueness. Because if I am honest I have a real fear that…when it’s all said and done that I will have missed it. That my life will pass and that I won’t make a significant contribution, that I screwed it up—my one chance—and now I will dissolve like a vapor into the unknown and nobody will notice or care. There is this primal longing within me to matter. I try to get a handle on this fear by performing. 

We live in a culture that affirms the idea that people who work hard enough, who are smart enough, invest their money well and don’t buy expensive jeans, that keep that twenty something appearance well into middle age, or who get all A’s, who exercise when they are supposed to, and who have a diet of only greens and lean protein. That they are the ones. They are the ones worth it. They are the ones keeping all the rules just right. Those who reject this social norm we label dilatants, slackers…they are shamefully insignificant. It’s probably why we don’t value our elderly like we should, or our mentally challenged, or even our children. Because when you get down to it, we find a person’s real value resides in what they do.

But we are poems. We are artwork. It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like a lie that dreamers believe who don’t live in the real world where results matter. But what I have observed is this: Those who are truly doing creative work, who have the kind of lives that everybody else wants, they know this. They let this belief reside in their bones. They don’t do work chasing anything, they do work because they already have it to give. They have changed the dynamic of life from one of a transaction i.e. you do this to get that, to one that starts and ends with joy. It is life changing. It is changing me. It changes the space from which I make my work, whether it is work that supports my family financially or not. I no longer work for money, I work for money that supports a life well lived. Money is a means, not a master. It creates more opportunities to be grateful on all kinds of levels. And when I get a chance, I break bread and wine with others, and maybe cry and then laugh, and then cry some more. Because poems we are. Every one of us.

If you like the ideas I have shared and would like to take this information to the next level, sign up to my News Letter to receive a free digital download on Creativity and Finding Your Individual Voice, here

10 Things to Be Happy About Right Now

Today was a rare cloudy and rainy day in central Florida. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it reminds me of those cold, cloudy winters in Wisconsin. I don’t miss those days at all. I’m pretty sure I dealt with Seasonal Affective Disorder on more than one occasion. Generally speaking, dark days are down days for me. It doesn’t help that it’s tax season, or that the check engine light is on in my wife’s car. So as I sat down to write, I needed to think some happy thoughts.

Here are ten things to be happy about right now:

  1. Incredible technology. I heard an interview today with Steve Case, founder of AOL. I was reminded what life was like before we had email and the internet. Those technologies (usually) make life easier, and that makes me happy.
  2. Baseball is back. The pageantry and colors of opening day were enough to bring a smile to my face.
  3. Rain is a blessing. As much as I don’t like the dark skies, we desperately needed the rain in our area. We were going through a short drought. The grass was brown. After today’s rain it’s already greener. Green is a happy color.
  4. Babies bring a smile. We got to spend the day with our grandson, Crosby, yesterday. All I can say is he makes me smile. A lot.
  5. New music. Our son, Ben, just released a brand new EP filled with five new songs. It just so happened that his EP was selected to be on the front page of iTunes featuring new music. Not only did that make me happy, but Ben created a Spotify playlist that introduced me to some great new music that I hadn’t heard before.
  6. Co-workers and helpers. I’m amazed by the people I get to work with. They do their work so well, and are so talented at stuff that is beyond my talents and capability. In addition, we’ve got some very faithful volunteers at our church who amaze me at the many ways they give so freely of their time.
  7. Adventurous people. From the comfort of my home I get to follow the travels and travails of adventurous people. I personally know two people right now who are traveling the country and living out of their converted vans. Man, I (sometimes) envy them.
  8. Prayers answered in a humanly pleasing way. One of the dear members of our church has been praying (and we’ve been praying along with her) for a healing of cancer. She just found out, after treatment, that she’s cancer free.
  9. Interesting podcasts. What a wonderful invention podcasts are for someone who has to be in a car a great deal of the time. It’s like learning on wheels. I recently discovered the podcast, “How I Built This.” I can’t get enough of it.
  10. White Noise Machines. We just got a new white noise machine. It really helps me sleep. Our previous one lasted over fifteen years. This is the new one we got. It’s the little things in life.

What’s making you happy today?

The Benefit of Doing the Very Thing You Don’t Want To

There are very few things in life more difficult than a first-time mom going back to work after maternity leave. Our daughter has been dreading doing just that since the very day she left work to have her baby. Since then it’s been three full months of maternity leave bliss. She has enjoyed every day and every minute with her sweet little baby. She’s enjoyed midday walks and freedom from the confines of a daily job. But today’s the day. It’s hard for her to see the benefit of going back to work at all.

