The New Norm. 20 Lessons on Our 20th Anniversary

As usual, I like to write marriage blog commemorating milestones and moments. And for today, our 20th anniversary, I wanted to address something that, I hope, will encourage and perhaps give some couples a feeling of liberty.

Quite often we get messages that say, “I just want things they way they used to be.” Usually, it’s because something has transpired in the marriage that it makes someone (or both spouses) miss what they considered “normal.”

It makes me think of Uncle Rico spending his life trying to get back the “old days” of what he thought he had. 

This experience is not exclusive to a “type of person,” generation, or a vintage of a marriage. It’s very common response to what happens when a man and woman go through this journey called “marriage.” We desire to “go back” to something that feels “normal.”

How does this change happen? The flow of life got interrupted, a situation developed, or a challenging circumstance manifested itself. For you, it could be a number of things. Maybe a change in a spouse’s health. An unexpected development in your relationship. Perhaps it is a shift in vocation. It could be a change in the season of life you find yourselves in. Change will always be a threat to comfort. The issue of “change” will attack the “norm.”

Anne and I get it. Our marriage was shaken up at the birth of our daughter just a year and a half into marriage. What little “normal” we knew was already removed. Everything “normal” was out the window. And we discovered that marriage wasn’t about fighting to get back what we thought had but to move forward together with what we have.  

We call it, finding the “new norm.”

So today, I thought I’d give you 20 areas we’ve had to discover the new “norm” in our 20 years of marriage. We had to discover the new norm in…

  1. Expressing and receiving “love.” Our love languages changed dramatically when Cammi was born. It takes careful evaluation and intention to keep up with the changes.
  2. Having fun as a couple. We’ve had to work hard finding things we like doing together as a couple. What was fun five years ago may not be as exciting as it used to be. We need to keep trying and discovering what is fun for the both of us. 
  3. Navigating our spiritual lives. We have felt the pressure to “keep up” with a standard or do what other couples do. Anne and I love the same worship styles but do our Word and prayer times differently.
  4. Working through disagreement. We’ve learned that disagreement doesn’t mean “disunity.” We have a unified heart but sometimes different opinions. Instead of trying to benefit selfishly, we work for the good of other.
  5. Changing of Jobs. We’ve changed jobs (location, home, etc) three times in 20 years. Each job has introduced a new approach that has affected the entire family.
  6. Communicating our expectations. 20 years ago, we’d drop hints then get mad when the other didn’t “catch” what we were hinting. We love talking on Sunday evenings about our week so that neither one of us is caught off guard about what’s happening. It’s taken a lot of stress and confusion out of our lives.
  7. Expressing criticism in marriage. We believe in encouragement sandwiches. Every criticism must be sandwiched between two encouragements. But in the same vein…
  8. Being an active encourager. Encouragement isn’t saved for criticisms. Nobody will out-encourage us when it comes to our spouse. Nobody.
  9. Finding our sexual frequency. Navigating with different libidos (sex drives) and expectations wasn’t without a few frustrations. But there’s a difference in failing at trying and failing to try. As a husband with a high libido, I need to make sure that my affection isn’t laced with sexual expectation. As someone with a low libido, Anne would say (in her own words), “I am the only one gifted to satisfy my husband.” Keep talking. Keep loving. And keep getting naked.
  10. Experiencing grief. Anne lost a few family members in the first couple years of marriage. Most of mine have been in the past decade. Grief not only challenges you in the moment but it makes you evaluate how to move ahead.
  11. Parenting our children. We’ve learned to change, not who we are, but how we parent our children based upon them and the season they go through. Cammi and Ethan are vastly different and, therefore, need to be parented a bit different. The principles are the same; the methods vary. Which leads me to…
  12. The change in family dynamics. We’ve had one high school graduation and we’re 3 years away from an empty nest. It’s hits us hard at varying times. We’ve learned not to look down on each other but to be there for each other.
  13. Dealing with heartache. Our role as pastors can invite heartache. I can put up a good front, but I take the loss of church attendees to heart and criticism very hard. Anne digests it different. But again, we refuse to allow the other to journey through heartache alone.
  14. The role of hobbies. Hobbies in marriage are an enriching outlet, not a beast of burden. 20 years ago, video games were great for me, Anne scrapbooked. Today, Anne loves to workout and I love to rock climb. We do it when it fits best for our marriage so that it doesn’t take away from it.
  15. The evolution of friendships. One of the hardest things is to navigate friendships. God has brought a number of people into our lives and it’s always pained us to see circumstances and seasons change the nature and scope of those friendships. Though our “closeness” is different, our love for them hasn’t changed.
  16. The necessity of “time outs.” Like a boxer sitting down between rounds, we have embraced the art of the “time out.” There’s huge value to ceasing from a fight and take a few minutes (or an hour) to cool down to remember why you’re fighting and what is ultimately important in the marriage.
  17. Developing a thicker skin. We have learned to stop looking to get offended so easily because we’ve learned to trust the heart of our spouse. If we don’t understand what’s taken place, we’ve leaned on the heart that we know and love. But in a similar vein…
  18. We look to laugh. Laughter has been the drug of choice in our house. We are hooked on making each other laugh. In fact, having an atmosphere of laughter helps us to see what things we need to truly take serious.
  19. Margin is not a luxury. Boredom, downtime, and fun is the space by which we catch our breath. The reason why too many marriages are lifeless is because they’re running without any margin (rest, recreation, and relationships).
  20. Learning isn’t optional. The only thing “normal” about your marriage is change. Which means that you can’t afford to stop learning. You both will change by nature of the seasons you go through as a couple and as individuals. Don’t stop being a student of your spouse. Be an avid learner and grow through the changes.

