Archive for Grace

Apologize? But I Didn’t Do Anything!!

My wife was mad…at me. She was made at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately, that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening. As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse the situation grew.

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses, no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed, we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to give.

I learned something important from this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.

  • Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
  • When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
  • My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
  • Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)

When we make a sincere apology, we remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.

A Powerful Sacred Pause

My friend stood at an ATM machine getting money when someone walked up behind her and began to “grope her.” She was furious. Being an independent strong woman, she turned around and hit him with her purse in one smooth movement. He fell to the ground. She prepared to tell him off when he held up his red and white cane saying, “Wait…I’m blind. I was trying to find the ATM machine.” Now, my friend, being a kind and compassionate woman, suddenly felt guilty for having decked a blind man. She apologized and helped him up. What changed? Her perspective of the situation changed. She went from thinking someone was trying to take advantage of her to thinking someone was in need due to physical challenges. How many times does this happen in marriage (perhaps to a lesser extent and with no physical attacks I mean)?

  • You walk into the house and say “hi” to your spouse. He ignores you. As your irritation swell up and you get ready to yell, you realize he is on the phone. He looks your direction and smiles as he mouths, “I love you.” In a moment, your realization meets his smile and your irritation turns to joy.
  • You and your spouse are having a discussion in the kitchen while you cook dinner. As you look at the pan stirring noodles, you hear your spouse say, “That was stupid.”   Thinking you were called “stupid,” you look up to complain. Your spouse is standing over a jar of spaghetti sauce with sauce dripping down her shirt. She smiles, “I forgot it was already opened.” Anger turns to laughter. 
  • You walk into the kitchen to find the sink full of dishes. Frustrated, you begin to rinse them and slam them into the dishwasher. When your spouse walks into the room you say sarcastically, “Thanks for cleaning the kitchen.” Your spouse apologizes and explains that the children have been sick and throwing up all day. You notice the stain of vomit on her shirt. Anger becomes compassion as you give her a hug.

In each situation the only thing that changed was the perspective of the situation. Sometimes we need to take a breath before reacting. We need to take a sacred pause, to slow down and practice a little patience before we explode. The sacred pause allows us look to our spouse and ask a few questions, find out more about the situation, and learn more about what’s happening from their point of view. That sacred pause, that moment of patience, can turn anger into compassion or frustration into joy. That sacred pause can save your marriage.

This Is Your Brain On Kindness

What can we learn about kindness from 36  studies and 1,150 fMRIs gathered over a 10-year period from people making kind decisions? Psychologists at the University of Sussex can answer that question. They analyzed the research of those 36 studies and split the acts of kindness into two categories: strategic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness gained a personal benefit) and altruistic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness did not gain a personal benefit in return). The research revealed that reward areas of the brain became more active when a person engaged in strategic kindness, kindness with the opportunity for the recipient to “return the favor.”   But wait. The same areas became activated when the person engaged in acts of kindness with no hope of a “return favor.” There was no hope for personal benefit in the act of altruistic kindness, but the reward centers of the brain still became more active. So, whether one engaged in strategic kindness or altruistic kindness, the reward centers of the brain became more active. It appears that engaging in deeds of kindness may be its own reward.

But wait. There’s more. (No, it’s not a ‘Chop-o-Matic.’) Activating the brain’s reward center represents the similarity between the two types of kindness. The research revealed a difference as well. In altruistic kindness even more areas of the brain became active. In other words, altruistic kindness did more than activate the reward centers of the brain; altruistic kindness activated even broader regions of the brain. Want to get your children’s brains active? Give them opportunities to engage in acts of kindness.

I realize we can activate the reward centers and other areas of our brain by engaging in any number of activities; but, might I suggest we engage the brains of our children and families by presenting opportunities to engage in kindness as a family. Maybe if we engage the reward centers of our family members’ brains with kindness and relationship, they will be less likely to engage them in harmful ways (like drug use).  And, engaging in kindness sounds like so much more fun! So, engage your brains and the brains of your children. Activate your reward centers. Enjoy the stimulation of your brain’s reward system. Engage in acts of kindness.

(If you’re stuck for ideas, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families or A Family Fun Night to Share Kindness.)

