Who do you call “Friend?”

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As parents we become very aware of our children’s choices in friends. Whether it be at school, sports, or even at church. Regardless of where it is, we will try to “guide and direct” our children towards those friends we feel will be good for our child’s character. What’s ironic is that so often as husbands and wives, we neglect to make the same cautious choices with who we call friends. Now I realize that many of you reading this will begin to protest and say, “Hey, I am very proud of those I call friends.” That’s great and all; however, for many their choices have been less led by Biblical guidelines and guided more by emotional cues.

I love a quote by author Charlie Jones; “You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years…except for the people with whom you associate and the books you read.”  So true.

Let me share four things we all should look for and teach to our children when choosing friends:

  1. People who influence you to be the person God intended: “As iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other.” (Prov 27:17)  Relationships are the tools God uses to do this. When you are with somebody, ask yourself, “Do I like who I am when I am around this person? Am I more open, loving and honest?  Or do I like what I see in myself?”
  2. People who provide grace for the energy drain: When you are empty you need to be refueled-physically, spiritually, and relationally. To better accomplish that you should surround yourself with friends who will listen, encourage, and be there for you.
  3. People who let you be real: “A friend loveth at all times.” (Prov 17:17) The best relationships are those where you know you’re loved, you’re free to be yourself, and you can take off the fake façade and be transparent about the trials in your life. There is a uniqueness and genuine quality in friendships where you can be authentic.
  4. People who help you grow in faith: You need friends who will encourage you to pray, read the Bible, and help you see the bigger picture on seeking holiness instead of happiness. You also need them to demonstrate Biblical love towards you, to do whatever it takes to bring you into the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 4:16 talks about operating as a body, “All the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to help the whole body grow and be strong in love.”  Don’t try going about this alone. We were created to have relationships: first with God Himself then with those He has placed in our lives. Reach out to those friends that will reach back.

“Cuddle Up By the Light” Date Night

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Since it has become colder, for some it’s a downright deepfreeze,  it’s time to make some light together. Build a fire in the fireplace. Don’t have a fireplace? Light a whole bunch of candles in a grouping. Lay out a blanket and have an indoor picnic – or at least some popcorn.

After your meal, or popcorn, curl up for an evening of reading. Find a book you both enjoy and take turns reading to each other, or each of you can read your own book in each other’s company. For fun you might want to randomly read a sentence from each of your respective books and see what bizarre combinations this makes.

Again, it’s not about the fancy of the date nor the expense of the date, it’s about making memories and spending quality time together.

Enjoy and cuddle up!

How Are You Handling Your 24 Hours? Fatigue Driven or Spirit-Led?

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I am so dependent on my calendar.  Not only do I place the times and dates of my appointments in it, I also color code those appointments, so at a glance I can tell whether it is a ministry, a family, or a counseling appointment.  What I sometimes neglect to remember is that the calendar is only as effective as how I access it to make and confirm appointments.  What I’m saying is that I have a tendency to agree to tasks and meetings without consulting my calendar to see what that day truly looks like. What then occurs is a weariness to my day as well as my week.  Again, my choices will affect whether I place myself on overload or in the will of God.

Let’s look at this together this way.  For every guilt-driven yes means a no to something else. Every day holds 24 hours, and as gifted as we may be at multitasking, there are definite and concrete limits to what we can do in any given day.  We will routinely shortchange the top priorities of our lives. We’re irritable and impatient with those we love. We forfeit our need for sleep.  Because of these “choices” we begin to pass through many days oblivious to the presence of God.

Let’s look at how Jesus handles appointments and choices. When word got out that Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, a crowd gathered and He ministered to them very late into the night. Early the next morning when He slipped away to a quiet place to pray, the disciples went looking for Him. They found Him and said, “Everyone’s looking for you.” Mark 1:37   But note how Jesus responded, “Let us go somewhere else.” Jesus teaches us by His example, He is Spirit-led, not guilt driven.

So what I heard from God is that before I assume I’ve been called to meet every need that comes up, it’s ok to say, “Let me pray about it and I’ll get back to you.” Then I will pray, listen carefully, and make my decision based on how I answer this question: Will saying yes to this request mean having to say no to something else that’s important?  If you feel overwhelmed too, then maybe that is a question you need to add before adding one more thing on your plate.

We all need to remember to recognize what you’ve been called to do for the season of life you’re in; it takes honesty, humility, and courage to follow through. When you face an appointment or task that you know will put you on overload, even if you’re willing to pay the price, are you willing to commit your family to pay the price as well? Think about that.

Every yes means something else becomes a no.

Artificial Intimacy: Guest Author-Gary Thomas

Today we have guest author, Gary Thomas. He is a well-known Christian author on marriages, parenting, and relationships.  His books are a must read for both Kerry and myself.

