Archive for Celebration

Teach Your Family the “Hidden” Message of Christmas

Most of us know the Christmas story. Baby Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn. That’s the story; but, hidden in plain sight for all who look more closely, is a deeper message for Christmas…a message not just about “baby Jesus” but about Immanuel.  Immanuel is my favorite Christmas word. It means “God with us.”  I love the truth of Immanuel. Jesus “emptied Himself,” became a man, and dwelt among us. He literally became “God with us” to bring peace between God and man as well as peace among men who truly hear His message.


The message of Immanuel has gotten lost today. We live in a divided world.  Divisions grow stronger as interest groups rally for their personal wants and needs, erecting walls between “us” and any who might disagree with “us.”  Conflict increases as we sequester with like-minded people behind walls of demands for “my” space, “my” needs, and “my” desires.  At the same time, we hide in fear from the travesty of disagreements that might call “my” belief into question. Fear, conflict, and division give rise to battles about “mine” and “theirs” and between “me” and “them.”  In the midst of the growing division, isolation, and conflict God speaks the message of Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” breaks down the barriers and puts an end to isolation. He walks with us, talks with us, eats with us, laughs with us, cries with us…He is “God with us.” He breaks through the fears and speaks the message of peace through Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” bring “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Yes, our barrier-filled world needs to hear the message of Immanuel.

The message of Immanuel, “God with us,” was first spoken through a Baby. Who doesn’t love a baby? Who doesn’t feel a sense of joy and peace in the presence of a baby? Who doesn’t want to come alongside a baby and connect with a baby? Yes, Immanuel spoke His first message of “God with us” as a Baby, a Baby born into an occupied country to poor parents. “God with us,” a baby born to a woman who experienced the pain of being cast out because she appeared to have engaged in activities outside the accepted behaviors of her culture. “God with us,” a Baby worshipped by poor people like shepherds and wealthy people like the “magi from the east.” “God with us,” a Baby who had to flee with His family to escape political persecution and death. “God with us.” Yes, Christmas celebrates “God with us,” all of us. Like us, “God with us” experienced the joys of family and friends. He experienced the pain of persecution and disenfranchisement. He knew the struggles of poverty and the riches of faith. He touched the lives of people in every circle. He is Immanuel, “God with us,” walking with all people…in every walk of life. As our families learn the message of Immanuel, as we come to understand the message of “God with us,” perhaps we will learn to walk with those Immanuel chose to walk with–the outcasts and the accepted ones, the poor and the rich, the joyous and the sorrowful, those in our homes and those outside our homes–for we are representatives of Immanuel. Will you join me in living the message of Immanuel this year?

Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Are you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift? If you are, forget the new shirt or the latest gadget. Research suggests that experiential gifts are more “socially connecting.” They  strengthen relationship more than material gifts. Experiential gifts allow us to experience more intense emotions like adventure, relaxation, or excitement than do material gifts like clothing or the latest coffee maker. Even more, when the experiential gift allows you to engage in the activity with the recipient, you will draw closer together through the emotion of that activity. So, if you want to buy a gift that can enhance intimacy with your spouse or strengthen your bond with your child, try an experiential gift. You will definitely get more memories for your money, more “bang for your buck.” If you’re not sure what to get, here are a few ideas:

  • Tickets to an amusement park
  • Dinner dates. You might try a book of homemade coupons for “one a month.”
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical, or dance.
  • A membership to the museum or the zoo.
  • A date night jar filled within expensive dates and an opportunity to add to the jar.
  • A promise to attend family game night once a month for a year. (Of course, you have to keep that promise.)
  • A carrot, some coal, and a hat so you can run outside this afternoon and make a snow man together.
  • A picnic box with plans for family picnics. 
  • Family dinners.
  • Walking maps for family walks.

You get the idea. Give a gift that will allow you to have an enjoyable experience with your family. You’ll love. They’ll love it. Your relationship will love it!