Children Misbehaving? Give Them a Seat

I remember it well. Days of rolling easy as a parent would suddenly come crashing down as our children took a sudden, sharp turn into Crazy Land (I hope they’re not reading this). To make matters worse, we could rarely identify any reason for the sudden shift in behavior…but shift it did! Our kind, caring, well-behaved children suddenly became emotional quagmires of tears, irritability, and demands. Minor acts of defiance often followed. Entitlement and selfish expectations increased.  The change was mysterious, a painstaking step off a cliff into an abyss of emotional turmoil. Even though they would push us away at these times, we knew they needed us to pull them closer. Although they would push against the limits, we knew they needed us to reinforce the limits with kind firmness. In other words, they needed us to give them a S.E.A.T.


  • Set the limits. Restate the limits with kind firmness. Remain polite, but don’t cave. Don’t give in. Children need limits, especially when they seem to be melting down. Give them the gift of security by restating and maintaining firm limits in a manner that reveals your own self-control and confidence as a parent (even if you don’t feel it at the moment). They need the strength of your confidence and self-control, the power of your composure during the chaos of limit setting to help them learn how to manage their own emotions as they mature.
  • Empathize with your children. You can empathize with your children’s frustration over the limit (“You’re really upset that I told you to turn off your game and set the table. It’s hard to stop playing sometimes but I’d like you to help get the table ready for dinner.”). You can empathize with your children by acknowledging their tears, their frustration, and even their anger. Empathizing is not allowing behaviors. It is simply accepting and understanding the pain they feel. Empathizing with your children allows you to connect with them. Even if they don’t acknowledge the connection, know you have connected through empathy…and that connection increases your credibility in their eyes.
  • Accept their emotions. They may get angry. They may break down in tears. They may simply shut down. No matter what, accept their emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are a sign of our shared humanity. They help reveal our priorities. You can set limits with the emotions such as “You can be angry with me, but we don’t hit” or “It’s alright to be upset with me, but you can’t call people names.” Even as you set the limit, accept the emotion and remain present. Let your presence communicate that you are stronger than their emotion. Your children will learn this important lesson: even in the face of scary emotions that make them feel out of control, you are in control. You are a safe haven. You are more powerful than their worst emotions and you will keep them safe.
  • Team up. As you children begin to calm down, reconnect. Hug them. Make sure they know you still love them. Talk about what happened and how they might avoid a similar problem in the future. This may include changes the parent can make, changes the children can make, and changes in communication. In other words, problem solve together. 

As you go through this process with your children you will have given them a S.E.A.T. and the confidence they need to manage their emotions and behaviors better in the future.

Taming the Dragon in Your Marriage…Together

There is a dragon in your house. He rests right between you and your spouse. Don’t worry. It’s not a bad thing. He’s perfectly safe and can even protect your marriage. This dragon has rested between spouses since the beginning of time. Couples used to honor their dragon. They believed love could not live unless their dragon protected it. It was a badge of honor for a married couple to tame the dragon and keep him healthy in the home they built together. Scripture even tells us God owns this pet dragon. It was not until the 19th century that this dragon fell out of vogue. People began to fear it. They began to believe this dragon represented danger to the subdued, secretive emotional life of the family. What if the dragon wasn’t so tame? What if it suddenly went wild, triggered by some threat? After all, there had been incidents in which the docile dragon suddenly went wild, dangerously thrashing about in an uncontrolled fit of anger. Still, these incidents only occurred when something or someone threatened the dragon’s owners or if the owners did not protect the dragon’s sense of safety and security. If the couple cares for the dragon’s home, assuring his sense of security, he remains perfectly safe to have in the house.

This dragon’s name is Jealousy. Jealousy exists when we have a special relationship with someone. He reveals the priority we place on commitment, honesty, and security within our most intimate relationship. In that sense, jealousy remains a sleeping dragon until we experience some threat to our relationship. Something that arouses doubt in our partner’s commitment or honesty or threatens our sense of security in the relationship can make the dragon go wild. At that point, jealousy can feel uncontrollable and inescapable. It can even be tyrannical. “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy” made insecure (Proverbs 27:4). Here’s the thing. Jealousy resides in all our homes. The question becomes: how do we tame jealousy in marriage?  Jealousy remains tame when living in an environment in which he feels safe and secure. So, create an environment of security by doing the following.

