The Loudest Voice

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 2.08.47 PMPhoto Cred: Katie Nicolle Photography

It’s a typical Tuesday morning. It’s around 8:30, and I am about to go to Show & Tell – a local coffee shop where I tend to write my sermons. I am in the bathroom brushing my teeth, not really paying attention to much around me as I think through the day of writing ahead. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Liv, my daughter, run into her room, ripping her jammies off, hurrying to get dressed. 30 seconds later, she waltzes out in leggings, a shirt, and pink tutu around her waist. Ballet shoes are on, of course.  She makes her way into the bathroom and poses, both hands on her waist, swaying back and forth, head tilted slightly to the side, and she waits. I don’t really know what is going on, and so I just keep going about my routine, until about 10 seconds later she says, “Daaaaad…” holds her tutu in both hands and smiles. Ahh, she is showing me her ensemble. “Beautiful, girly,” I say.

“Thanks, Dad.” And she runs away; well, moreso prances. Liv always dances. But that was it. All she wanted out of me was for me to see her, and see what she wanted to be: at that moment, beautiful.

And in the grand scheme of things, this may seem like an insignificant moment. I get that. Just a sappy, average exchange with a dad and his daughter. But for me, that was a battlefield moment.

In my line of work, I get to meet a lot of people with a lot of stories, with common pains, and with ears tuned to a million different voices – most of which they shouldn’t be listening to.  My daughter is in that already – and it is my ambition, privilege, and desire to be the one voice that trumps the rest. Even at 4 years old, she sees the ads that pop up on Youtube, the shows, the Disney movies, the different well-meaning strangers that tell her she’s pretty or cute usually followed with “because of her blue eyes and blonde hair” (I have a whole issue with that). This is all before she gets on social media, or the boys start coming around, or the opinions of friends start mattering way more.

The voices in her life speaking about her, declaring truths over her life, and even lying to her, will be many. And I am not naive about that at all.

But what I won’t forfeit is the role of my voice in her life. A battlefield moment in the bathroom is setting the stage for future fights. I don’t intend to lose those moments because, over time, I am making deposits into her soul that will leave her so full that I hope the other voices that speak contrary things, or that try to manipulate her worth, will be drowned out by the voice of her dad’s encouragement and love.

Young Dads, and Not So Young Dads, with daughters -it may seem idealistic, but man, don’t waste the moments you have. It is hard to put to words the impact we have on our baby girls. And in the crazy fray of young families, we need to fight for that place in our daughter’s world.  The advantage we have is that we start out ahead – we are given, by virtue of being ‘Daddy,’ the first position, but we have to earn the right the keep it. Because although we never really lose it, the things we say for good, and bad, and the things don’t say enough will forever impact her — the direct influence we have can be lost. How we treat her, how we speak, what we encourage, what we don’t, all of it adds to and subtracts from the power we have to be the loudest voice, to be the voice she runs to when she can’t discern through all the other ones.

There are life and death in the tongue. And you will sow one or the other into her in a very unique and powerful way – not to mention that the voice of her father will shape how she hears the voice of her Father – God. That’s a crazy thought in and of itself.

I am beginning to realize the power of my voice more and more. At one point in that last season of our lives, things were a little more stressful than the average, and I realized that I wasn’t handling the stress all that well when I asked Liv if she knew that I loved her. And she said to me that, yes, she did, but that I should probably stop yelling so much.  Ouch. Crushed. Truth hurts. Tone, volume, emotion, stress, unthoughtful words (that she ends up repeating)– all of these things matter in her 4-year-old world in a way that I am only beginning to understand.  Her mind and heart, expectations and identity, all being shaped by the careful and carelessness I allow to cross my lips.

My goal as her Dad is not perfection; God alone can fill that one. But I want to speak in a way that protects her, encourages her, forms her, and cultivates her soul.

I want to win in her heart the seat of the loudest voice.  I don’t want to assume that being her dad is simply enough. I don’t want some young guy with talented thumbs for stringing together compliments over a text to be able to shake the foundation that I will set. I don’t want her needing to run to any other place for affirmation.  I want to win her heart. I want to be the loudest voice. I am going to call out her creativity, and ability. Her uniqueness, and intelligence, her gifting, and her beauty. I don’t intend to leave a void for anyone else to fill (And yes, as my wife reminded me, that is until her husband shows up, and I reluctantly and due to the rigorous vetting, confidently step aside as a new season emerges).

Dads, let’s do it for our daughters. Maybe in the earlier years, it’s hard to notice the impact. Speak dads. Speak life. Speak often. Speak loudly. Speak boldly. Speak to what you see in her. Speak to what you see in her potential. Speak to her gifts. Speak to her passions. Speak your love, your affection. Speak up. Don’t miss the small moments, they earn your voice a spot in the big ones.

The other day: we are in the bathroom washing our hands together. Liv’s hair is a mess, her face is dirty- one could call it dishevelled – but as we look in the mirror and I ask her, “What do you see?”

“Beautiful,” is all she says.

I think, for now, I am winning the fight.

I just want to send huge shout out and thank you to Cassie Wolfe for helping edit my thoughts into a coherent post! She’s an amazing author, leader, and home cook with a heart to really help people, check her stuff out: https://cassiescookery.com/ 

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Young Blood Fathers Club

 

Like most, if not all, things worth doing, “dadding” is hard work. This is not necessarily unexpected — we all “know” life changes a lot when we become parents, and it won’t always be easy. But, I do think that the challenges that actually lie before a young dad are uncharted and unexpected in that we don’t readily understand the degree to which life will actually change and that our responsibility will change. If you have ever followed my writing before, you know that it is no secret that I place a high level of expectation on men to be what they are called to be; that being self-sacrificial and benevolent leaders who take responsibility for those they are called to care for and are under their influence– in this case, their child– is insurmountably important. Their child: a son or daughter, entrusted to them. In my life right now, there are a lot of babies being born to a lot of amazing couples, some being their first, and so new dads are on my mind. And so, to the young blood fathers (of which I still am), here are a few things I had to learn– and hopefully you can learn through my mistakes.