A Gratitude Turkey to Save the Day

Are you a somewhat shy person, an introvert? You enjoy people, but you’d rather not become the focus of attention at a party or suddenly find yourself having to make some spontaneous, impromptu speech. I know the feeling. BTW, if you are not this person, chances are there is at least one person like this in your family. You can imagine the terror that goes through that person’s mind when their Thanksgiving Day host says, “Let’s go around the table so everyone can tell us what they are grateful for this year.” Suddenly the plan to enjoy a meal and share simple conversation has turned into a whirlwind. Their mind goes blank. They look around the table of 20 people and notice all eyes turned upon them as they search their whirling mind for a word, any word, let alone a word of gratitude.

Well, I just saw a great idea to prevent this trauma and still create the opportunity to share gratitude at the Thanksgiving table. It’s called the Thanksgiving Gratitude Turkey. It takes a little preparation, but I think it is well worth the time. First, make a Styrofoam turkey and some feathers (For instructions click here or use the “basket turkey” in the picture). As your guests arrive, give them a feather and ask them to write one thing they are grateful for on the feather. After they have done that, they can stick the feather into the Styrofoam turkey’s butt…er…I mean, they can place the feather on the turkey’s back. Leave extra feathers on a table in case they want to do more than one. By dinner time your turkey will be full of colorful feathers identifying things for which your guests are grateful. Then, during dinner you, or a willing volunteer, can read some of them aloud.

Another idea, would be to make “gratitude stuffing.” Instead of putting gratitude feathers on a turkey you can write  gratitude on slips of paper and stuff them inside a fake turkey, like the real stuffing in the turkey. Then, at dinner time you can pull them out one by one and read them aloud.  Of course, my wife doesn’t like that idea as much as the gratitude turkey (she likes mashed potatoes more than stuffing too; but I like stuffing more than potatoes…and there is just something about stuffing a turkey with gratitude).  Anyway, my wife rather prefers the idea of colorful turkey feathers decorating a lovely centerpiece filled with statements of gratitude for all to see as they enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I can see her point. Ok. Forget the gratitude stuffing. Stick with the colorful feathers on a gratitude turkey…and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving!

A New Beginning

I had the privilege of witnessing the marriage of a young lady I have watched grow from her childhood years. She has had struggles, no doubt. Those struggles, however, have contributed to her growth as a woman of great integrity, perseverance, compassion, and love. I pray I shared in those years of struggle in a way that helped her grow into the strong, lovely woman she is today.  I am grateful to have walked with her and witnessed her growth.  And, I am grateful to have witnessed her wedding day, a day that marks a new beginning in her life with the one she loves. She has joined her life with a wonderful young man who brings her happiness and joy. I remember meeting him in the “Strip District.” She introduced her then boyfriend to my wife, my daughter, and I with obvious adoration in her eyes. He showed the same adoration for her in his actions toward. It was a short and pleasant introduction, but it felt like a little more. I walked away feeling as though I had witnessed a moment of celebration between them. Their wedding was an even greater moment of celebration, not just for them but for their families and friends as well. We witnessed their like-mindedness in the music we heard. We witnessed their united compassion as they gathered socks for the homeless while celebrating the “bridal sock hop dance.”  We witnessed the beauty of mutual adoration and love that surrounded their every movement and glance.  Each person present witnessed the joy of their love, their warmth and companionship. Truly, this day marked a new beginning in their lives…and I’m am so excited for them. Later, as I contemplated the joy of their wedding celebration and the beauty of their love, a Native American Wedding Prayer came to mind. I offer this prayer for their lives together:

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter to the other.

 

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

 

Now there will be  no loneliness, for each of you will be a companion to the other.

 

Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.

 

Go now to your dwelling place, to enter the days of your togetherness.

 

May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years,

 

And may you days be long and good upon the earth.

Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank

I spoke with a couple about making deposits into the Family Bank of Honor several weeks ago. They went home and put the discussion into practice. They made loving deposits of honor and grace into their Family Bank of Honor. Much to their surprise, these deposits resulted in a major improvement in their relationship. As we talked about their experience, they realized another important aspect of the Family Bank of Honor. When we think of making deposits, we often try to make big deposits…the bigger the better. However, in the Family Bank of Honor even small deposits carry tremendous value. Small deposits are of great value. In the economy of the Family Bank of Honor, even a deposit of one cent is worth a million bucks! Consider a few examples.

