Archive for Celebration

A Quiet Threat to Your Marriage

It can happen so easily, quietly, subtly. We are happily married and enjoying our lives together when the busy-ness of daily life creeps up on us. The rush and pressure of work, children, community activities, and finances encroaches on our lives; and, in the midst of the busy-ness and pressure we take for granted that our spouse loves as and will always be there for us. We forget little niceties, like saying “thank you” or “please.” We fail to greet one another after a day apart and instead remain absorbed in whatever activity—cooking, watching TV, yard work, playing games—has our immediate attention. We become so preoccupied with our own demanding schedule that we neglect to ask about our spouse’s day. All this happens slowly, over time, and without any awareness. But, if left unchecked, each person “suddenly” begins to feel distant, even unloved. Their marriage falls apart as one or both spouses feel unappreciated, unloved, and unimportant to the other.

There is a remedy for this quiet threat. In fact, it is a rather simple fix. It begins with remembering. Remember when love was young and start doing what you did then. Remember when you were dating or even newlyweds? You probably made intentional effort to impress your spouse with your politeness and kindness. You asked them about their day…and listened attentively to their answer. You engaged in even the smallest gestures of affection as often as possible. Remember? Do those things again. Intentionally put in the effort to do the things you did when love was young.

  • Each morning, ask your spouse about their plans for the day.
  • Each evening, talk about your day with your spouse. And listen to your spouse talk of their day.
  • Take 20-minutes each day to talk with one another about your lives as individuals and as a couple and a family. Talk about current events. Talk about your dreams. Talk about your concerns. Talk.
  • Each day, as you go your separate ways AND when you reunite, give one another a genuine hug and kiss. Not a peck on the cheek, a kiss.
  • Each day, look for opportunities to thank your spouse for what they do for you, your children, and your home. Thank them verbally or in writing every chance you get.
  • Each day, verbally acknowledge something you admire or adore about your spouse.

Do each of these simple actions on a daily basis for the next 2 weeks, that’s 14 days. Even in that short time, you’ll begin to see your relationship grow stronger and more intimate. Then, make each of these actions a meaningful, daily ritual of connection with your spouse.  Make them a normal part of your everyday life. As you do, you’ll protect your marriage from the quiet threat of busy-ness and nurture a healthy, happy marriage for a lifetime.

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness, Part 2

In Our Longest Relationship and Our Happiness, we discussed our longest relationship, the relationship with our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly widowed adults. They have known us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground for all kinds of other relationships in our lives. As adults, our siblings can provide guidance and insight as well as fun times and companionship in our lives. To keep those relationships strong in spite of the passage of time and physical distance, practice these tips.

  • Reach out. Take the initiative to reach out to your sibling. Reaching out to your sibling is an expression of love. It communicates how much you value them and their relationship.
  • Share your life with your sibling. Talk about the “happenings” in your life. Share stories about activities, relationships, and interests. Take a deep breath and courageously talk about some of the struggles in your life as well. Share your disappointments and sorrows. People grow closer by sharing themselves with one another.
  • If you do something that hurts your sibling, either knowingly or unknowingly, apologize. See the hurt from their perspective. Apologize and determine not to do it again.
  • When your sibling talks about their struggles and disappointment, don’t try to “fix” it. Simply be available and listen. If they need a professional counselor, they will get one. They need us to be their sibling, a person who will be available, listen, and understand. After you have listened, they may ask for advice. Then you can share ideas and talk about possibilities.
  • If you and your sibling have grown apart over the years but are now reuniting, start slow. Start off with small talk. Avoid touchy subjects. Enjoy memories. Enjoy your different perspectives. It’s alright to have differences. Allow those differences and celebrate them. They may contribute to growth in both you and your sibling.

I do offer one caveat. Sometimes we need to maintain distance and strong boundaries with siblings for our own mental health. There could be a number of reasons for this. It is unfortunate, but the truth for many people. If this is the case in your sibling relationships, I encourage you to maintain those boundaries and continue to grow as an individual. Find good friends who can become your “adopted siblings” and offer you the support you need. Even with your newly formed “friend siblings” you can use the practices above to deepen your relationships for a lifetime.

Our Longest Relationship & Our Happiness

Think for a moment. With whom will you have the longest relationship during your life? No, not our parents—they pass away before becoming the ones to know us the longest. Not even your spouse—we didn’t meet them until we became adults. It’s our siblings. Our siblings know us as children, adolescents, single adults, married adults, and possibly even widowed adults. They know us, and we have known them, for a lifetime. Even more, sibling relationships, beginning in childhood, form a training ground of sorts for learning about all kinds of other relationships in our lives. Is it any wonder, then, that our sibling relationships can make us happier or sadder?