  1. Sleep is for the weak – unfortunately. For real though, this season of your life is sleepless compared to the 10am wake ups you used to have – and I want to properly warn and encourage you. Before my daughter was born, another young dad asked me if I drank coffee much, to which I said no – kind of proudly – I didn’t need it. To which he responded, “you’ll start to.” It was his way of telling me that adjustments were coming, and I needed to be prepared. Was I prepared? No. But how does one prepare for little sleep, lots of interruptions during sleep, and a crying baby? You don’t, but you learn how to manage. Here is what you can’t do, though: use your tiredness as an excuse to be a jerk. Your wife is tired too, probably more-so than you, and so you need to drink your coffee, take a nap, go to bed earlier, and remember that, in time, you will adjust, and you will start to function better on less sleep, simply because you have to. But the redemptive nature to this? Tiredness pulls your guard down and your character comes out, in some ways for good but, mostly, let’s be real, for bad. Like I said, it’s no excuse, but when the flesh is weak, we show our true colours. Which leads to my second point.

  2. Your Character will be exposed as it is – not as you want it to be. This is one that ends up being painful to experience, but necessary for growth. When I got married, I found out that I was way more selfish and comfort seeking than I had previously thought. Marriage exposed the weakness in me; and, in the same way, so did Livy when she arrived (and again Weston did too). The father I hoped to be and the father I was were worlds apart. The gentle, caring, selfless, joyful, present, engaged dad I wanted to be was confronted by the selfish, angry, frustrated, distracted, me-centered man that still existed in me. Although I had grown a lot in the grace of God, I was still wasn’t the man I wanted to be. And so, get ready for a fight. A fight against pride, laziness, comfort, anxiety, and insecurity. Fatherhood is difficult enough as it is – raising a human is no light task – but to do so while still trying to become a better human yourself adds fuel to the fire. Your first act of fatherhood is to become the kind of person who will be a good father – the discipline of growing the character of a person worthy to be one. Fatherhood is a privilege as much as a responsibility. For me, the model is Jesus. I have come to realize that what my kids need is not more of Mike, but more of me looking like Him – which is the goal of spiritual formation anyways. That’s the vision God has for my fathering – my being the kind of father Jesus would be to my kids. And if we don’t fight for our character to grow, well …#3…

  3. You are going to mess up your kid somehow … my goal is to do it as minimally as possible. The more people I talk with, the more I realize that everybody has a father wound. I heard one pastor say he never met a guy without one – and usually the ones who protest the most that they don’t are the ones with the deepest ones (more on that in a later post). And when it comes to my own kids, I am under no illusion that I will be the one dad who won’t do it, who won’t give his kids a wound, but the reality of it puts a healthy fear in me to do what I can to minimize the negative impact I could have, and maximize the positive impact I hope to make. It may not sound like a glorious picture of fatherhood, but I think it’s honest. We will hurt our kids inevitably – my goal is, in the grace of God, to do it the least I can. How? Refer to #2.

  4. Someone is always watching – apparently, I have catchphrases. I know this because my son has them now too. When I get frustrated apparently I say, “Come on!” And so when Weston gets frustrated he says the very same thing. Often. Often enough, I am second guessing everything I say – which is probably a good thing. But what second guessing teaches me is simple: whether I intend to or not, I am teaching my kids all the time. I am showing them how to do life without speaking to them, I am enculturating them into how I do life for good and bad, and, as cheesy as it is, a lot is caught more than taught. Kids are observant learners. From the words you say, to how you brush your teeth, to how you deal with frustration, all of it leads your kids to learn something. Another challenge presents itself, then: is your life worth replicating? To some degree, it will be.

Fatherhood is awesome, while it is difficult. But it is so worth it. I can’t imagine going back to the time before my kids showed up. The value of being a father really comes back to your character. If you want to be a good dad, become a better person.

Dads: you don’t have to be your kids’ all-time hero. Just point them to the One who actually is.

10 Years

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10 Years.

10 year ago today I made a decision that would change my life forever. Outside of the day I truly gave my life to Jesus, this day pretty much ranks top 2.  On this day, I sent a simple text message, “Hey, do you want to grab a coffee?” – or something like that, I don’t remember exactly, it was 10 years ago. Within an hour, we were sitting at Second Cup, I was drinking orange pekoe tea and she had a white hot chocolate. And we talked. She gave me the honour of a few hours to hear her heart, to learn about who she was, and at one point – gave me a look that I have never forgotten. We call it ‘the look’ even now. If you haven’t figured it out, 10 years ago today Emily and I went out for our first real date. And 10 years later we are still dating, in fact we are going out for dinner tonight.

10 years brings a lot of ups and downs, wins and losses, tears and laughter. But a decade has passed since those first moments, and amazingly, we are now more in love than ever before. I have come to realize that there is a wisdom in knowing that a relationship that lasts is one done in decades, not measured by the days. In these past ten years there are a few things that I have learned that I hope will help you.

1. The best days are ahead. | I was always annoyed at anniversaries growing up where people would say that they love their spouses more now then they ever have. It always felt like they were just saying that, until now. Now I know that it is true. The blending of maturity, experience, pains, growth, wins, and losses, all come together to make what we have now so much more beautiful than what we had then. And that should make us excited for what then is to come. In a healthy marriage, the best days are truly ahead, no matter how good it might be now. I more deeply love and appreciate Emily in a way that was impossible before.

2. Invest for the dry seasons. | In saying what I just said, I am not saying there won’t be dry seasons that come. But wisdom is knowing what to do in the meantime. Investing into the marriage when it is good, is a good thing, but it’s not the only reason why you should. You need to invest in your marriage for when those dry seasons come. You need to set up the routines of love when things are good so that they are natural and automatic when the feelings don’t line up. You protect yourself from the dry season when you invest during the good ones.

3. Loving who she is. | This is a lesson that comes with so much joy. We can often get trapped in thinking about who we first met, who they were then, the good ol’ days, and compare out current spouse to a former version of them. But, it has been incredible to see the soul of my wife blossom, and reveal so many more incredible things about the way she was made than I ever realized. I am amazed by the fact that I simply couldn’t imagine a better partner for me. At every stage of our lives together, more of her has been revealed, and there is so more of her to admire. I thank God all the time that he set us up.