  • Greeting one another with a smile seems like a minor thing. But it communicates the joy you feel in the presence of your spouse. It reveals the affection and admiration you have for your spouse. It tells your spouse how much you desire their presence in your life. That’s worth a million bucks.
  • Holding the door for your spouse seems like another penny deposit. But, by arriving at the door first we have established the right to enter first. By holding the door for our spouse, we give up our right and allow them to enter ahead of us. We have placed them ahead of us; we have made them “as more important than ourselves.” That is worth a million bucks.
  • Offering to get your spouse a drink as you get your own drink seems like a minor penny deposit. But that penny deposit informs your spouse that they are on your mind. You are concerned about their needs and their desires. By offering to get them a drink, you have proclaimed that their needs and desires are important to you. You have voiced a willingness to meet those needs and desires. And that is worth a million bucks!
  • Letting your spouse pick the activity or the movie for a night seems like a slightly bigger deposit than those listed above, but still only a nickel deposit. However, this nickel deposit represents a personal sacrifice, a giving up of your desires so you can satisfy the desires of your spouse. It communicates that you value your spouse’s interests as much as (and at times more than) your own. You care so much about your spouse that you are willing to give up your own interests and desires to satisfy your spouse’s interests and desires. That is definitely worth a million bucks.

You get the idea. A simple, inexpensive, penny deposit in the Family Bank of Honor is actually worth a million bucks to your relationship. The more you make these deposits, the richer your marriage will grow in intimacy and health. Now that’s worth a million bucks!

Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness

My daughter says the same thing every time we see an older couple walking hand in hand, talking and laughing, looking into one another’s eyes…looking like they’re on a first date. She looks at me and says, “They’re so cute.” And, they are…but what makes them so cute? What gives them such a glow? A study by Laura VanderDrift in 2011 they are experiencing “self-expansion” in their interactions with one another. No, I don’t mean they have gotten chubbier. I mean that each individual in the relationship has learned how their marital relationship enhances their personal competence and increases the resources they need to make their goals attainable.  They have experienced “self-expansion.” And “self-expansion” has led to greater joy and intimacy in their marriage.

How can you experience the joys of self-expansion in your marriage? Good question. There are at least two ways.

  • One, engage in novel and arousing activities.
  • Two, including another person in one’s sense of self.

Fortunately, your marriage can provide both of these experiences. When you do have these experiences in your marriage you begin to perceive your partner as the best partner, more positive than any other alternative. That’s a good thing. It builds trust and faithfulness to the relationship. So how can you experience self-expansion in your relationship?

  1. Have fun together. Discover those activities you both enjoy and work them into your schedule. If you like to dance, dance. If you like to hike, hike. If you enjoy the movies, go to the movies. And do it together. Engage in those activities that bring mutual enjoyment. When you do, you’ll both experience self-expansion.
  2. Have an adventure. You can also do something new that interests you both. Perhaps you’ve both considered taking a cooking class. Why not do it together? Take a ballroom dance class just for fun and adventure. Go on a trip to a new place. Try camping or hiking. Try a new activity. If you’ve never been to an opera, give it a try. Grab you partner and do something you’ve never done before. The adventure will bring greater self-expansion.
  3. Explore an interest your partner enjoys. Learn about their interests. Engage in those interests with them.

Begin today. Begin making time to enjoy activities with your spouse. You will experience self-expansion and your marriage will experience stronger intimacy and greater health.

Powerful Hints to Build a Happy Marriage

Linda and Charlie Bloom recently wrote an article in Psychology Today describing essential qualities of happy marriages. They came up with seven qualities by interviewing “50 of the happiest couples” they could find. Their conclusions are very insightful…and I wanted to share a short summary of them with you.