How can you approach where you find yourself now? It’s by first taking where you are and what you are doing and submitting it to the Lord. I love The Message’s paraphrase of Romans 12,

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Stop trying to recreate what you had and give what you have to the Lord. Like the boy who gave Jesus what he had so that a miracle could be performed, give the Lord what your marriage has. Let Him make something beautiful and majestic out of what you currently possess.

Why try to reclaim what you had when, in Christ, the best has yet to come?

Love you all. Praying for you all as you discover the “new norm” for your marriage.

Encourage effort.
Celebrate progress.
Feed hope.

To my wife, thanks for letting me ramble these past 20 years…

I love you.

BTW: Check out my book. Click on the link below.

15 Parenting Thoughts on Ethan’s 15th Birthday

I have a habit of blogging on special days for the family. Perhaps, the moment demands reflection and thought. And like most occasions, when I start processing things, I journal in order to frame together what is stirring in me.

Today is my son’s 15th birthday. As usual, theses moments in your children cause you to reflect upon the parenting job you’ve done and are still doing. I’m sure something will stir in a few weeks when Cammi turns 18. But till then, I thought on Ethan’s 15th birthday, I’d give 15 parenting tips I’ve learned over the past decade and a half.

  1. It’s more important for my kids to see Jesus in me than anything else.
    • Kids need to see how Jesus is lived out, not inside the church, but outside of it. Even though I am my kid’s lead pastor, they need to see Jesus in me in our home MORE than from the iPad stand I preach from.
  2. My children are not beyond a bad decision.
    • To be blunt, I don’t want to parent in a way that says, “my kid would never do that.” Yet I don’t believe they’re always guilty. My kids are capable of bad decisions because, well, they’re human.
  3. Own mistakes in front of your kids. 
    • If you’re kids never see you make a mistake, it makes their mistakes look that much worse as they’ll compare to the “perfection” they’re always exposed to. Show your kids how to be humble in the face of something you’ve not done correctly. They should hear the words, “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me.”
  4. Don’t do anything alone.
    • From a task around the house to a trip to the store. I’ll get one of my kids to go with me to do whatever is on my list of things to do. It’s not about having another hand for the project/task, it’s about the time and connection of just being together.
  5. Work isn’t lethal.
    • Work ethic is a wonderful thing; Entitlement is not. I believe when we foster a good work ethic, we’re set our children up for success.
  6. Work to find a connection. 
    • Don’t allow a mentality of “my kid are too different” prevent you from discovering a way to connect. Ethan doesn’t like most sports (which breaks my heart) and he isn’t the most active kid. But I decided years ago we’d “try” a number of things and see what sticks. Going action movies stuck. Going to hockey games stuck. Going hiking (which I’ve never done before) stuck.
  7. Physical touch is healthier than you realize.
    • UCLA did a study that says every human being needs 8-10 meaningful touches a day. I love hugging my kids randomly. When I encourage them, I’ll do a little side-hug. Sometimes, I’ll walk up behind them and put my hands on their shoulders to ask them about their day. Appropriate physical touch helps them to not go looking for it in inappropriate ways.
  8. My marriage is more important than they are. 
    • I always have a panicky parent contact me after I say or blog about this. Statement like this don’t mean we don’t care for our kids. But they NEED to see your marriage as a priority. It sets them up for a healthy marriage.
  9. Value their interests. 
    • As much as sports/competition are important to me, I cannot force that upon my children. In the same breath, I cannot allow my unfamiliarity of their interests to make me apathetic or unfeeling to them. When you pull your attention away from what’s important to your child, you’re not rejecting the activity, you’re rejecting the child.