4. Win at home. | This was something I knew in theory, now I know in actuality. Outside of Jesus, I have found that the health and strength of my marriage determines more than anything the breadth and width of my joy, confidence, and passion for life. I am better person, father, pastor, friend, etc, when Emily and I are doing well. We often get trapped into thinking that if we can win in the workplace, then we will arrive at whatever joy we are aiming for. I have found that to be false. When I win at home, I win. If I win at work, and lose at home, I lose. Make the marriage amazing and you will find your joy increase. Side note husbands – God says he won’t hear your prayers if you don’t honour his daughter (1 Peter 3:7), it effects your relationship with Jesus too.

5. Grace wins. | What makes a decade happen? Grace. Emily has shown me more grace than I deserve. She is a walking gospel sermon. This is basically just to brag on my girl. She is more than I deserve. But, if it wasn’t for her ferocious commitment to forgive quickly, believe the best in me, and be like Jesus in her love, we would be worse off. But the truth is, grace is what sustains us. Giving love despite the others merit, forgiving the underserved, a commitment to betterment of the other, and accepting with deep affection yet desiring growth. Grace wins. Grace sustains. But I have found that this kind of grace is first received before it can ever be given – but not recited from your spouse, but Jesus. His grace frees us to give grace.

10 years. 3 cars. 2 kids. 2 moves. 2 cities. 2 churches. Countless laughs. Countless tears. Best days to come.

The Heart of Being Heard

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One of the main tasks of my job is to stand in front a crowd of people and communicate to them. Every week for about 45 minutes, I have to do my best to be clear, articulate, compelling, and honest. I have been told that I do this well, but the irony is, communicating to a crowd and communicating to your spouse are very different things – even though the skills are similar.  In my last blog I wrote about listening. Today, I want to talk about the other side – the art of communicating in marriage.

What gets lost in a lot of the conversation and discussions spouses have, is what you might call the ‘heart of communication’. Sure, there are a lot of words said, ideas shared, feelings seen and non verbal messages sent. But the question we have to ask ourselves really is: did I actually communicate or just speak?

At the heart of communication, in all regards really but especially in a healthy marriage, is not simply to say something that sounds nice – it’s to say something in a way that your spouse can actually receive it. At the heart of genuine communication sits the desire to speak not for my sake, but so that I am truly heard. This means knowing how to communicate in a way that will remain true to what I am trying to say, but will be understood by the who I am saying it to.

This is really easy to see when I preach on a Sunday. Most people in church don’t have a theological degree, nor really care at all about the theological jargon that I could speak with. And honestly, if I were to speak to sound really smart, that may impress for a day, but ultimately leave individuals unaffected and disconnected. The job isn’t to sound great, but to communicate. The same is true for your marriage.

In every marriage, there is going to be a gap of understanding, which takes work and time to overcome. You could even think of it like learning a new language. You probably don’t think like your spouse, hear like your spouse and speak like your spouse – you both may speak English, but ultimately, you are speaking a different language.  And the goal of a healthy marriage is to learn how to speak in such a way that your spouse will hear and understand what you are saying – yes, I am aware this goes both ways and I will refer you back to the listening blog.

So how can we do that?

  1. Learn

This is the simple brute fact about marriage: it takes prolonged and steadfast effort to have a good relationship. In this case, you need to be genuinely interested and curious about your spouse or else you won’t pay enough attention to them and you won’t learn how to be the spouse they need.  You need to observe them, listen to them talk, see how they reason, and realize that just because it may be different then how you do it, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. A key time to do this is when they are hurt by you. If your spouse comes to you and tells you that you hurt them with something you said, or how you said it, your response shouldn’t be, “Well that’s not what I meant! You heard that wrong!”.

First of all, lets be honest, sometimes we do mean to hurt our spouse. We just got caught and are ashamed, as we should be, that we said what we did. Also, the point really isn’t that they heard it wrong, it’s probably that you communicated it wrong.

I can already hear the rebuttals – that’s not fair, where’s the grace, they need a thicker skin, blah, blah, blah. I get it, I have thought those things as well – too often in fact. But honestly, even if they may have been sensitive in that moment, this is a prime learning opportunity. The moment they say they are hurt, you have the opportunity to ask, ‘why?’ and the reasoning behind their hurt is key to understanding how they process and how they think. Even if it doesn’t make sense, and it rubs up against your pride and ego the wrong way, this is a lesson that will make your marriage stronger and better.

  1. Love

At the end of the day, the purpose of communication in marriage is to make sure the marriage is healthy, that your spouse is loved, and that you are tackling life together. All the conservations about interests, likes, bills, dates, appointments, feelings, disappointments, wins, random thoughts, and big decisions, are done within the context of a goal – to have a great life together.

And when we peel back another layer into the heart of communication, we find love. The desire to care for, help, encourage, and strengthen the other. This we do in our communication – verbal or non verbal. Knowing when a hug is needed and no words should be said, knowing how to say tough but necessary things for the good of your spouse in a way they can receive it, or understanding how to truly encourage them in the way the need it – these are all ways to communicate in love. If I love my spouse, I will want them to truly hear what I have to say because I am saying it out of love.

Now, this does mean that communication can and will be abused.  If I know how my spouse processes things and hears me, than I know how to say what I want to say in a moment of anger or frustration so that she really hears it. But with intimacy, comes the risk of hurt, and so forgiveness is also paramount here.

The goal is always to love your spouse, which in this context, looks like saying what you have to say in way they are going to understand. It takes time and effort, but when spouses do this well, I believe that marriages will be exponentially better.

Listening as Loving

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My wife and I were in a bit of a disagreement recently, when she stopped in the middle of it and said to me, “If you were counselling a couple right now, what would you be saying?”. This was her way of telling me that I need to stop, use some wisdom, and get out of the rut of trying to win an argument more than trying to promote unity.

In all humility, the problem really in a lot of those moments is that I have stopped listening.

There is the idea of the husband as one who is aloof. Who is there, but not really present. Who, as one Facebook post said, is the best person to tell a secret to, because they could never tell anyone, seeing as they weren’t listening in the first place.

I have been thinking about this whole listening thing lately and I have come to realize something that applies in all areas of my life, but really does impact my marriage, and it is this:

Listening is loving.  You truly listen to what you truly care about. You fully engage with what you love.