  • Learn about your own insecurities. Each of us has our own insecurities that we can cast onto the relationship from time to time. If we view ourselves as unlovable, too fat, not smart enough, not good enough or some other negative epitaph, we are setting the stage for jealousy to go wild. Begin to work on yourself. Unload your own baggage.  Learn to see yourself through the eyes of God. Learn to accept yourself as having many good, lovable traits. Accept that there are areas of growth for all of us and then begin to grow.
  • Build an environment of trust. Follow through on promises. Develop a mindset that seeks to honor your spouse. Focus on and admire those qualities that endear you to your spouse. Verbalize your admiration and gratitude often.
  • Celebrate your love. Create a daily ritual in which you sit down with your spouse to share your daily joys, successes, sorrows, and shortcomings.  Create a weekly ritual in which you share a date with your spouse. You can go out or can stay in for this date. Either way, dedicate the time of the date to your spouse—no cell-phone, no interruptions…just you and your spouse.

These three practices will help you tame the dragon together…and enjoy your love.

Kindness: An Endangered Species

I want to put a new species on the endangered species list. It’s not what you think, but I have considered the criteria. To become listed on the endangered species list, a species “must be determined to be endangered or threatened because of any of the following factors:

  • The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • Disease or predation;
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
  • Other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.”

We have an endangered species that threatens to destroy our family ecosystem. What is the endangered species? Kindness. Wait, hear me out. Kindness meets the criteria.

  • Kindness is threatened in our society. It’s habitat is slowly being replaced by an environment filled with rude words, a lack of politeness, and the presence of hate groups in the media. The concept of kindness has been slandered as ineffective in helping one succeed in life (“it’s a dog eat dog world” after all) and the domain of the insincere trying to manipulate the naïve. I once pulled over to help a young lady whose car had broken down. She hid behind her car, afraid that my kindness was a ruse for some dreadful behavior. The habitat of kindness is threatened.
  • Some businesses have overutilized kindness for commercial reasons. They use kindness to win the client, make the sale, or appease the angry customer. In other words, kindness has become a tool, a means to selfish ends. This is not true everywhere; but it has proven true often enough to raise our suspicions when we experience kindness. Even the kind stranger is suspect in our eyes as we wait for him to become the beggar asking alms.
  • Kindness is threatened by the societal disease of busy-ness and stress also. We constantly remain on the move from one activity to another. Busy-ness leaves no time for kindness. Busy-ness leads to stress and stress threatens kindness.

That’s three of the five areas in which kindness meets the endangered species criteria, and you only need to meet one criterion to make the list. Perhaps you would make a case that kindness is threatened by existing regulatory mechanisms or other manmade factors as well.  But, already, kindness meets the criteria for an endangered species. When kindness becomes endangered, our families suffer. So, what can we do to save kindness? To stabilize the habitat and family ecosystem and empower it to support kindness? Let me make three suggestions.

  • Stop negative speech. This takes work. Stop venting for venting’s sake. Don’t talk about the negatives unless you are doing so to constructively seek an alternative. That means no criticizing without a compassionate solution. No eye rolling. No sighing in exasperation. No grumbling. No putting the other person down, whether talking to them or to someone else. Stop the negative. 
  • Look for the good. Mr. Rogers says to “look for the helpers.” Rabbi Harold Kushner adds, “If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the Soul.” So, in the words of Roy T. Bennett, “Discipline your mind to think positively; to see the good in every situation and look on the best side of every event.”  Then turn the good you see into kindness by verbally acknowledging it, praising it, lifting it up for all to see.
  • Model kindness. Do something kind every day. Hold a door open. Thank a checkout clerk. Give up your seat on the bus. Let the other driver merge. Help a child with homework. Do something kind every day. Kindness is catchy.  In fact, it’s so catchy it just might “go viral.”  But it can’t go viral until someone begins with an act of kindness. Why not start the kindness epidemic in your family today?

It’s Time…for #redeemingFacebook

I recently saw a friend’s post in which he suggested giving up Facebook for Lent. He was frustrated with the constant bickering, criticism, accusation, and harshness on Facebook. I don’t blame him. What we focus on becomes what we see. Focus on things that frustrate, anger, and divide… and you will see more things that frustrate, anger, and divide. And Facebook seems to have a real knack at bringing the negative into greater focus and seduce us into dwelling in the downward cycle of negativity. So, maybe my friend has a good idea. Give up Facebook. In fact, at least one study found that heavy Facebook users reported greater life satisfaction and positive emotions after only a week-long “vacation” from Facebook.

I wonder, though, if we might find an even better solution. Rather than give up Facebook, maybe we can begin #redeemingFacebook for a better end. Why not redeem Facebook to focus on kindness, goodness, and peace? That would change the focus of Facebook invite us to create an upward spiral in which to dwell. How would we redeem Facebook? Let me suggest a few ways.