  10. Effort and commitment > achievement.
    • I’m not a “give a medal to all of the kids” type of parent. But my being proud of my kids isn’t based upon a grade nor an achievement. Making effort and following through on commitment is what we ask of them. The rest is gravy.
  11. Position other voices of authority.
    • My kids need other voices in their lives. For that reason, I really didn’t want to coach my kids as I wanted them to have other voices of authority besides mine. If I did, I wanted to serve under a “head coach” as to make sure the kids saw someone else in authority over them (and me). I will be eternally grateful for those Kids Pastors, Youth Pastors, small group teachers, and youth leaders who’ve poured into my kids.
  12. Have a united front.
    • Anne and I disagree on a variety of things. We’ve disagreed in front of our kids but not on major issues. We work hard to make sure that our kids see a united couple when it comes to the big decisions. We also work hard to support each other when one of us isn’t around.
  13. Seek and value their input.
    • I don’t ask my kids input to pander to them. I legitimately want to know they’re opinion on a number of subjects. Let them own some decisions for the home even on stuff that they don’t necessarily care about. To me, it’s not about the actual decision as much as what the process does: helps them to know that they are a valued member of the home.
  14. Every event is a learning opportunity. 
    • When my kids are processing things, they don’t always deal with them appropriately. So when things “cool down” we have a “sit down.” I usually sit on the edge of their bed and we walk through what happened and I ask the question, “what did you learn?” I want to know, now that everything is over, what they could have done better to handle things. If they own their issues, they’ll own the growth that’ll come from them.
  15. Discipleship is my responsibility. 
    • I pour out from what is being poured into me. As much as I love the Godly voices in my kid’s lives, it should be in addition to what I am doing, not supplementing what I’m not doing.

As always, I look to the words of Paul who said,

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. Philippians 3:12

I’m still working on these as well as learning new lessons for later lists. I’m still striving to be the example they need. I know my parenting will never stop, but I want to make the most of every opportunity I have with them.

I love you Ethan. My heart is for you to be a much greater man of God than I could have ever dreamed for you to be. Thanks for being you. Thanks for your patience with me. Thanks for being such a great son.

 

 

Love all of you parents out there. I’m cheering for you!!!

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

20 Years of Ministry, 20 Lessons I’ve Learned, and So Much More to Grasp

This week marks a monumental week for Anne and myself. 20 years ago, we began this ministry journey together. May 4, 1997 marks our first official day of ministry as pastors (insert Star Wars Day jokes and puns).

I remember pacing the hallway in the office area prior to the service that day. College graduation was just a few days prior and here I was, occupying the office of one of my mentors and stepping out on the platform as the interim youth pastor. The position was in my home church. The congregation knew me as Pastor Hal’s son and now I’m transitioning to “Pastor Dave.” The word “nervous” can’t describe the state I was in; “Terrified” is probably a better word. It wasn’t like I was starting a summer job. I was starting my life and career and, yes, I did throw up before the service.

At this point, Anne and I were about 4 weeks from being engaged and a year from being married. She was 19 and I was 21. When we look back, we laugh and say, “seriously, who thought it was a good idea to put us in charge?” Interestingly enough, we said something similar 2 1/2 years later when Cammi was born, “who in the world trusted us to leave the hospital with a baby?”