With that in mind, we want to promote positive relationships among siblings when they are children. We want to help our children establish sibling relationships as children that will provide a lifetime of support, encouragement, and guidance. As parents, how can we do that?

  1. Keep your marriage strong. A strong, healthy marriage creates a secure, loving home. When children see their parents in a healthy relationship, they feel safer. They feel greater love and less fear of loss. They can also model their relationship with their siblings after the healthy relationships they see between their parents. Keep your marriage strong.
  2. Avoid favoritism. Each child has unique strengths and interests as well as unique needs and personalities. Love each one. Spend time with each child. Discover their strengths and nurture them. Encourage and support each child in their endeavors. Of course, many children believe “my little brother/sister gets away with everything” and “my older brother/sister gets to do more than me.” I haven’t discovered a way to avoid that perception. In spite of that misperception, you can love your children equally.
  3. Promote family activities. Create opportunities for your family to have fun together. Share ideas, stories, and dreams as you share family meals together. Enjoy family vacations. Schedule fun family outings. Family activities are a wonderful time to develop sibling relationships and to let the whole family express love for one another.
  4. Encourage your children to support one another but also allow them to have their individual lives. This is a bit of a balancing act. It is important for each person to have the opportunity to pursue their individual interests and strengths, their own lives. And it is important for each person to encourage one another in their pursuit of their personal interests. Model doing both in your marriage and in your relationship with your children.
  5. Give your children time to resolve their own disagreements. Sibling disagreements and arguments teach our children important skills. Before stepping in, give them time to work things out on their own.

These four practices will lay the groundwork for sibling relationships that focus on encouraging and supporting one another for a lifetime. They will help your children develop sibling relationships that can bring joy, comfort, and happiness to one another for a lifetime.

But what if you are an adult…how can you continue to nurture a positive relationship with your sibling? And what if you do not have a positive relationship with your sibling? How can you develop a closer relationship with your sibling? Stay tuned for our next blog to get some answers to these questions and more.

The Benefit of Eyes Wide Open

Those who know me well know I can go through the day with my eyes wide shut. I get so caught up in my own thoughts that I never see the world around me. Case in point: my friend once had to point out that a restaurant we frequented had painted their walls burgundy, covering the wall’s previous pastel green color. The food was good either way.

I don’t really mind being oblivious to colors, but I’ve had to learn to keep my eyes wide open when it comes to seeing opportunities for kindness. After all, wall color has little impact on my life. But kindness…. Kindness has the power to increase the physical and emotional well-being of both the giver and the receiver. Kindness holds the power to create greater intimacy with others.  Kindness strengthens relationships and opens the door of happiness in the lives of those around the one sharing kindness. Kindness is a viral warrior that requires me to keep my eyes wide open. How can you and I learn to keep my eyes wide open so I can see and recognize opportunities for kindness? Here are 3 steps to help.

  1. At the start of every day, bring kindness to mind. Get curious about kindness. Ask yourself, “I wonder what opportunities will come my way to show kindness today?” If you struggle to remember to ask this question of yourself, set a reminder on your phone.
  2. Bring kindness to the forefront of your mind throughout the day. In fact, remind yourself five times a day of your goal to see opportunities to share kindness and to act upon those opportunities as they arise. Remind yourself of kindness once at mid-morning, once at lunch, once in mid-afternoon, once at supper time, and once in the evening. Make kindness a common thought, a thought you keep in the forefront of your mind. Once again, if you struggle to bring kindness to mind, set a reminder on your phone.
  3. Before bed complete a kindness inventory. Think back through your day and write down times you showed kindness to others through your words or actions. Then consider if there were any times that you missed the opportunity to share kindness throughout the day—perhaps you missed an opportunity to share a kind word with a cashier, to hold a door open for someone, to let another driver merge in front of you. Write down these missed opportunities as well. Consider what prevented you from showing kindness. Were you rushed or tired? mindless? angry? Then, imagine what you could have done differently to show kindness at that moment.

Engage in these three practices every day for the next thirty days. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the results. In fact, I think you will grow in your ability to love. You could even engage in these three practices as a family and watch how growing kindness nurtures a healthier, happier family.