  • We could begin #redeemingFacebook for kindness. Rather than posting items that showcase actions and words that frustrate or anger us, post items that showcase kindness and compassion.  See someone do a kind deed…post it. Have an especially attentive waitress…post it. Engage in a “random act of kindness”…post your experience. Post items that tell of people sharing, helping, loving, and encouraging.
  • We could start #redeemingFacebook for the acknowledgement of good in the world. For instance, post stories that focus on the “helpers” in times of crisis rather than the perpetrators. Post stories acknowledging the efforts of those striving to serve others in kindness. Post pictures of  beautiful places. Post descriptions of beautiful actions. Post a positive statement about your community or school. Post items praising efforts at improving difficult situation.  
  • Begin #redeemingFacebook for the pursuit of peace. Rather than making posts about controversial, divisive topics, create posts that showcase people coming together in service. Acknowledge those who reach across lines that divide us and intentionally come together in serving one another.  
  • Start #redeemingFacebook for civil, respectful discussions about things over which disagree. We will always find plenty to disagree about. However, we could begin #redeemingFacebook by keeping our posts civil. No name-calling. No accusations. No demeaning one group. Instead, make  posts that communicate a desire to understand a different opinion. Use posts to find and acknowledge the good in one another, even those with whom you disagree. Work hard to discover the positive intent in those who think differently than you.     

Robin S. Sharma is credited with saying: “What you focus on grows, what you think about expands, and what you dwell upon determines your destiny.” What do we want to determine our destiny and the destiny of our children: divisiveness, anger, and hate or kindness, goodness, and peace?  Imagine if the most common posts on Facebook were about kindness, peace, and goodness and the negative posts were the exception, drowned out among all the positive posts of kindness, goodness, and peace. I don’t know if it can happen, but we can begin by #redeemingFacebook. I’m going to do my part. Let’s start a #redeemingFacebook campaign. Will you join me in #redeemingFacebook?

Expectations, Skills, & a Happy Marriage

What are your expectations in marriage? If your expectations are unrealistic, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The “lived happily ever after” expectation just doesn’t really work out that well. We all have our down times. Nor does the “you complete me” mentality make for a happy marriage. In the long run, we need to become complete as individuals before we can find true happiness with a marriage partner. (Read “You Complete Me” Kills a Marriage for more.)

On the other hand, having low expectations will also lead to a less satisfying marriage. After all, if a person has low expectations for their marriage, how hard will they work to make their marriage better? A long-term satisfying marriage requires investment. Healthy expectations for your marriage will lead to a greater investment in your marriage. Think of it in terms of money. If I thought hard work would profit me five dollars, I’d only work hard enough for five dollars. However, if believe hard work would lead to a thousand dollars, I’d put in a little more time and effort. Low expectations lead to less investment which leads to a less satisfying marriage.  So, what are healthy expectations for a marriage? Here are a few. After you read them over, consider what you would want to add to the list.  

  • Long-term commitment.
  • Verbal affection.
  • Physical closeness.
  • Honor and respect for one another.
  • Consideration for one another.
  • Quality time together.
  • Acceptance.
  • Honest sharing.
  • Open communication.

A happy marriage takes more than healthy expectations though. A happy, satisfying marriage requires the skills to build those expectations, to create an environment in which those expectations might become reality. In other words, a happy marriage requires the relationship skills and problem-solving skills needed to make healthy expectations a reality. (Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst?) Perhaps some of the most important skills needed to create a happy marriage include the skills of listening, resolving conflict, compromising, negotiating, and honoring one another. Take the time to improve in those skills every year…your marriage will thank you for it!

The Sacred Moment In Every Conversation

Our families, our marriage, and our children are flooded with information today. TV’s, computers, smart phones, Ipads, social media, 24-hour news…they all throw information our direction faster than…you fill in the blank. With so much information spoken “at us,” it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.  In fact, we jump into conversation with our spouse and family midsentence with a “yeah, but….” Or, we talk over one another, each one talking louder than the last in an attempt to be heard. Once we have the floor, we don’t stop speaking…no breath, no pause, just tell all as quickly as possible and keep it going in an unending filibuster. Throughout the process, each person becomes defensive. The initial topic often gets lost in our ever more emphatic arguments. Each person grows more possessive of “my time” to speak. And…we lose the sacred moment every conversation needs to bring connection between those involved. The sacred moment in every conversation is the pause, that moment of silence between two speakers. The sacred moment means one person has finished speaking for the moment and the other person has received the opportunity to speak. There is no “yeah, but,” no interruption, no filibuster in the sacred moment…just a sacred moment of silence between speakers. Still, the sacred moment provides so much more than mere silence between speakers.