20 years have gone by. So I thought I’d share a lesson for each year we’ve traveled this amazingly terrifying and joyful journey

  1. Obedience > Position
    • The “call of God” is not about the position you attain but the obedience you follow. Everybody wants to be king but nobody wants to be a shepherd first.
  2. I need to be “me.” There’s two sides to this coin:
    • I can’t be someone else; I have to be who God made me.
    • I need to continually submit who I am to God for Him to shape me.
  3. Check your zipper before every speaking opportunity.
    • It’s about paying attention to the details in life. The last thing Anne says to me before EVERY ministry opportunity. BTW: The last time she wasn’t there for a speaking engagement, well, I didn’t check and, well…
  4. Rest and recreation are not overrated.
    • As someone who has experienced two major emotional crashes in 20 years, you cannot underestimate or downplay rest AND recreation.
  5. Don’t skip “tent time.” 
    • I liken this to Moses going to the Tabernacle to hear from God. Nothing can replace a lifestyle of prayer. I believe having “prayer times,” but if you regulate prayer to just moments instead of a lifestyle, you’ll miss out on amazing opportunities.
  6. Learning is not a “season” but a “lifestyle.”
    • Every lesson I learn is like following the “white rabbit”; there’s a deeper experience waiting for it if I am willing to open my eyes and follow.
  7. Ministry is shallow if my marriage and family isn’t the priority.
    • If I’m healthy at home, I can be healthy in my role. The congregation needs me to prioritize my marriage and family to position me for ministerial health.
  8. My children have permission to interrupt. 
    • For their entire lives, my two kids (17 and 14) have had to share their parents with hundreds of people.  Yet, Anne and I have made it our goal to make sure that they know that they are the most important people in our lives. What they have to say is important because THEY are important.
  9. Never say, “I’ve heard it all.” 
    • You’ll set yourself up for a rude awaking. I can write a book just on the most unexpected, off the wall, moments from weddings, funerals, services, etc.
  10. Covering your hurts and short-comings never helped anyone (including you). 
    • My struggles and failures have been some of the greatest bridges into people’s lives to convey the Gospel.
  11. Misery love company.
    • I’ve discovered that it is easy to find pastors to complain to but few to celebrate with. Start “belly aching” and you can draw enough people around you to make you feel justified in your fracture. I have to decide, daily, to fix my face like flint in gratitude and joy.
  12. Look at life and lighten up. 
    • My wife says that my daughter and I find the “funny” in life. I think that’s because we look for it. Selah (stop, pause, and think on that).
  13. Finding friends to celebrate with is worth more than gold.
    • Finding people who will celebrate WITH you without jealousy or pessimism, well, that’s not as easy to find. I have a few minister friends who I can call just to celebrate the goodness of God. That has been a life-line to me.
  14. Knock before entering hospital rooms. 
    • When you walk in on someone on a portable toilet, well, it’ll change the course of that hospital visit.
  15. Treat people in a manner you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of things.
    • I would rather be known for showing “too much” grace than not enough.
  16. Other people are not like me.
    • Different doesn’t mean wrong. It’s not easy to navigate differences, but if Jesus only worked with people like him, we’d all be sunk.
  17. Disappointment cannot be avoided, but I can prepare my heart for how I will navigate through them.
    • It’s not being pessimistic about what you are going to face, but it’s knowing that you can face everything with Christ.
  18. The change I need may not be the change I want.
    • Sometimes, well most of the time, when you want to see change in your congregation, God wants to start with you. And usually God wants to bring change that exists outside of your comfort zone.
  19. Paul, Timothy, Barnabas is a model to live by.
    • Have a Paul (mentor), find a Timothy (someone to disciple), and be a Barnabas (peer encourager).
  20. Don’t spend so much time building your empire that you miss out on the Kingdom.
    • Don’t be a diva where your church community revolves around your personality and preferences. Center it around Christ. Disciple people to hear from the Holy Spirit and equip them to do ministry. A successful tenure at a church centered around the Kingdom being build and not your brand.

A few decades down and with the help of the Holy Spirit and some good coffee, there will be 3 or 4 more to go.

Love you all. Praying for you.

Encourage Effort.
Celebrate Progress.
Feed Hope.

Thanks for letting me ramble for 20 years…

BTW, I wrote a book of my marriage blogs. If you’d like to buy a copy, click on the image.