Scrooge or Cratchit Revolution This Christmas

The “Christmas Spirit” seems to have faded some. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But it seems like more people have a “Bah-humbug-get-to-work-and-stop-wasting-time-on-frivilous-celebrations” view of Christmas, or a “give-me-give-me” view of Christmas than an “excited-generous-grateful-and-celebratory” view of Christmas. In other words, I encounter more Scrooges than Cratchits. Worse, I feel the pressure of society pushing me toward a “Scrooge” outlook of Christmas and away from the generous outlook Cratchit. We have drifted from celebrating Christmas as the birth of a Savior to worshipping the idol of materialism and wealth. We have turned our focus from the gift of God, a “Son given to us,” and focused on material gain and greed instead. But I’m not going to give in to the Scrooge spirit of Christmas. I’m going to celebrate Christmas as a revolution flowing out of the gift of God received on that first Christmas day, a generous gift of mercy and grace. Will you join me? Here’s how we can do it.

First, remember the first Christmas occurred because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) to save us from death and sin, to provide us with an abundant and eternal life. And His only begotten Son, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, loved us so much that He gave Himself to fill us with joy and make us whole and without fault (Ephesians 5:25-27). I’m going to follow suit. I’m going to give myself—not just my time, my energy, or my tolerance, but my whole self—to family, friends, and even strangers. Giving of ourselves begins a revolution in the midst of the self-seeking and self-promoting world in which we live.

Second, I’m going to “join” with other people just like the Christ whose birth we celebrate on Christmas did for us. He joined us by emptying Himself to be born of a woman, raised as a child, and live as a man. He became Emmanuel, God with us, on a whole new level. I’m going to join Him by joining with other people, accepting them “where they are” and “who they are.” In joining with others, I will look to discover the image of the Creator in each person and, rather than “call out” aspects I disagree with, I will nurture the image of our Creator in their lives. Revolutionary, isn’t it? To accept the complexity of people, look for the image of our Creator within them, and nurture that image?

Third, I will serve others in love. Perhaps the best way to give myself to others and manifest an acceptance of them, is to serve them in love. And I will be following the example of the Baby born on that first Christmas day.  He not only came to earth as a Man but as a servant of mankind. He said He came to serve and not be served. Part of the Christmas revolution will be to do the same—to serve my neighbor in love. 

That’s the battle plan of the Christmas revolution: give ourselves to one another and join with one another in radical acceptance that manifests in serving one another in love. I’m going to start practicing with my family and extend it out to friends and neighbors. This plan will align us with Bob Cratchit, and his son Tiny Tim, in the “excited-grateful-generous-and-celebratory” view of Christmas. And it will put us squarely in the midst of a joyous Christmas Revolution against the Scrooges of the world.

Christmas is Messy

Christmas is messy. I don’t mean the wrapping paper littering the floor around the room or the Christmas dinner scraps lying under the table. Those are definitely messy, but Christmas is messy on a much deeper level also. It’s messy on a relational and emotional level. It’s not really surprising that Christmas is messy because families celebrate Christmas and families are messy. I’ve met all kinds of wonderful people who live in very messy families. I’m sure you have too. The fact of the matter is, we all live in messy families of some sort. As a result, Christmas can be very messy. 

The first Christmas was messy too. Think about it. A young girl claims to be a virgin while clearly pregnant. Her betrothed, who had the legal right to divorce her, accepts her and her pregnancy while claiming the child is not his. The family of both probably struggled to understand. A government demands that each family of a conquered nation return to the place of their family of origin for a census. A city so crowded and inhospitable that no spare room could be found for a woman on the verge of giving birth to a child. A pregnant woman giving birth to her firstborn Son in a place set aside for the sheltering of animals…and then swaddling the newborn Child before laying Him in a feeding trough. There they rested, a Child and his parents, in the midst of the smell and chatter of animals, the constant hum of an overcrowded city just outside the door, and the heavy hearts of being misunderstood and cast out. It was a messy time. 

And yet, out of this first messy Christmas came celebration. An angel choir sang an anthem of “peace on earth good will to men” to an audience of shepherds. After hearing the message of the angelic choir, the shepherds came to worship and adore the newborn Child. When they left the Child, they made proclamations of excitement and hope to all they met.

This first messy Christmas also left obedient people misunderstood and alienated by the assumptions of those around them. But it also opened the door for those who had eyes to see to catch a glimpse of the Truth. An old man and an old woman in the temple saw the greeted the Child 8 days after His birth and saw the truth of hope, redemption, and salvation. They joyfully announced the truth they saw in the Child, the heavenly purpose of His life.