  1. The sacred moment confers appreciation to the listener for patiently waiting their turn to speak.
  2. The sacred moment means the speaker respects the listener enough to pass them the baton of speech, the opportunity to talk.
  3. The sacred moment also respects the speaker by providing an occasion for the listener to think about what was said, to really consider the speaker’s point of view.
  4. The sacred moment allows both parties to confirm mutual understanding about what was already spoken.
  5. The sacred moment grants the time needed to consider areas of agreement before jumping into a defensive posture.
  6. The sacred moment allows all parties to remain calm, to breathe life into themselves and the conversation, to maintain composure and an attitude of affection.

Appreciation, respect, mutual understanding, agreement, composure, and affection all in a single sacred moment. Amazingly, that moment remains very short, a simple pause between two people engaged in mutual understanding as the baton of speech is handed from one person to another. But that sacred moment can save a conversation and a relationship! Don’t you think it’s time we start practicing the sacred moment, the most important moment in any conversation, today?

The Massacre In Our Home Town

Saturday, October 27, 2018, it happened here…a mass shooting…a horrific exhibition of hate…in a place of worship no less. The New York Times described this shooting as “among the deadliest against the Jewish community in the United States.” Tears filled my eyes as the rabbis spoke during the memorial service Sunday (I didn’t get to attend but saw televised portions of the service…and even that brought tears). Pittsburgh is a city of neighbors, ethnic celebration, & Mr. Rogers; yet such hate, an incomprehensible hate, is present as well. Making it even more insidious, this shooting occurred in a place of worship. As one Jewish commentator noted, choosing to carry out this heinous crime in any place of worship “commits the maximum emotional devastation…striking at the very heart of the spiritual fabric of the community. Houses of God are sources of inspiration for good. They are the foundations of civility, of respect, of the dissemination of values which make possible human survival.” Bringing vile hate into such a sacred space is abhorrent!

We heed Mr. Rogers’ words to “look for the helpers” whenever catastrophe strikes. And, we have seen the helpers arise. People have spoken of the bravery of the response team. Students from Allderdice HS came together to initiate a memorial the day of the event.  Flowers and tokens of support pile up near the site of the catastrophe. The Islamic Center has raised $70,000 (at last count) to support the families of the victims. The list of helpers continues.  “The helpers” have risen to support, comfort, “stand with,” and share in everyone’s mourning. The outrage against hate has been voiced. The helpers have shown up. But what about next week?  What will happen next week? How will we, not just in Pittsburgh but across our nation, begin to address the hate and replace it with love and peace? Dr. Yvet Alt Miller suggests, among other things, that we respond by doing good deeds and finding ways of bringing more good into the world, to speak out against hatred, to “let our charity, our prayers, our mitzvot, our acts of kindness bring light into the world.” All great ideas.  We can’t continue life as usual. We must make changes…not just today or this week but over the next months and years!

My daughter once asked me why I don’t “do more” social activist activities like marches and protests. I told her I write and teach. The Honor Grace Celebrate website and our family workshops are my way of pursuing social change… and I believe they represent a potentially powerful avenue for social change. But how? Why promote honor, grace, and celebration in families? Why encourage families to reflect the love of God?  Because families who practice honor, grace, and celebration can change our society. They will not only experience happier families, they will also bring honor, grace, and celebration into their communities and our nation (Freedom & Family to learn more). When our children celebrate a positive, loving attachment with their parents they are more prone to show kindness to those they disagree with or even hate (Read a fascinating study showing how attachment changes the interaction between divisive groups in Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship). When we teach our children kindness in the family they are more likely to share kindness in the world (Read The Mighty Power of Kindness and Pay It Forward…The Suprising “Rest of the Story” For Your Family). As we promote honor and grace within our families, honor and grace will be shared outside of family (Give It Away for Family Fun will offer an idea to get started). So, I suggest we add to Mr. Rogers’ words about “looking for the helpers.” Don’t just look. Don’t let the helpers show up today and disappear next week or next month because the immediate crisis has ended and emotions have calmed. Instead, let us, as families, commit to developing more helpers, lifetime helpers. Let us teach and encourage those helpers to become active in reaching out in love to their communities…because your family can help change the world! Let’s build families of honor, grace, and celebration to carry the traditions of honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship they experience. Let’s build families who will carry honor, grace, and celebration into every relationship.

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