Happy Birthday to My Little Sister: 10 Lessons Rachael Has Taught Me

It’s St. Patricks Day.

And, although it means many things to many people, it’s always marked the day my sister Rachael was born. I won’t say her age, but being born March 17, 1979 will put you in your late-30’s.

So I thought, as a tribute to Rach, I’d give you 10 things that she’s taught me.

  1. Necco candies are disgusting. 
    • I was only 3 1/2 when she was born. But I do remember my Grandma Barringer buying me some candy in the candy machine at the hospital. She bought me some Necco. They’ve been around since 1847 and they taste like they’re that old.
  2. You don’t have to share the same personality characteristics to share kindness and comradery. 
    • Rachael and I are, really, not much alike. If you really look at the characteristics of our lives, I can find two things in common: We are hard workers and we are stubborn. Other than that, we are quite different and it’s pretty awesome that way. And honestly, I think that’s been a great thing AND has prepared us for life. If you only have tolerance and kindness for people who are like you, then you really don’t have tolerance and kindness.  It’s helped in teaching us social skills plus has made the atmosphere of our parents home a little spicier for mom and dad to deal with.
  3. A work-ethic cannot be underestimated.
    • We get our work ethic pretty honestly from our parents and grandparents. But I’ve never seen it so prevalent in what my sister has displayed in her life. Talent and abilities can get you only so far. Because without a strong work-ethic, you’ll always have a lid to what you can do. Rach has the combination of both talent and drive.  Nobody pushes themselves harder for her marriage and her family like Rach does. And coupled with her God-given abilities, there’s not limit to what she’ll accomplish.
  4. Generosity is not defined by an action but shown in a lifestyle. 
    • While I’m happy giving a gift card to someone (it’s my lazy way of giving gifts), Rachael puts some sort of meaning behind it. She carries a mindset of expressing value with a gift while also conveying meaning with the message behind the gift. For example, at a recent Christmas, she bought me a Snoopy Sno-cone Maker.  It was a nod to simpler times in our upbringing  as well as the fun moments of our holidays.
  5. Children are a blessing and not an inconvenience. 
    • I’m convinced Rach puts more mileage on her car than most truck drivers put on their semi. Why? Her children are involved in sports, cheer, youth group, etc. and she isn’t about to miss a moment. Whether Hallie, Eli, and Jonah realize it now or not, she’s instilling in them the value of the presence of a parent.
  6. Friendships are to be valued and cultivated. 
    • I have made so many mental notes about the amount of times she talks about her friends that she has been in school with and those she works with. Although I am a natural introvert, Rach is a natural extrovert. But she doesn’t just want people around her, she brings value to the people in her life. Rachael legitimately looks for ways to add encouragement and joy to the people connected to her. 
  7. Velvet steel is a way to live
    • What do I mean by that? It means if you brush up against her, you sense a softness and compassion about her. Try to run her over, you’re gonna get hurt.
  8. You’re never too old to get in a punching fight with your brother.
    • Seriously, sometimes we act like children when we’re together.
  9. Brokenness is a place we all visit but it’s not a place we live. 
    • We are all proof that sometimes “life happens.” Rachael is proof that we don’t have to live as a causality of “life” but as a overcomer to what we face. And for that, I’ll always be proud of her.
  10. Love never fails.
    • Like 1 Corinthians 13 says, “without love, we are a clanging cymbal.” And as opposite as we are, and as much as we have fought over the years, there is one unmistakable truth: She may not agree with me or see eye-to-eye, but I know she loves me and I love her. Imagine if we lived that way in our marriages and in our communities. THAT type of love will change the world.

Love you Rach. Have a great birthday. And hope when others read this blog, they’re see the amazing woman you’ve become and learn from you just as much as I have these past 30-something years (2017 subtracted from 1979).

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

 

 

 

 

Pastoral Mentors: My Thank You to Joel and Donna Stocker

One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever been taught as a believer and minister is summed up in one line:

“The enemy works in isolation; God works in community.”

…and that lesson came from Joel and Donna Stocker.