Now, generally speaking, even when you don’t listen you still love your spouse. But in that moment when your brain wanders as she opens up, or he talks to you about something he thinks is interesting, or they ask you a favour, or a conflict arises that you just don’t want to deal with, in that moment, you are clearly communicating one thing:

You don’t matter enough to me right now. Something else is more important.

Peter Drucker, in his book Managing the Nonprofit Organization (1990) said, “Listening is not a skill; it a discipline.” (pg. 20). And is it very true. Listening is a choice to value what is being said more than your desire to respond, more than the TV show currently catching your attention, more than the phone, or whatever else may be distracting you.  The excuse of “well I’m just not a good listener” is garbage. Disciplining oneself, choosing in that moment to engage fully with what is happening has nothing to do with skill, it has to do with affection.

You will listen to what you love.

You will give your mental space to what you consider most important and it is crazy that sometimes we will give that love to things that don’t matter at all. Especially in marriage. In those moments we will love the feeling of winning an argument, or the Facebook game we really should stop playing, or work, or whatever else fills our attention more.

I have sat with couples enough to know that often at the heart of a lot of issues is the choice to not really listen. Sure they hear, sure they definitely want to respond, but really listening – careful and care-filled attention – not so much.

Listening involves more than acknowledgement that the other is present and speaking. It’s about taking in the heart of what is being said. It is giving my full attention to not only the what that is being communicated but also to the who is communicating. It’s not having the “yea, but…” ready to go. It’s a humbled posture of mouth shut and heart open – even in the conversation that we could care less about. Do I really want to know more things about the moms groups, or flowers, or whatever other topic could arise? Probably not. But I do want to get better at letting Emily know that I care enough about her and what matters to her.

I say that because I have come to the realization that often, hidden within those seemingly mundane conversations of everyday life, are true revelations of how my wife is feeling –  what she is sensing about our family, her fears, and her insecurities. Nuanced comments that reveal where she is at and even expectations she has of me as the one that is supposed to care more about her soul than anyone else.

Listening is the decision to love the other person practically in that moment, with full attention, and with a full desire to understand.

Spouses, whether we mean to or not, when we disengage and when we don’t really hear, we are communicating we don’t really love our spouse enough in that moment. And yes, I know you could probably give me 80 reasons why when you do it, it’s not a values thing, it’s a tired thing, or some other excuse. And yes sure, maybe that one time – there’s always grace. But a habitual pattern of disengagement means you are telling them you don’t care – tired or not.

We need to chose to love through listening.

Child Proof Marriage

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When Emily and I got married we received a lot of good and wise advice. But, one of the things that no one ever really talked about was kids.

Everyone expected that kids would appear one day, but no one ever spoke about how kids would really affect a marriage. Now, I am no expert in this area. But I do have one child and another on the way. Emily and I still love each other and all things considered, have a pretty good marriage – not perfect. So I wanted to take a moment to speak to this.

See, what I have heard people say before is that when you introduce a child into the house, ‘it changes things’, and it is usually said with some sort of negative tone. Then the warnings about sleeplessness and exhaustion, changing diapers and flexible schedules, and which books to read ensue. And then nothing. No, ‘here’s how to deal with it all well’, or ‘here’s how it will actually change marriage’. Nope, it was just ‘it changes things’.

And what I have come to discover is that my daughter arriving didn’t change my marriage, but she did expose it.

Yes, Olivia changed our sleeping patterns, our bank account, our time demands, and she even changed us as people, but our marriage – the covenant of selfless faithful love we made to each other – didn’t change. However, our weaknesses were exposed, and so were our strengths. Our bad habits, our lazy assumptions and our grace filled loving actions. All of these were made much clearer to us within our marriage.

When Olivia came around, I told people that she made our marriage better, and I still think that is true in that we have had to depend and trust each other in a way we really hadn’t before. There was a deepening of our partnership together, now as parents, not just a couple. Olivia was something together we had made, she is ours – for the time being – and we are together responsible for her. So, in that sense, better for sure.

But you know what else happened, I began to realize that overtime, the priority to pursue my wife had waned. In a pre baby world, it was definitely not great, but I managed. Now though, with the added energy and time going to another human being, it became all too apparent that my lazy assumptions about our romance were catching up.

I also began to realize that I hadn’t really worked on myself as a husband, becoming a better, more selfless, caregiver to my wife’s body and soul. Pre baby, our marriage could put up with a certain amount of my selfishness or unnecessary expectations, but now, not so much.

Another thing I began to realize, was that I wasn’t really a ‘house partner’ with Emily, but more of a ‘house dependent’. Sure I did some cooking, but she undertook most of the cleaning, organizing, and tidying. I wasn’t a great partner here – which pre baby was doable, though not ideal. But now, not sustainable or healthy for our marriage.

Kids don’t ruin marriages, spouses ruin marriages. Kids expose the cracks and it is our job to patch them, fix them, or if necessary, rebuild the entire thing.

So here are three quick points to help child proof your marriage.

  • Intentionality – Children change the demand of your time and energy. Whether you are Type A, with 14 calendars and every organizational app known to humankind, or the complete opposite, time and energy will be sucked from your previous normal. And so, something’s got to give. You only have so much energy and so much time – these aren’t unlimited resources. This means you have to make sure you take time and save energy intentionally to invest in one another. Make date nights priority and actually do them. Intentions here mean nothing without follow through. You might think that things are going well and it is not that important this time… but it always is.  You may have to be more creative now, you may have to find new ways to connect, but the longer you wait, the harder it will be. Simply put – choose to make time for each other and don’t skimp. Do what you can, but do something.
  • Humility – As said above, kids expose what was weak in the first place, and so instead of seeing this new season as potentially disastrous, see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to actually improve as you become educated in the weakness of your marriage. The only problem is that it takes a humbled soul to be able to learn the lessons and not blame the other spouse for all the problems that arise. YOU are at minimum 50% to blame for the weakness over all. Your selfishness contributes, your laziness effects you both, your lack of whatever… not just theirs, they have theirs. The issue is not that weakness will present itself; the issue is what are you going to do? You can repent to one another, work on it, and repair the broken. Or you can deny it, pretend like it is all their issue, and think if only he would… if only she knew… Marriage is hard work, and it takes a deep humility and care to thrive. Kids will either deepen your humility or heighten your pride. Pick the former.
  • Remember – Having kids is amazing. It’s really an incredible thing that I hope all who can and are called to, will experience. But kids aren’t the point of marriage. They are a byproduct – a God ordained one at that. But they aren’t the primary purpose of a marriage. If your marriage hinges upon your children – or your personal fulfillment – then it’s set up to fail. The purpose of your marriage is to make you more like Jesus, to have a partner till the end, and a friendship that is rich and powerful . And yes, we love our kids, but they aren’t going to be around in 20 years when they go off to college, and find their own spouse, and then start having kids of their own. But you know who should be by the grace of God? Your spouse. Your covenant of life long love, honour, and friendship shouldn’t be dependent on kids being around or not. Which means this – kids aren’t an end in themselves for marriage. They are a blessing and they are wonderful, but they are a season. Our marriage needs to be seen not in the moments but the decades. You will always be a parent, yes,  but you will not always have the kids around. Marriage is about the long game, seeing to a future that is ever increasing in joy and working towards that together.