There is benefit to doing difficult things in life. Sure, that first day back to work is difficult for a first-time mom. And there will be more difficult days. The first day of Kindergarten. Kids at school making life difficult. Driving off in the car for the first time. And what it all really builds up to…the dreaded first day of college, and the empty nest.

The point is that difficult days raising children incrementally prepare us. We are never really ready for the day the empty nest becomes a reality. But we become just a bit more calloused the more we go through the stages and ages of life. We learn to know that as children grow there will be constant reminders of the passing of life. Things will not always be easy. Raising children isn’t.

Doing what we don’t want to isn’t easy. And I hate to be a fatalist, but it’s part of life. So if that’s true, we had better find the good in the things we dislike.

  • Back to work after a baby means that you have a job and are bringing in income and benefits
  • A job you dislike means learning experiences which will help in future positions
  • Taking a test at school means you’ve had the opportunity to learn new things
  • Surgery means potential healing
  • Going to the dentist means you get to keep your teeth

Life in this world can be difficult. It means doing difficult things. But when you do something difficult today, look for the silver-lining benefit. Your life will be the better for it.

What have you learned from doing something difficult?

The Magic of Making Someone Your Honorary Mom or Dad

I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of “paying it forward.” There’s a certain magic to an unexpected gift. It’s fun to share the joy that you yourself have received. I’ve been the recipient of it a time or two. Not too long ago I stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts very early in the morning. I was in the drive through waiting for my daily fix of iced tea (I don’t like coffee, and I am trying to limit my soda intake). I got to the window and was told the person in the car in front of me paid for my tea. It was a really nice start to my day.

But I have a friend who has taken this to a whole new level. The other day she shared on her Facebook Page a very intimate and inspirational post about a new tradition she has created.

Here’s what she wrote:

After I lost my parents a few years back I started a new tradition; on their birthdays, anniversary, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, if I am out and about or at work in the cafeteria I buy someone’s meal or coffee and let them know why and that they are my honorary mom or dad for the day. Last week on my brother’s birthday, I did it again because we live far apart and I can’t take him out. Today for my sister’s birthday I bought a woman’s lunch.

Let me tell you what joy it is, sharing just a bit is the love in my heart I have, and it never seems to run out. I ran into the lady again later in the hallway as they were wheeling her husband to the floor from ER. She gave me another hug and thanked me again. I think it does more for me than the person who is on the receiving end; I am reminded that no matter what went wrong today, or all that is bad in the world, I still get to make a choice about what I do and how I love people.

As you make your way through your day today, whom is it that will be your honorary mom or dad? You don’t even have to spend money. Maybe you could send a handwritten note or email. Bake them cookies. Pay it forward in whatever way you think is best. There will most certainly be magic.

How will you pay it forward today?

An Opportunity for You to Strengthen Your Family

Every once in a while I run across a program that makes my heart sing. Here’s one that has a name on it you will recognize: Zig Ziglar. I have read Zig’s books, and even heard him speak a couple of years before he died. Now his family is giving your family the full potential to be, do, and have all that it has been designed for.

Deep down you have a desire for more. Unfortunately, you may feel discouraged and overwhelmed by everything that works against a healthy, balanced family life, from kids’ hectic schedules, to financial stress, to communication issues with loved ones, to pressure at work.

Thrive: A Ziglar Family Community will offer you a way to connect with experts as well as other families. You’ll learn to make small, manageable, positive changes and start to move from survival, to success, to significance, to legacy.

It’s all being kicked off with a week-long family challenge I’d like to invite you to join. This week is filled with high profile “challengers” who will present great messages to inspire and inform you.

If ever there was a challenger that needed no introduction, that’s today’s guest. It’s NFL player and Super Bowl championship coach —and proud father of 10 — Tony Dungy.

You probably recognize Tony as the most successful head coach in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ history.  He was also the first African American head coach to earn a Super Bowl victory, which he did with the Indianapolis Colts.

Tony is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of several books. In Uncommon Marriage, he and his wife Lauren share what it takes to build a marriage that lasts.

He’s involved with numerous charitable organizations, including All-Pro Dad, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Boys & Girls Clubs, among others.

He retired from coaching in 2009 and now serves as a studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America. You can probably imagine just how busy his schedule can be and how intentional he has to be about integrating work and family life.

And that’s what Tony is bringing to you today: his advice for finding ways to connect with your children even when your work life seems crazy busy. Tony has an innovative and effective idea for bringing work and home together that he learned years ago from his own father.

Click here to see what Tony wants to share with you today at the 7-Day Family Challenge from Ziglar Family.

PS – It’s kind of incredible that an NFL coach could implement a family policy with his team like Tony did. Click here to hear all about it!