This past Sunday, two of the greatest mentors in my life announced their 2017 retirement to the congregation of Christian Celebration Center (CCC) in Midland, MI. I know that I’ve been expecting it, but it has kind of hit me a bit harder than I thought. I mean, he’s still just a phone call away and, yet, it is an end of an era for a church community that is very near and dear to my heart. They are my Midland family. And Joel and Donna are spiritual parents to me (I can’t even type that without tearing up…I love them so much).

Since finding out the news yesterday afternoon, I’ve gotten my journal out and began to write down some thoughts.  Why? When they hired me and Anne, they hired two broken people. We were passionate about ministry but we were hurting in ministry.  The Stockers helped lead us into not just healing but into healthy ministry.

Now I sit in my normal coffeehouse location desiring to do two things:

  1. Give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7). I think we can honor someone while completely giving God all the glory. That which you see in Joel and Donna is only because of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Freely give you what I received from the Stockers (Matthew 10:8).

So, for the 30 years they’ve served CCC, I give you 30 lessons they’ve taught me.

  1. Authenticity from the pulpit is necessary. The people need to know that the pastor struggles too.
  2. Laugher isn’t optional in life; if you don’t have any laughter happening, you probably don’t have Jesus in your life.
  3. Having a mic near the pastor’s wife during the service can be a good thing…maybe even dangerous. 🙂
  4. Share your tears. Be willing to shed tears with others that are struggling.
  5. It’s okay to be broken, just don’t stay that way.
  6. Embrace change and be fearless about it. Joel doesn’t seem like he changes much but the man embraces the necessity of change.
  7. Bless the people who leave the church you pastor.
  8. Shut off your mic on the way to the bathroom.
  9. Have a “preaching series vision” for the foreseeable future.
  10. Next generation ministry is of the greatest importance.
  11. When people are hacked over little changes, there’s normally other issues at hand.
  12. Never say “my ministry” or “my congregation” because none of it belongs to you.
  13. It’s mandatory for staff to be in the worship center 15 prior to and after service  to greet and connect with people.
  14. More can be accomplished over “breaking bread” than more meetings.
  15. Board meetings should be cut short for sports playoff games.
  16. For those who keep you at arm’s length, if you work hard for the relationship, they’ll be the best and deepest spiritual/relational connections.
  17. Our successes do not qualify us; it is the Lord who qualifies us.
  18. The out-going message on your voicemail must sound cheerful (he made me re-listen to mine 5 times to make sure I changed it).
  19. Every staff member has a voice and is as much of a pastor as the other. As a youth pastor, I felt as much of a minister as all of the others.
  20. Missions shouldn’t be something the church does. It’s who we are.
  21. Programs are great unless they’re unfruitful. Don’t do them just because you’ve always done them.
  22. Staff is like family; you’ll laugh, shout, glare, argue, encourage, and pray consistently with them.
  23. “My door is always open to you,” is more than a nice sentiment; it was the truth.
  24. Taking a day off isn’t optional. Rest is mandatory.
  25. Regardless of who you are in the church, everyone needs help and don’t be too prideful to ask.
  26. Splitting wood at the Stocker’s home is a staff unifying project (for which I’ve never seen Leon at).
  27. There’s no such thing as too much ice in a glass.
  28. “E-Events” means “Everybody on staff better be there.”
  29. When someone is not serving God, they’re “working on their testimony.” This keeps our vision for seeing the lost come to faith in Christ.
  30. Longevity isn’t necessarily the goal. Faithfulness and obedience to the Holy Spirit is. 30 years come, not from perfection of humanity but in trusting the Lord and leaning not to your own understanding.

Thanks for all you’ve done and for equipping me to minister at Kfirst and ramble on the “blog-osphere.”

I love you both. And I know I’ll have to have Ronda print this out to you as you are not on social media. But what you poured into me and Anne, we cannot help but pour that into the people around us.

Who Didn’t Warn Me? 10 Things I Didn’t Totally Realize Before I Got Married

I can’t say “nobody” told me about these things. But I can truthfully say that I may not have heard everything that was said to me in the barrage of life that was hitting. I wrapped up my internship, accepted my first pastoral position, went through 6 weeks of sickness, oh, and got ready for my wedding. So, yeah, life was busy.