Kids are awesome. If you have kids, I pray that you will be humble enough to make sure this season makes your marriage stronger. Be intentional, be humble, and work for the last day.

Christmas Time

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It’s Christmas time again, so every blog you will read will sound oddly familiar, because as the writer of Ecclesiastes noticed, “nothing is new under the sun.” And there’s only so much Christmas that can go around.

So, I am not going to pretend that what you are about to read is something you haven’t probably read before, but it is what I am thinking about right now as I look to Christmas and think about Jesus. The whole point of Christmas is Jesus coming to earth, God entering into our suffering, God coming closer than we realize, and this reality should really frame not only what we celebrate but the way we celebrate this season as well. So here are 4 quick thoughts.

  1. Rest

At the heart of the Christmas story, the epi-center of the whole thing, is really the grace of God working to bring us salvation. And at the heart of this salvation, is rest. It is the rest of our souls, the ceasing from striving to be holy enough, good enough, to maintain status, to maintain image, and surface perfection. The good news is that we rest in Jesus to validate our existence, to define our value, to be enough, and we are resting in his great self giving love for us.

Rest is the gospel, and yet ironically, Christmas is hardly a time for rest. And so in the stress and craziness of endless Christmas dinners, parties, services, gifts, expectations, and the making of memories, we need remember to honor what Christmas is about by truly finding time to rest. We need to let our souls recoup and refresh as we celebrate the glory of the grace of God given to us. And that’s not just seen in taking some more ‘quiet time.’ Take an extra nap this holiday; the world will keep spinning when you are sleeping. Put the laptop away, turn the phones off, you don’t really need to just check Facebook again for the 1000th time today, and those emails generally can wait. Do what refreshes your soul. Play a game with family, read an amazing book, take a bath, whatever it is, find a time to celebrate with rest.

  1. Rejoice

In Luke’s telling of the Christmas story, an angel comes to the shepherds and says that he is there to proclaim a gospel of great joy. This stood out to me this year as I was again reading this story. And the truth is, if the good news that Christians claim to have isn’t full of joy, it may not be the gospel. The good news is the greatest source of joy for the human soul. So, if you are a Christian, no matter how life is situationally going – maybe not all that great, maybe really good- we have the unshakeable source of our souls joy in Jesus, in our souls being made alive in his love. And if joy isn’t in our disposition at this time of the year, we need to think more on what this time of year is. It’s a time of hope. It’s a time celebration. It’s a time of redemption. It’s a time of God showing He is good. It’s when we remember that we are not left to our own devices, that God came down to bring us joy. And so joy should overflow in us. So when we are eating, and opening gifts, and playing our games, and driving those distances, lets us do it with joy in our hearts. Let’s sing loudly the songs, let’s laugh till it hurts, let’s be filled with joy!

  1. Relate

But…Christians live in a world of tension, where joy and suffering co exist in this time where we await the fullness of what Christmas means to come. And so even in our joy, there can be great pain around us. Christmas can be the time when loss become all to real. The absence of a loved one, the dissolution of a relationship, the pain of the year that was. Loneliness is emphasized as everyone else gathers with their family. Poverty and lack become all too apparent as their cart is way more full than mine is. Stress runs high, shame is sometimes all to close, and Christmas can be painful. But the point of Christmas, the incarnation of Jesus, is the story of God entering our pain, empathizing with our pain, identifying with our pain. And so we are to do the same. For those around us that mourn, we mourn to. We do our best to relate to, speak hope into, and work to bring good to, the pain around us. Whether that’s a hug, an invitation, a conversation, an act of generosity, we enter that place like Jesus did. We can’t fully have our celebrations in isolation. We celebrate in relationships with the broken and healed, the mourning and rejoicing.

  1. Refine

When thinking about Christmas, we could say that it is the story of God displaying the greatest act of selflessness we could imagine. The incarnation of Jesus really is the humiliation of Jesus. The Word becoming flesh, is the Son giving up all glory and power, riches and beauty, and prominence and status, for the good of those who didn’t deserve it, for those who would reject him and ultimately kill him. But He did it, because He loved us. Our souls are in constant need of refinement, especially in the area of selfishness. It’s natural state of our hearts – me first, my wants, my needs. But the reality is that it would far better for our relationships, our workplaces, and our cities if we allowed Christmas to refine us as it should, to refine the selfishness in us as we gaze upon the greatness of Jesus’ humiliation. That God would give all that up – things we would hold on to for dear life – so that we could benefit. Him becoming poor so we could become rich, Him becoming nothing so we could gain everything. This is the grace of God, and this is the light that dispels pride and selfishness in us. To understand what Jesus has done, to grasp even a fraction of the nature of Christmas, is to have our souls refined by the fire of his love.   Instead of trying to survive the holidays with the littlest effort possible, with a ‘what’s the most convenient for me attitude’, why not ask, ‘what can I do for them?’, not what do I want, but what do they need. Marriage, Family, work, neighborhoods, these would all be just a little brighter this year, if we let Christmas refine the selfishness out of us a bit more.

9 Years, 9 Thoughts

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9 years ago today I met the woman who would become my wife. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since then. 5.5 years of dating, 3.5 years of marriage, 1.5 year old girl, a boy on the way, bought a home, lead a church, 9 years. And that’s just some highlights, not to mention the trials, the fights, and the struggles, that 9 years can hold. It’s been a pretty amazing, soul changing, and joyful 9 years and I am praying for not just another 9, but 90 if God lets us live that long.