Artificial Intimacy

Why do couples who are convinced they have found “the one” end up divorcing each other just a few years (or sometimes a couple decades) into their marriage? There was a time when they couldn’t imagine being apart for five hours; now they can’t bear the thought of being together for five minutes; what happened?

In many cases, the relationship existed only on what I call “artificial intimacy.” True intimacy—that sense of “oneness” that we all seek—has to be pursued and built rather than simply discovered andfelt. Artificial intimacy is sustained by the common events of life, but usually comes to a huge crash as soon as the couple enters the empty nest years if true intimacy hasn’t replaced it.

In the Beginning

Artificial intimacy begins with the onset of infatuation, a “grab your brains with a vengeance” neurochemical reaction that makes us virtually blind to our partner’s faults but is notoriously short lived, with a shelf life of about 12 to 18 months.

In addition to infatuation, early relationship “compatibility” is also enhanced artificially via sexual chemistry. When infatuation and sexual chemistry are strong, compatibility, or incompatibility barely even register. You both feel crazy about each other, you can barely keep your hands to yourself—how could you not be compatible? You don’t even really have to do anything to sustain your desire for each other; just being alive makes you feel compatible. And so, on this basis, and often on this basis alone, the couple decides to get married.

When Spring Turns to Summer

When a couple begins to move toward marriage and set a date for the wedding, even though the initial artificial intimacy may be on the decline, planning the ceremony gives them something in common and keeps them going. They plan it, talk about it, and divide up tasks to make it happen. This is “intimacy” of a sort, but it’s a superficial intimacy, the intimacy of co-workers, not life-mates.

Once the couple gets back from the honeymoon, they will start setting up a house, move into a new apartment or neighborhood, and try to join two lives. That also joins them in a common task and gives them something to talk about.  What color should we paint the bedroom? Do you think we’ll be here long enough to bother with planting trees outside? Where’s our new favorite hangout?

As life moves on, just when things could get boring again, the couple is likely to start raising kids. That’s a big thing to have in common and requires a lot of communication. You go to childbirth classes, you build a nursery, you raise the kids, and then you have to communicate to get the kids to the right places. You share your kids’ failures and successes. Eventually those kids repay you for your faithful service by growing up and leaving the two of you alone together.

That’s when you find out how much intimacy you really have.

At the start of the relationship it was just infatuation and sexual chemistry. Then it was the joint task of planning a ceremony. Then, setting up a home. After that, raising kids. In days past these life events could take marriages to the doorstep of death and eternity, but modern couples can blow through these stages of life in two and a half decades, often leaving another 30 years or more of marriage to follow. That’s a long time to be lonely and to live with a familiar looking stranger.  If you haven’t consciously built true intimacy, the relationship is going to collapse right at this point.

Some couples have to wake up to the reality that they’ve been living relationally on shared tasks, not shared intimacy. They haven’t prayed together. They haven’t shared their dreams. They haven’t carried each other’s burdens and then built that all-important empathy for each other. They’re teammates, not spouses, and now that the season is over, what’s to hold them together?

When couples get divorced and start over with someone else, the second relationship initially feels more fulfilling than the first because, once again, it’s existing on artificial intimacy: infatuation and sexual chemistry retake their place on center stage, the two once again enter the relationship building of sharing past histories, planning a ceremony, setting up a new life together… But the same dynamics will bring this affection to an end as well if the couple doesn’t consciously build true intimacy.

Making a Marriage

One of the main messages of my writing/speaking career on marriage has been this: a good marriage isn’t something you find, it’s something you make, and you have to keep on making it. Just as importantly (and herein lies the hope), you can also begin “re-making” it at any stage.

If you wake up to the sobering reality that you’ve existed on artificial compatibility, that doesn’t mean you can’t begin to build true intimacy. True intimacy can be pursued at any stage of marriage. It would be much better for everyone involved if, instead of seeking a divorce and building yet another relationship on artificial intimacy, the couple chooses to begin building true intimacy, with God as the center of the relationship.

I can tell you this: the level of maturity it will take to rebuild a stale marriage instead of killing it and moving on can lead to some of the most transformative growth of your life. It will require hope, courage, patience, honesty, understanding, and perseverance—all key virtues for a Christ-like life.

How do you start building or rebuilding that intimacy? Well, that’s what A Lifelong Love: What if Marriage is About More than Just Staying Together? is all about. To keep this blog post under 1000 words, all I can offer is this (to some) shocking diagnosis: if your marriage is frustrating or underwhelming, it’s possible that you haven’t even really experienced what true marital intimacy is all about. Doesn’t it make sense to first seek that out instead of just start over with someone else?

Guest Article: “7 ways couples can harm their marriage without even realizing it.” from Dave Willis

This week’s guest post is from Dave Willis. Take time to not only read his post…own it!

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As I’ve interacted with couples from all over the world, I’ve found that many of the issues that ultimately lead to infidelity and divorce happen by accident. People don’t usually set out to sabotage their marriage and wind up in divorce court, but small choices can ultimately lead to big disasters. Subtle poor choices along the way can pile up like a snowball rolling down a hill until it’s big enough to start an avalanche of consequences.