  1. Happy couples appreciate the differences between them and their partner. In fact, many of the happy couples managed and enjoyed profound differences between them and their partner. They saw those differences as adding richness to their relationship. As a result, they could appreciate and express gratitude for their differences. (Appreciating your spouse holds other benefits as well. Read A Provocative Secret for a More Satisfying Sex Life to learn of one.)
  2. Happy couples found delight in bringing greater fulfillment and joy into their partner’s life. They did not consider it a sacrifice to promote their partner’s success and joy. Instead, they found it a pleasure to see their partner find fulfillment and success. (Discover how this attitude helps the family in The Lost Art of Sacrifice in the Family.)
  3. Happy couples kept short accounts of wrongs committed. They practiced quick apologies and forgiveness. They effectively and quickly dealt with any disappointments that occurred.
  4. Individuals in a happy marriage take responsibility for their part in any conflict. They do not blame, become defensive, or scapegoat. Instead, they take responsibility for the impact of their actions and words upon their partner. They acknowledge their responsibility and make amends as needed. (Taking responsibility for our actions may involve saying The Hardest Word.)
  5. Happy couples practice honesty. But, rather than practicing “brutal honesty,” they practice sensitive, loving honesty. They remained sensitive to their partner’s feelings and vulnerabilities when expressing their honest thoughts and feelings.
  6. Happy couples maintained a healthy balance between self-care and marital care. Happy couples saw each partner’s health and well-being as inextricably tied to the health and well-being of their marriage. So, they practiced healthy self-care and encouraged their spouse to practice healthy self-care.
  7. Finally, happy couples practiced gratitude on a daily basis. Gratitude seemed to contribute to an optimistic view of their partner and their marriage. Ironically, this optimistic view of their partner and marriage contributed to even more gratitude.

These seven points are excellent ways to keep your marriage strong. Read them over and talk about them with your spouse.  Discuss how you can begin to practice each one in your marriage. Start today. Your partner will love you for it, your marriage will be stronger for it, and you’ll both discover a growing happiness in one another. Who could ask for more?

“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”

You’ve heard songs lament, “You’ve lost that loving feeling….” You’ve probably even heard people you know declare, “I love you; I just don’t feel the love anymore.” That’s great news. Now those “loving feelings” won’t interfere with you revealing your true level of love. After all, true love is a verb, not an emotion. Feelings wax and wane. Emotions come and go. But true love includes more than emotion. True love is a verb that involves decisions and actions. True love engages in loving acts toward the one you love even when the feelings of love weaken or seem nonexistent. Think of those loving actions you engaged in when you first met and began to pursue a relationship.

  • The effort you made to spend time engaged in conversation and getting to know one another.
  • The time spent sharing interests and opinions over a cup of coffee or a meal. 
  • Think about how often you “picked up a little something” you thought “the one you loved” might like and gave it to them when you met. It might have been anything from flowers to a pack of gum to a picture of something you thought they’d enjoy.
  • Recall how often you complimented them on their appearance, their cooking, an achievement, or something they did for another.
  • Remember the times you admired their character as you saw it in action.
  • Think about the simple acts of physical affection like holding hands, sitting snuggled up in one another’s arms, or walking arm in arm.
  • Consider how often you offered to do something nice for them. You might have offered to get them a drink while you were in the kitchen, pick up milk on your way to their apartment, or carry a bag for them while they opened the door.

The acts of love go on. There are many more. Not so surprisingly, engaging in these acts of love reignites those dormant feelings of love.  I fear we often put the cart before the horse when thinking about love. We think loving feelings drive loving actions. While that might be true at times, real growth, real movement toward a stronger marriage, occurs when the horse of loving action drives the cart of loving feelings to a new and better place in our relationship. Of course, the one steering the cart and directing the horse, the coachman, is you and your decision to go in the direction of love. So, if you’re singing the blues (“I’ve lost that loving feeling”), cheer up.  Rejoice in the great opportunity presenting itself to you. Jump in the driver’s seat and take the challenge of driving the horse…eh, I mean, your loving actions. Engage in loving actions, the same type of actions you engaged in when you first “fell in love.” Celebrate the opportunity to reveal your true love in action and the cart of “loving feelings” will follow into an even more beautiful love than ever before.