Because I have been thinking on these 9 years together, I thought I would offer 9 quick thoughts on relationships and marriage that I have learned or am learning more every day.

1. After this long, you aren’t the same person anymore, but hopefully you’re a better version of you.

I know this sounds obvious, but the longer you are in a relationship with someone the more you change. This happens by virtue of just time passing but also because of them. One of the amazing things about a good marriage is that it will make you a better person. Your spouse influences you in ways you don’t always notice, but they slowly begin to balance you out, smooth the rougher edges, bring out your natural gifts, and encourage your calling. A side of your soul is revealed that would have otherwise lain dormant. It’s a beautiful change. But, it will also be a refining fire for your character and maturity. And the longer you get into it, the more you realize how flawed and particularly selfish you can be. This to is a grace that we need to receive, cherish, and use to become the kind of person we are meant to be.

2. They aren’t the same person anymore, but hopefully they’re a better version of them.

The longer you are in a relationship with someone, the more they change. They are not the same person you met, and the hope of your heart should be that they are now a better person because of you. Your goal should be the holistic flourishing of your spouse. The cultivation of their soul. Loving the person your spouse is becoming more than the person they were. I have discovered that over the last 9 years my wife is not some utterly new person that I had to keep falling in love with, but really, what has happened is that the beauty and depth of her soul has been more clearly revealed through the different seasons of life. She is all the more captivating as she has blossomed into the women that she was made to be and as she becomes more like Jesus, being refined though our marriage and motherhood. After this long together, I don’t love the idea of what my wife was, but who she is.

3. You reap what you sow.

Marriage is no a walk in the park. But, the power and beauty of the grace filled covenant that is meant to be at the core of marriage, is that the promise of commitment and unselfish love sustains the marriage through the hard times, the failure, the fights, the come what may of life. Now, that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t take work. And one the easiest sins in marriage to fall into is not some radical failure but the everyday complacency that slowly erodes a relationship. Complacency in pursuit. Complacency in communication, in growth, in joy, in laughter, in romance. Marriage can easily become a dull gray instead of vibrant colour it is meant to be, not because of some major sin, but because of selfish laziness, complacency. One of the greatest abuses of a marriage covenant is taking for granted the one whom promised to remain true to you always. Marriage is infinitely better when you refuse to be complacent. Marriage is romance at work.

4. Honesty has to be cultivated.

Given what we just said, one of the areas that you most definitely need to cultivate intentionally is honesty. Honesty is especially easy to loose when you have grown lukewarm towards one another because by nature we hide. We hide our shame, hide our mistakes, hide our failure. We tend to drift away from vulnerability, even in a marriage. There can many reasons for that, but nonetheless, marriage is meant to a relationship where nothing is hidden. We need to keep honesty at the forefront and that is what the covenant is for, a grace filled place to be painfully known. You don’t just happen upon this kind of vulnerability, you don’t get there by mistake, you don’t open up and invite your spouse in without intention. We need to do that hard work of honesty.

5. Intimacy has to be cultivated.

But vulnerability is only half the battle. True intimacy is not just being honest with our shame and mistakes, but also with the totality of who we are. The dreams, the hopes, the fears, and the desires. Ironically, it can feel just as hard sometime to be fully honest with the positive things of us. For example, it can be scary to actually voice a dream that you have – what if they don’t think it’s very good? What if they don’t think I can do it? Or how about our real feelings about something… if I told them how I feel really, happy, or sad, or anxious, about this thing, will they understand? Will they disregard that? But this kind of intimacy is at the heart of marriage, and intimacy is a choice everyday to be a naked soul with your spouse.

6. Communication has to be cultivated.

This is something that I have been learning recently. Communication doesn’t naturally just get better with time. In fact, bad habits and lack of communication will probably just get worse if its not worked on. Communication in a relationship has to be cultivated. It has to be worked on. It has to be given intentional effort. So, work on it. Be honest with each other about this. You both need to able to humbly receive the feedback that maybe you aren’t as clear in communicating as you think.

7. You need to learn from the bad, but focus on the good.

Generally – and hopefully – at the end of the day there will be more good, funny, joyous, cute, silly, sincere, etc. moments than bad, fighting, tension filled moments. But the thing is, it’s easier to dwell on the negative because they can seem more significant due to the scarcity and emotion of them. And obviously, the longer you are in a relationship, the more opportunity you have for good and for bad. So, choose to learn from the bad, but focus or remember or reminisce about the great times. Cultivate that sense of joy by choosing to replay together and by yourself, the moments where laughter squeezed every tear out of your eyes, where romance took your breath away, where the cuteness was in overdrive, where the sweet contentment of just being together was enough. Have a long – maybe written – memory of the good moments and good things about each other.

8. Don’t waste your precious time on prideful fights.

I regret the countless hours I wasted being mad at Emily, or causing us to be in a fight way longer than needs be simply due to stubborn pride. Whether it was because I didn’t want to be wrong, or getting to far into an argument that by the time you realize you are wrong to much is invested, or bringing up more issues that don’t relate to make a case that you aren’t the only flawed one. It is literally one of the most useless things you can do to ruin a night, ruin a moment, ruin an opportunity to grow closer together. Choose forgiveness. Choose humility. Choose them over yourself. You will never regret that.

9. Have a plan, but realize that life hardly works out as you think.

It’s good to have goals together and individually, to have a vision for your life, have a plan that you want to achieve, but at the end of your life, what will matter more than whether you your achieved all your dreams or not, is that you had your spouse with you. Reality is this, life hardly works out as you want or planned, jobs changed, loss happens, suffering comes, opportunities you didn’t expect pop up, and so your marriage needs to be flexible and adaptable, and willing to work it out together. But it also needs to be grounded in the simple realization that in marriage, if the flourishing of your spouse isn’t your chief aim, you never truly loved them. That might sound a little extreme, but what is love if not the emptying of me for the benefit of another? The power of a good marriage is that if both people are loving like that, both will flourish and both will be fulfilled regardless of whether the plan happened or not.