We know today that this first messy Christmas was only the beginning of a new life for you and me, a new life in an eternal family in which all the messiness will be done away and we will experience only love and trust and peace.

Sometimes I mourn as I reflect on the messiness of family life. I lament over the pain we experience amidst the messiness of families battered by misunderstandings, suffering the consequences of poor choices, and living in the pain of lost love. But, on Christmas day, as I look at the mess left around the Christmas tree and reflect on the fallout of the broken relationships I see in many families, I see a spark of Hope rise up. As I contemplate the messy vision of a newborn Child lying in a manger between two poor, exhausted parents in the midst of noisy animals permeated by the aroma of a barnyard, I trust in the birth of Hope. I smile, knowing that the birth of Jesus is just the beginning of a Life that will lead to the end of all the messiness of sin. The birth we celebrate on Christmas Day is the start of a beautiful, eternal family of intimate celebration with the Father of All. Merry Christmas.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland with Family

Winter has arrived. We’ve even had our first snow of the year. With the onset of cold weather, many people have turned up the heat, grabbed a book, and snuggled up on the couch with a soft blanket for the winter. Truly, a little hygge is always nice. However, I want to suggest another winter activity as well. This activity has a surprising benefit according to a study involving 87 women with an average age of 24 years. In fact, engaging in this activity for 40 minutes lead to a greater appreciation of one’s body, a better body image. Think of it, an improved body image after a simple 40-minute activity. “What is the activity?” you ask. A simple 40-minute walk in a snow-covered woodland area. A walk through the snow-covered nature… that’s all it took.

The senior author of the study reported that “natural environments help to restrict negative appearance-related thoughts and shift attention away from an aesthetic view of the body and toward greater appreciation of the body’s functionality.”

Body image is one of the struggles our teens have to resolve. In fact, many of us continue to struggle with body image throughout our adult life. Taking a walk through a snow-covered park or snow-covered woodland area is a simple way to work on a more positive body image through the winter months.

To really reap the benefits of this study for your family, you need to consider another interesting finding of the study. Specifically, those who tested high in self-compassion prior to their walk in the snow had larger improvements in body appreciation than those who tested lower in self-compassion. With that in mind, you can nurture self-compassion in your children. How?

  • Teach them an emotional vocabulary. Help them learn a large vocabulary for labeling their emotions. Help them to label the emotions they see in others as well. Teach them to look beyond simple behavior in others to see the emotions and intents behind the behavior.
  • Discipline your child’s behavior rather than labeling their character. This will involve planning ahead to avoid some behavioral issues. It will also involve teaching them how to behave differently in the future rather than simply punishing negative behaviors as they arise.
  • Model self-compassion in your own life. Rather than beat yourself up for mistakes or shortcomings, model self-compassion. Rather than modeling self-criticism, model self-compassion. This may take practice, but it will benefit you and your children in numerous ways.

You’ve set up an environment that nurtures self-compassion. Now grab your family, bundle up, and go for a walk in the snow. For the more active families, go sled-riding or skating. Have a snowball battle. Build a snowman. Whatever your style, get outside this winter. You’ll feel better about your body and so will your teen. In all honesty, you’ll just feel better all the way around.

Reach Out For a More Intimate Family

Have you ever thought about sending an old friend a text or giving them a call but then decided not to? You may have thought of many reasons to not reach out to them: “They’re probably busy.” “They won’t remember me, anyway.” “Maybe tomorrow.” I know I’ve done it. But a study published by the American Psychological Association changed my mind about the excuses…and maybe it will change your mind as well.

This study included a series of experiments involving over 5,900 participants. The objective was to explore how accurately people estimate another person’s appreciation of an attempt to connect. In one experiment, the participants reached out by email, text, or phone “just because.” In another experiment, participants sent a note or a note and a gift to someone they had not seen in a while. In all the experiments, participants estimated how much the person they reached out to would feel appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased by the contact. Then, the recipients were asked to rate how much they actually did feel appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased by the contact.

The results suggested that those who initiated the contact consistently underestimated the positive impact their actions would have on the one they reached out to. In other words, the person reached out to felt more appreciated, grateful, thankful, or pleased than the initiator predicted. A couple things come to mind in response to these results.

  1. A simple text or note to your spouse, child, or parent, no matter how busy they are, will likely be more appreciated than you imagine. In fact, it will probably increase their awareness of how much you care for them. Let them know how much you love them. Reach out to them.
  2. If you’re missing an “old friend” with whom you lost touch, reach out to them. They will likely appreciate it much more than you imagine.