Below are seven of the most common ways people can harm their marriage (sometimes without even realizing it). Avoid these and you’ll be safeguarding your marriage.

(In no particular order):

1. Not wearing a wedding ring.

People might just not be into jewelry or not think it’s a big deal, but wearing a ring can be a first line of defense against adultery. For more practical reasons to wear your ring, check out our hugely popular (and somewhat controversial) post on Three reasons to wear your wedding ring.

2. Digital distractions.

Sometimes I give my iPhone more attention than I give my wife, and that can’t happen! Do your best to keep screens turned off as much as possible when you’re together with your spouse. Talking with your spouse is always better than texting with somebody else (or playing Candy Crush, or checking facebook, etc.).

3. Inconsistency in parenting.

Raising kids is one of the most sacred duties on earth, but it can also harm your marriage if you don’t have a unified approach with your spouse. Ashley and I don’t argue much, but many (if not most) of our disagreements have come out of miscommunications about parenting. For more on this, check out our post on 7 ways parents can harm their children without even realizing it.

4. Flirting.

This one is two-fold, because we harm our marriages when we STOP flirting with our spouse or when we START flirting with anybody else! Flirting within marriage is always helpful, but flirting outside of your marriage is always harmful!

5. Porn (and/or graphic romance novels).

Many couples think porn is a harmless fantasy that can actually spice things up in the bedroom if they watch it together, but the truth is that porn is an enemy of real intimacy. For more on this, check out our post The Truth about Porn.

6. Autopilot.

Cable TV companies give their best rates and service at the beginning but then treat you much worse after the “promotional period” expires. Sadly, many marriages look like this. We give each other our best at the beginning of the relationship, but then get into “autopilot” and stop giving each other our best.

7. Negative friends.

Your friends have the unique ability to encourage your marriage or to discourage your marriage. Make sure you’re hanging out with people who love you AND love your spouse. Choose friends who will strengthen your character and remove yourself from people who would tempt you to compromise your character.

Date Night: 5 Reminders for Every Couple to Remember

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We have been sharing some date night ideas these past Wednesdays for couples to try and hopefully spur on more moments of communication and intimacy between a husband and wife.  Just this past week I was asked if there were any reminders that we could share about “Date Nights” or even possibly guidelines to remember. That was an interesting request. Our date nights are a habit of our relationship. In time we have cultivated those moments without even thinking about how we do it, we just do.  However, this is because we have been practicing these times, these moments, together for years. There are weeks that it ebbs and tides; however, we still maintain the goal of dating each other on at least a monthly basis.
So to answer his question, we both agree that your dates need to have both shared activities of fun and playfulness as well as times of meaningful conversation; both on a consistent basis. Some dates will be heavier on play while other times the conversations will take a deep and needed path of discovery into each other’s hearts. But on a whole, if you and your spouse are to feel you’ve made a fulfilling, intimate connection on your dat nights, then both of these need to be kept in balance.
Let us sum it up in 5 simple reminders.
1. Don’t Administrate Your Marriage
Don’t talk about finances, household responsibilities, child discipline issues, or other   Admin aspects of your marriage while on your date. The purpose of a date is to have fun and enjoy each other.
2. Stay Current
Be curious about your spouse. Ask questions. Update your knowledge and deepen your understanding of each other.
3. Try New and Exciting Activities
Couples who engage in unique activities that they don’t usually do experience an increase in marital satisfaction. New activities stimulate the same parts of the brain that were ignited when you were first dating and help re-create the chemical surges of early courtship.
4. Reminisce
Talking about special moments or memorable events allows you to celebrate how far you’ve come as a couple and renews hope as you anticipate future good times together.
5. Select Dating Activities that Communicate Intimacy to Both of You
Something to remember and not forget: For men, intimacy is built on a shared activity and for women, a shared activity is a backdrop to deep conversation.
In closing, it’s important that you each take turns in planning your date nights together. Be intentional and never forget, you are investing into your marriage and this investment will return deep dividends!

37 Practical Ways to Improve as a Parent

This was an article that we posted back a few years ago that was well received. Definitely felt it could be shared again.

Redeeming the White Space

I posted this list from an article I read about a year ago. This is not meant to be an end all list, it is only meant to give us a jump start and reminder of what it means to be a parent.
Here is something you may never have thought of. By God letting us become parents is one of His primary methods of sanctification  Within marriage, you ultimately choose what you’re willing to live with. You see, if you marry an angry person, you know you will have to learn to deal with your spouse’s anger. If you marry a passive, or fearful, or impulsive person, in the end you have to admit you chose this person, and thus choosing your future battles.
With our children it is different. They already come out ready made with spiritual battles beforehand that we can’t even begin to imagine. And God in His vast…

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