For Anne and myself, our wedding was the finale to singleness. It was a goodbye to a year-long engagement (long engagements suck; the waiting, the temptation, the stress…). So the drive from our reception brought this sense of relief. It was like a 3-year weight (length of our dating) lifted off our shoulders. I think we physically walked taller with everything behind us.

I didn’t have to drive her home at the end of the day. We didn’t have to worry about sexual temptation between us anymore (praise God). It was just us and our honeymoon. Life was good.

I would say that it hit us 24 hours after we got back from the honeymoon. Our two worlds of every day, normal living would collide. It was that reality check that told us: the wedding wasn’t the finale, it was the launch. I know somebody probably told me that, but the reality of that didn’t sink in.

Marriage is designed for the long-haul. And part of that difficult and wonderful journey is becoming a student of your spouse, learning to serve without expectations, and constantly remaining teachable.  So in that vein of thought, I asked myself: What are some of the lessons that, I feel, nobody warned me about (or that I took for granted):

  1. You see a partial view of who they really are when you are dating.
    • When you are in the dating mode, you conceal some things. I’m not saying you are being fake; you’re trying to put your best foot forward. It’s why I’ll warn people about the person they’re dating. If it doesn’t seem like they’re even trying to make a good (or truthful) impression upon you, what is awaiting for you in marriage will severely disappoint you.
  2. I’m harder to live with than I realize.
    • I’m used to me. I had lived with me and my way of living for 22 years. So she must be the problem right? I took for granted how drastically different our upbringing was, the daily habits we observed, and the schedule we desired to keep.
  3. Fighting if handled correctly, can actually help bring us together. 
    • I knew we would fight. I just didn’t understand that it would be one of the greatest unifiers in our marriage. But the unifying component depends upon the intent of the conflict. Are you after the win for you? Or are you after the win for the marriage? The goal of resolution creates humility, forgiveness, healing, and growth.
  4. Quality time trumps quantity of time.  
    • I’ve been moving away from the word “balance” in a number of ways. And this falls into that. Anne and I chased after the balance of time.  The church gets “this” much time, the marriage gets “that” much time and so on. Trying to keep everything “even” was exhausting PLUS didn’t feel like it was balanced out. We changed mentalities to embrace quality and concentrated over quantity and diluted. Then there’s the question of what defines “quality time.” That’s for another blog.
  5. We need to forgive more often (amount) than we anticipate and more (depth) than we realized.
    • You didn’t marry the “perfect person” and neither did your spouse. The dating and honeymoon period tends to shroud the brokeness the two of you brought into the marriage. The reality of living together 24/7 reveals it. Don’t let forgiveness get old; practice it often in the same why Christ has given it to you.
  6. Fun is a relative word.  
    • Couples take for granted leisure activities and that is a HUGE mistake. It’s hard to tell you the amount of times Anne said, “are you going to watch the entire football game?” She knew what I like. I knew what she liked. We just took for granted the levels of dedication we had to what we considered “fun.” We had to learn that it was okay to enjoy things together AND things apart. Both are necessary.
  7. Temptation doesn’t stop; it takes on new forms.
    • We were virgins when we got married. So the temptation during that year of engagement was intense. And just because we were married, it didn’t eliminate temptation. The Enemy just targeted us differently. If anything, the greatest temptation we’ve face is the propensity to put “self” first before our spouse. It’s real. It’s an everyday battle.
  8. Sex is more than what society emphasizes AND more important than we realized. 
    • This is the one need that your spouse is equipped to meet that nobody outside of your marriage can provide. Yet our over-sexed media sweeps in to steer us toward dissatisfaction. From commercials to the movies we ingest, our culture constantly seeds false senses of expectations and air-brushed comparisons. Thus the reason why there is an importance of a consistent marital sex and a constant guard of our eyes/minds.   Sexual frequency fights frustrations; serving each other fuels sexual success.
  9. You will say, “I didn’t sign up for this!”
    • We’ve all been there (and quite possibly, visit again). These are the moments that catch us off guard and make us want to throw something at the pastor who did our premarital counseling. I feel we just take for granted the amount of work marriage is mixed with the blending of two people and all of the baggage that comes with it. Simply said: Marriage is tough. It is extremely hard to get your marriage to some place of health AND then try to keep yourself there.
  10. We didn’t realize how realize how much Matthew 22:36-40 would help us.
    • Saved the best for last. Putting Christ first in our relationship helped prioritize the necessity of our relationships. We discovered the love of God and experienced His grace it helps us to live it out to one another. The joy, patience, forgiveness, etc. is all a spillover from what we receive from our relationship with God.