My fears hold me back from reaching out. Sometimes I disguise my fears as concern for the other person’s busy schedule or their “not wanting to be bothered.” But to be completely honest, it’s my fear that holds me back. This research suggests I’ve been fearful about the wrong thing all these years. I’ve decided to reach out more randomly to my spouse and my children (who have moved away from home). I may even reach out to a few old friends. So, if you’re reading this and you haven’t heard from me in a while, don’t be surprised if you get a random text…unless I get one from you first.

Your Popsicle-Toed, Cover-Stealing Spouse & Sleep

I love my wife… but when we go to bed, she has the coldest feet, real “popsicle toes.” She steals the covers too… and makes snoring sounds from time to time.  Of course, to be fair, she accuses me of “twitching” and moving too much all through the night. (I try to deny it, but my brother told me the same thing in high school. And, come to think of it, my grandmother told me she could hear me “kicking around” in my sleep as well. And my college roommate…well, I guess it’s hard to deny the truth with so many witnesses. Anyway….) So, when my wife went on an overnight trip with her sister, I envisioned a blissful night of sleep—no cold feet, no stolen covers, no alarming sounds. But it didn’t work out that way; it never does. In fact, it seems I sleep worse when my wife is not home to share the bed with me, not better…always worse. Talking with my wife, she has the same experience. What’s the deal? Well, I finally found an explanation.

A study analyzing the data of 1,007 working age adults confirms my experience…and more. This study found that people who share a bed with their spouse reported less severe insomnia, less fatigue, and more time asleep than those who report never sharing a bed with their spouse.  In addition, they fell asleep faster and had less risk of sleep apnea. In other words, people sleep better sharing a bed with their spouse than they do alone.

But wait, there’s more. Sleeping with one’s spouse was also associated with lower depression, less anxiety, and less stress as well as greater satisfaction with life and relationships.

As I read the study review, I thought, “Maybe it’s just sleeping with a family member.” As if they read my mind, the researchers compared sleeping with a spouse to sleeping with a child.  Those who slept with their children most nights reported greater insomnia, exhibited a greater risk of sleep apnea, and had less control over their sleep (that last one is a “no kidding” one, right? Who has any control over their sleep with a child in the house, let alone in the bed?).

And, sleeping alone (the blissful moment of rest I had awaited) was actually associated with higher depression scores, lower social support and lower life and relationship satisfaction. Apparently, sleeping without my spouse in the bed is not what I had it cracked up to be.

Overall, this study suggests that sleeping with your spouse—cold toes, twitching, cover stealing, and all—results in greater emotional health and greater life satisfaction. All kidding aside, this fits with my life experience. There is comfort and peace in sleeping next to the one you love and to whom you’ve committed to sharing life.  It helps us connect and puts our “life rhythms in sync.” In the long run, I’m grateful for those popsicle toes and cover-stealing roll-overs. They let me know that the one I love is lying next to me and sharing life with me.  I’ll sleep better knowing she’s next to me, even as I pull the covers back over me in the night.

Thanksgiving Dinner? What’s the Big Deal?

Norman Rockwell captured the iconic moment of Thanksgiving Dinner in The Thanksgiving Picture. But really, what’s the big deal about a family dinner? Who cares about family dinners anyway?

Family dinner is about so much more than simply sitting at a common table to eat food. We learn important lessons at the family dinner. It is during family dinner that we learn we belong. As we pass the potatoes and negotiate who gets the turkey leg, we learn that life is shared. We are not alone; and we have to think about the “other guy” and his welfare, not just ourselves. We have to listen to learn what others have to say, to learn about their wants and desires. And we learn to leave enough of the “good stuff” for everyone to get some.

At the family dinner table, we also learn that we have something to say, and that others will listen to us. We have needs and desires to express and others will not only hear us tell of those needs and desires but will graciously adjust their behavior to satisfy our needs and desires.

We also learn that manners and civility are important while sitting around the dinner table. We learn that respect leads to greater generosity and that moderation is important to fairness.  And what better place to practice respect, generosity, moderation, and fairness than at the dinner table.

Why have Thanksgiving Dinner? Because our families and our children need to learn these important lessons of belonging, listening, sharing, respect, generosity, moderation, and fairness. Our communities are crying out for these virtues. Why celebrate with a Thanksgiving Dinner? Because changing the world starts with how we share Thanksgiving Dinner with our friends and family. (For more, read Everything I Needed to Know I Learned at Dinner.)

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