Longevity is only to celebrated really if that at the end of it there is greater life and love than at the start. And I know that marrying Emily has been that for me, and so celebration is certainly in order. 9 years, in the span of our entire relationship, will in the grace of God only be a fraction. And if the kind of life and joy and love that has happened is an indicator of what will be, that I can say with certainty that I am excited about what the future holds.

Some thoughts on Politics, conversations, and Evangelicals. 

With what some have called the most significant election in American history now yesterdays news, I think it is time to stop, take a breath, and think.

I understand that for many people, the institution of politics – it’s parties, figures, and activities – act as a kind of social or cultural Saviour. The mechanism of protection for, or the proliferation of, some kind of vision for the way the world should work, and often, becomes a draining and emotionally charged fight. In that context, we can begin to see that a loss in an election, or a law not being passed, or legislation getting held up, etc., is at best a loss in taking cultural ground (a loss of ‘progress’ as some would define it, though what progress looks like changes from person to person) and at worst, the demise of human kind for those on both sides of the political spectrum. And a win, well a win becomes a hope quickly realized, yet just as quickly to be disappointed.

Given this kind of relationship to politics, I can sympathize – to a point – with the kind of fear, emotionalism, irrationality, social shaming, prejudices, lack of humility, degrading of people with different opinions – i.e. assuming they are all either dumb, or uneducated, or Neanderthals, or baby haters, or lairs, or womanizers, or bigots, or racists, or corrupted puppets… the list keeps going. But the issue is that this is all done without actually taking the time to engage in meaningful, rational conversation about those differing opinions. But although I can understand this kind of reaction from some people – given ‘saviour complex politics’ –  that doesn’t mean we should excuse it or leave it ignored until something like this whole political circus happens again, and again we use the anonymity and relational distance of social media, among other forms of modern communication, to wage verbal war on each other without seeking understanding – especially if you are a Christian.

Christians, you (should) believe in the freedom of speech, in non-coerced belief, in the rational soul of all humans, the thoughtful criticism of injustice in the government, and whether not you like who is leading the country, honouring the government (Romans 13:1).  But Christian, we take things way to far when we forget that ever before we are ‘political’, we are followers of Jesus, united by grace.

Your political standpoint is secondary or even tertiary compared to the grace we all received. If you disagree with someone’s political choice, your job isn’t to assume they are less of a believer than you are, or assume that God happens to be unquestionably on your side. Plus considering the basic theology that gets thrown around at these times, we know that who ever is the leader of a country, is not a surprise to God and God is going use them in some way – granted perplexing at times how – to advance his purposes. So a side note to Americans, was God on Trump’s side or Hillary’s? Probably neither, but as long as Trump is in office, your job is to pray and pray, and pray.

It feels almost foolish to say, but it seems like so many Christians forget that in any human led institution, there are elements of both good and evil. Political parties are led by broken humans. The party that you do or don’t align with is led by broken souls in need of the same grace as you are. And so we must fight the urge to be so self righteous in our position. Have your opinion, hold it with conviction. But express it with humility.

I think, sadly, that if this election has exposed something about us all, it is at least this, we have generally lost our desire or ability to have meaningful and respectful conversations with those who disagree with us. So, Christian or not, maybe we can humble ourselves enough to start actual conversations. One’s where we choose to let go of the preconceived assumptions we hold about an individual or a group.  A conversation where we are willing to disagree, yet remain able to stand together. To do the hard work of truly seeking to understand instead of lazily dismissing those with differing beliefs for the safety of our protective echo chambers.

But not only has this past US election exposed a general loss of civil conversation, it has also exposed something a little closer to home for me. It has exposed a concerning at best, disappointing at worst, reality about the church that has caused those who aren’t in the faith to question us. That reality is this: we are far too political, both in identity and hope.

And because of this it seems we have skewed our faith in a scandalously grace centered, upside-down, counter-cultural kingdom by seeking out political power here in our little kingdoms. We have politicized our faith so much that we cannot even see the hypocrisy in our positions, we judge the salvation of other Christians based on political choices, and can’t seemingly find the humbled wisdom it takes to wade the difficult and complex waters of political policy, civic engagement, all while holding onto our values.

As a Canadian evangelical, recently I have become increasing hesitant to even admit that I am one, not because of the gospel, but because of the clarifications I have to add on to it and explanations about why I am not like the other ones we hear about in the media.

See, I believe that it is possible to believe that our universe was designed and created, to believe that Jesus is God, who died for sin, and rose from death, for our redemption, as most evangelicals would AND…

… believe that caring for the environment is important and climate change is an issue – in fact, I would argue that the creation theology of Christianity is the strongest motivation for environmentalism.

… believe that faith and science are not at odds, and can be beautifully reconciled, strengthening each other.

… decry the racism, sexual abuse, and other moral failures of President – elect Trump and at the same time decry the corruption, abortion laws, and moral failure of Hillary.

… and not be a white supremacist, but believe that Black lives matter and racial injustice is a concern that the church must address. All the while, honouring the police who do serve well. I refuse to chose sides.

…I can believe what Christians have believed for 2000 years about marriage, sexuality, and gender, yet not be the ‘regressive Neanderthal’ that hates every LGTBQ person and thinks they are out to destroy my faith or that they don’t deserve basic human rights. But actually want all human beings to flourish as humans (though we may honestly disagree on what flourishing looks in every instance).

…I can critically engage with other faiths, have genuine concerns about doctrine, and fundamentally disagree, without thinking that those who follow those faiths should not have the right to express it, or make sweeping judgments on whole faiths.

…have concerns about national security yet genuinely want to help refugees.

I believe that I can be an Evangelical in Canada and not be aligned with the exaggerated American caricature that gets presented in the media.

Maybe we need a new category here in Canada, I don’t know. But maybe before we need to do that, we the church can reclaim it. We can realize that although we are to be “in the world but not of it” Jesus didn’t call us to use our rhetoric to build fortresses that keep ‘outsiders’ away, and condemn from a far, but to run to the places no one else wants to go. We need to remember that when the Pharisees wanted to judge and condemn, Jesus forgave and healed. When Jesus spoke his harshest words, he reserved them for the ones who thought they had it all together and were morally superior, and oppressed the marginalized, not for the ones who were called sinners. We need to remember that Jesus is so much more than we let him be. He is far more dangerous to every persons status quos than we want to believe. He is so much more demanding of our lives than we want to admit. He is so much more gracious than we can fathom. He is so much more righteous and holy than we know how to deal with. His mission was far better then we understand, in His own words he was not sent, “into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) The Jesus we are called to represent doesn’t need PR help when we actually take his instructions seriously. People may not like our fundamental beliefs about life, God, family, the future, but that doesn’t mean they can’t like us.