Love you all. I’m sure this list could/should be longer. But there’s so much here already that I pray you might see something that could challenge you to step into a place of humility and teachability. And that’s a place where change is fostered.

 

Blessings.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Anniversary Blog for My Parents: 43 Lessons They Taught Me About Ministry

There’s a lot of who I am that is certainly what God has shaped through His presence while using my own personality. And there’s also a tremendous amount of ministry philosophy and practics that were modeled by (IMO) the greatest ministry mentors a pastor could have: my parents.

Don’t get me wrong, as they’ll tell you, they are by no means the model of pastoral perfection (never met the “perfect pastor”), but their ability to stay humble and keep Christ at their center for 43 years is astounding.

Of the plethora of lessons I’ve learned from them, ministry has been a major theme they’ve mentored me in since they stepped into ministry in the mid 80’s.

Here’s one lesson they’ve taught me for every year they’ve been married:

  1. The recognition of what God is doing is greater than my need to be recognized.
  2. What people see on Sunday should be the spill-over of what is happening in my life throughout the week.
  3. Check your zipper before you step onto the platform.
  4. Ministry is a calling you live and not a job you attend (24/7).
  5. There is no ministry that is “too below me” to do.
  6. The Word is priority in your private life; you cannot draw out of a dry well.
  7. Longevity in your position is both a goal and a challenge.
  8. Jesus is our priority; the methods are not.
  9. Pulpits are built upon relationship and not on stages.
  10. Sermon illustrations that border on the ridiculous stick longer in the memory of the listener.
  11. A healthy church is a missions church.
  12. Authenticity isn’t an option.
  13. If you play a biblical character on stage, make sure your “tunic” is long enough to keep the production PG.
  14. Finding what brings you rest and recovery is of high priority.
  15. People will remember who you were more than what you preached.
  16. Ministry has the potential to be a lonely place; strive to live in community.
  17. Opening up a mic for people sharing stories at funerals can be a “powder keg.”
  18. What you expect in others, do yourself.
  19. Towels are more important than titles (referring to Jesus washing the feet of the disciples).
  20. You are husband first, dad second, and pastor third (in that order).
  21. You can never stop being teachable.
  22. Don’t sing/preach with a cough drop in your mouth in an effort keep your throat from getting dry. #ChokingMoments
  23. Expect the unexpected. Never say, “I’ve seen/heard it all” as something else will come your way that will take you off guard.
  24. If you don’t know how to laugh with people, you’re going to be a miserable person.
  25. The best messages birthed in prayer and illustrated from life experiences.
  26. Your integrity is relational currency.
  27. If you’re going to fault too far in anything, fault in generosity.
  28. Being asked to do a funeral is of the highest privilege.
  29. Crowns belong at the feet of Jesus and not upon our heads for people to see.
  30. Always say, “it’s a glorious ministry” because it doesn’t always feel that way.
  31. Your children’s events are of the greatest importance.
  32. Adaptability is a necessary skill-set as you will be asked/expected to do things you never were trained to do.
  33. Unity is of extreme importance as it brings the commanded blessing of God (Psalm 133).
  34. Nothing easy about pastoring. You will have moments where you will imagine yourself NOT in ministry.
  35. Close friends in ministry are of extreme importance.
  36. There’s no such thing as “part-time ministry” even though you are working “part-time” at the church.
  37. Be the type of pastor who is know for your encouragement instead of your criticism.
  38. Humility trumps pride. Be humble enough to admit shortcomings and mistakes.
  39. Comfort zones can constrain what God wants to do. Be willing to be stretched.
  40. Empowering others is better than doing everything yourself.
  41. Don’t limit “altars” to the front of the platform. Our response to a message goes beyond the church doors.
  42. See through people’s eyes before you judge their actions.
  43. Show the same level of forgiveness that Christ showed you.

To my parents, who are celebrating 43 years together, I say congrats.  I love you more than you’ll ever comprehend.

Thanks for letting me ramble for the past 40 years and 9 months…