Another Successful Family Camp On The Books (2018)

Family can be an amazing, joyous celebration…sometimes. At other times family can produce a struggle. After all, family is made up of imperfect people. Still, God can use your family for amazing things. That’s Image may contain: one or more people, pool, swimming and outdoorone of the lessons from Family Camp at Camp Christian this year. Rich Aubrey taught us several things about family. For instance, he showed us how restores through family and blesses through family. He explained how God loves and blesses families, not just traditional nuclear families, but all families. If your family has experienced hardships or losses, don’t worry. God can reshape tragedy within families to create blessings when we turn toward one another and join with one another in facing the challenges of life. Those family blessings continue to grow when we learn to express our power in humble service and accept one another’s influence, to submit to one another in the reverence for Christ. This is all great advice for our families, advice that will strengthen our families. Thank you Rich and Sherri for sharing with us.

 

Great teaching is only part of the experience of Family Camp though. The children play. The adults talk. Whole families join together for activities and meals. Everyone shares. I especially enjoy seeing families in all stages and walks of life coming together to encourage and support one another. It’s a beautiful sight to see the expressions of love between family members and between families…to watch a father fishing with his son, a father teaching his daughter music, a couple walking hand in hand with their children gathered around them, parents offering loving correction and teaching …. These are beautiful sights. Perhaps the most touching moments come when families gather together to worship, to sing and learn about God’s plan for family. Even more amazing is when families actually practice what they learn–giving of themselves to their spouse and children; serving one another by getting a drink, clearing the dishes, or serving the food; or lifting up another family’s need to help them through a hard time. All in all, it gives me great hope.

 

If you have not experienced family at its best, I invite you to Family Camp next year. Terri and Jim Jones organize a wonderful weekend with plenty of free time for family fun and great teachers for encouraging words to strengthen families. They get better every year…so can’t wait to see you there next year!

Communicating As An “Us”

The party was long and I was getting tired; but, I didn’t want to rudely get up and leave. My wife was across the room enjoying a conversation with another guest. When I looked her way, she caught my eye. She made a very subtle motion with her head and changed the expression on her face ever so slightly for a brief second. Then she returned to her conversation. I knew exactly what she had said. I walked over to the table where I could get a drink and carried it over to her. I handed her the drink and said, “Thirsty?” She nodded and took the drink. “Getting kind of late. I’m tired. Are you ready to leave?” A look of relief spread across her face. “Yes,” she replied, “I’m tired too.”  We quickly said our good-byes and headed home. She thanked me for “hearing” her request from across the room and added, “I thought I saw the same in your face.”

I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience in your marriage. The experience of working as a team, of remaining attuned and attentive to one another in a way no one else is. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to learn this crucial skill for a happy marriage. It’s a skill developed and practiced every day in a healthy marriage. Here are some tips to help you get started…or to get even better at it than you already are.

  • Get curious about your spouse. Follow their lead. Learn what they like and don’t like. Learn about their dreams and their fears. Never stop learning. Your spouse will offer new things to learn every day. Get curious and enjoy learning about your spouse. (Develop a “Love Map” with these questions.)
  • Be open & transparent in speaking about what impacts you and how. Talk about your opinions and your feelings. It’s ok to differ in opinion so allow your spouse to know your thoughts.
  • Learn to listen intently—not just for words but for inflection, tone, and cadence as well. Not just with ears but with eyes & touch as well. Listen intently. (Learn the The Gracious Art of Listening.)
  • Turn toward your spouse to work together. Problem solve together. Make compromises. Look for win/win solutions. Function as a team. (RSVP for Intimacy can help you do so.)
  • Develop an identity as a couple. Consider what you like to do together? How do you fit into world as couple? How do you balance couple time with individual time & identity? How can you create overlap? To help you do this, take time to develop a couple’s mission statement. (Include these 6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage in your mission statement.)

Want to have a better relationship, a happier marriage? Begin to practice by communicating a sense of “us” by practicing these tips. Go ahead and get started. You’ll have fun and grow a more intimate relationship along the way!

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