If you aren’t a Christian, the ask is simple. Don’t be so quick to assume our motivation towards you is ill-willed. We may disagree, and that may make things tense, but we are both human, with inherent dignity, value and worth, and we are living in this world together. Let’s at least give each other the courtesy of being judged as a individual, no matter the labels we hold.

Dear New, soon to be, or hope to be, Dads…

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Recently I have found myself in many conversations revolving around this thing called parenting – specifically being a dad. And these conversations have forced me to think about what being a dad is really like, especially the conversations with, well, new or soon to be fathers, who ask – or should be asking – what it’s all about. I am no expert, and not perfect by far, but I have come to realize a few things about that season of new-dadhood.

Dear New, soon to be, or hope to be, Dads,

You’re life is about to change in way that you literally cannot imagine. You might, if you are anything like me, think you know what it’s going to be like, but you don’t. No offense or anything, it is just the truth. The journey that lies ahead is one, that for you is uncharted waters, with no GPS, but it’s an incredible trip nonetheless. You will feel things you never knew before. You will be wrapped in wonderment and bewilderment all at once. You will be infuriated and full of joy, at the same time! It’s glorious really. But you won’t be ready…

So, having a healthy dose of fear is a good thing – you are tasked to raise a human…tasked with the shaping of a soul! Having a keen awareness of your inadequacy for the task ahead is wise, not weak. Don’t be ashamed because you are under qualified for this position of ‘soul shaper’. Don’t be too manly to talk to your spouse about your doubts and worries – because she’s got them too. Use this humbled position as the motivation to seek wisdom from the guys that have gone before for you. Maybe from your dad, a guy at church, a dad you have watched and respect. Get real good at asking real good questions – and pray… a lot.

Which naturally leads me to let you in on something you probably weren’t expecting, but adds the joy of this new and forever season of life. You will learn really quick, that you aren’t as patient or selfless as you thought. – in other word, Jesus still needs to keep digging some of the ugly stuff out. Just like when you first get married and that new stage of life exposes your flaws, your kid exposes the reality that you aren’t as far along in maturity as you thought – which is a good thing! God uses this season to refine you even more, helping you become the man he created and purposed you to be. I know it shocked me. I thought I was doing pretty well in terms of selflessness and patience. And when Olivia showed up and the glorious burden of parenting was placed on my shoulders, I realized that I still think about and love myself way too much. Don’t run from this. Embrace it. Thank God for it. Continue to grow.

Also, in a very intimidating way, you realize your decisions matter. The weight of responsibility that being a dad puts on you forces you to consider much about life. You need to consider your lifestyle, your behaviours, your eating habits, your budgets, your whatever, because of what these things might do to your child. How they will be affected? What do these thing teach them about life, God, or others? What values do they communicate? This is also really good for you. Have a good look at the life you have forged; is it a life you want your child to live too? If not, change it. This is an opportunity.

If you are in the soon to be Dad column, your wife has already up to this point connected with the baby in a way that you haven’t – she’s been carrying it for 9 months literally inside of her after all. She feels it move, kick, hiccup, and twirl. You maybe felt it a couple times. But if I could offer one small piece of advice for that moment you first see your child it would be this: Feel. Really feel. And express it; dive two feet in to that moment. Sure, we all experience and express emotions differently, but whatever kind of joy, love, laughter, tears, whatever it is, feel it. Don’t cap it. Connect. It’s not less manly, it’s called being a Dad. There is a love that you didn’t know. A joy that you didn’t know. These now flood your soul – mixed with a wee bit of terror of course – and let them. It’s good. You are holding your child. The miracle of a new life unfolding right before your eyes. Be completely, totally, soulfully, present.

Dads, take the time to truly see your new wife. By new, I don’t mean you have a different woman as your wife, but your wife is not the same person she was anymore – and it’s good. When Emily became a mom she became altogether even more – as if that were even possible – beautiful and captivating, As I was privileged to witness her blossom into motherhood, a whole new side of my wife became alive before my eyes. A corner of her soul that was laid dormant until now, was being revealed. What motherhood does to a woman’s soul can’t help but be expressed. It’s uncontainable. And so Dads, stop and stare. See her in her new glory, and love it. This is the woman God blessed you with in a deeper, more rich fullness than you knew previously. You have a choice. You can choose to see simply the chaos of a new born, or to see the calm of radiant motherhood. Choose the latter.

But Dads, your wife will need help. Recovery isn’t always easy. The new lifestyle that a new life requires is hard to adjust to. Sometimes it is really difficult, and maybe for your wife, mildly to crushingly depressing – yes, gentlemen Post Partum Depression is real – we might not understand it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a real thing. Whatever the case, your wife needs a partner, a friend, a support, a helper. Be to her what she is relentlessly to you. Take it from me, in this new phase of parenting and family, you will learn how incredible she is, how hard she works for you and your child, and how easily you will take her for granted. So preemptively learn that lesson and just trust me on this, and be to her what you will quickly realize she is to you – and never stop. 6 months, 12 months, 2 years… keep doing this Dads.

Honestly Dads, this letter could go on for a LONG time – we haven’t even talked about how kids can actually make your marriage better, or about actually interacting with your kids and the kind of crazy emotions and humbling experience you will go through. Or watching them grow up in complete awe, or saying all those cliché parenting things you swore you’d never say, or how much you realize you do what your parents did without even thinking about it, and the list goes on. So for the sake of time, I will end it here for now with 3 short, extremely practical, thoughts:

  • You will be tired… and coffee is better for you black. Get used to both.
  • Poop happens… literally… your wife will love you more if you clean it.
  • Minivans are awesome, best car choice I have made.

Dads, God has trusted you with the most precious thing, a soul. This is not convenient, this not glamorous, this is not easy, this is not comfortable. But, this is your calling – if you are going to fail at something, don’t let it be this.