Have you ever struggled in life and wondered “Why is this happening to me? How long do I have to suffer for? Why won’t God just do something about this?” I know I sure have, and it’s amazing that despite my belief and trust in God, I can’t ...
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There Has Never Been an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday First and more...



There Has Never Been an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday First


Have you ever struggled in life and wondered “Why is this happening to me? How long do I have to suffer for? Why won’t God just do something about this?” I know I sure have, and it’s amazing that despite my belief and trust in God, I can’t help but allow my doubts to creep in and I sometimes begin to paint a bleak and dismal future in my mind. Yet, if I when I hold on with faith just a little bit longer, I have almost always found the “sun through the dark clouds” in the situation that seemed at some points improbable and the obstacles seemed impassable.

Now, we know that God is both the “author and perfector” (see Hebrews 12:2), so He clearly has a plan for both trials, temptations and tribulations in our life. And whether “He wills or He allows” struggles in our lives, He has offered us His Son, not only as Our Savior, but also as a reminder of the importance of faith and continuing to believe even when it seems so dark and hope seems so bleak. 

For a Biblical reference of this truth, look no further than the story of Easter. For Christians, Easter Sunday is a time of great celebration, renewal and restored faith. However, there has never been an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday first. In Biblical times, just a third day prior, Christ in flesh died on a cross with no “magic change” or “God just fix this for me type of intervention”.  In many ways that is how our lives work: we face great trials and struggle, and often times we face way more pain, suffering and adversity than we ever imagined we would. Yet, if we choose to give up and stop believing, we would almost certainly miss the personalized miracles and blessings that God had in store for us. In other words, “if we stop believing on Saturday, we will never realize the full glory of Easter Sunday”.

As a Christian therapist, I have personally witnessed countless tales of people’s suffering and struggles, yet I am never ceased to be amazed at the glorious transformation of character and faith that happens when people are able to “not grow weary or lose heart” (see Hebrews 12:3). I hope and pray that you too will “bear your cross” (see Matthew 16:24-26) when called to, so despite the conflict, trial and tribulation, you are able to find growth in your character, solace in your heart and a life renewed in Christ.


Justin
     
 

What is Your Relationship with Technology?

So what is your relationship with modern technology and the digital “improvements” in our society? How often do you engage in the never ending list of technology enhancements in our modern lifestyle? Do you find yourself trying to resist the inundation of technology updates and frequent invites for “connecting” with others in the social media world? Or are you slowly sliding into a shift of your daily activities that includes frequent phone and email checking, watching the latest video that went “viral”, and getting lost in all the high-tech features that are offered on your appliances?

Whether we like it or not, encourage it or not, fear it or not, the psychological atmosphere of our world is being drastically reconfigured and our experiences of life, relationships and spirituality are being tested in ways that are unique from anything society has experienced before.

Even as God-honoring Christians, our attitudes, beliefs, experiences and life circumstances will place us all across the wide spectrum of technology supporters or resistors. Yet, it is hard to deny that on a daily basis our personal, relational and spiritual walk isn’t being altered or at the very least being challenged to conform and move more towards the default line of “being of this world”.

While there are many different ways to take this discussion, my larger goal is to do just that….open a candid discussion throughout a variety of seasons and contexts of your life on how the modern technology driven world has, is and may continue to affect the spiritual walk you are intending to maintain. I hope to follow up with many more blog posts that will help present and introduce many key topics related to the implications from this modern age of technology. I intend to provide an abundance of literature, research, follow up articles and practical “how to’s” to help individuals, youth, parents, church leaders and educators alike to help better equip you with knowledge, encouragement and fuel for discussion to promote a healthy stewardship in your technology affected spiritual journey.

Keeping in line with Christ’s teachings of “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” (Luke 12:34) and “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money…… (or technology in this case) (Matthew 6:24), my hope is to present from a position of advocating spiritual stewardship of technology, not necessarily overreacting to it as an alarmist, while definitely not endorsing a blind use of it without strong considerations of the multifaceted impacts that one may expose themselves to by over engaging in the “pleasures of the world”.

So what words would you use to describe what technology has become in your life, in your family, in your heart?

A source of enjoyment and enhanced entertainment?

An opportunity to stay connected with others? To feel engaged in the larger world around you?

A distraction? An excuse to temporarily check out?

A constant temptation? A source of conflict and tension in your household?

A threat to the safety and integrity of your children and family?

And so on and so on……..


Justin
     
 

Where Has All The Romance Gone? Part 1- The Stages of Love

What type of season is it in your marriage? Spring blooming into Summer, or Fall slipping into Winter? It’s somewhat interesting how Valentine’s Day is about “the warmth of love and burning romance” yet it is smack dab in the middle of winter…or at least winter weather for here in the Midwest. So whether your relationship resembles reality TV shows with dream dates, or more like a real-life version of “the facts of (married) life” fear not, because God has a plan to reignite and strengthen the love in your marriage no matter what type of marital weather you may be facing.

Today, we will look at the different stages that all marriages will not only face, but will need to learn to navigate through not just once, but often several times over. While there are many great marriage resources and authors who present the predictable marriage stages in important and distinct detail, I invite you to take a moment and reflect on a few questions that represent three key stages you have likely already experienced: Infatuation, Disillusionment, and Joy.

The Infatuation Stage:
* What attracted you to your spouse?
* What set him/her apart from all others in your life?
* What specifically could you not get enough of about them, or about how you felt around them?

The Disillusionment Stage:
* At what point did you begin to realize that your “picture perfect” ______ (spouse/marriage/life) wasn’t going to be quite as “happily ever after” as you once imagined or were told it would be?
* What things started to dampen the fire of love you once had for them? (time, energy, life responsibilities?) or (specific events, choices, realities that caused hurt, anger or unforgiveness)

The Renewed Joy Stage:
* What are the specific things about your spouse or marriage that you could never live without…even despite the things you wish you didn’t have to live with?
* Despite any annoyances or even hurts you may have, what helps keep your relationship still intact and alive?
* What helps you focus on the bigger spiritual picture of your marriage?

As you reflect on the above questions, it is important to remember that no marriage will ever be perfect. Rather, if we are willing to submit ourselves to God’s design, all marriages are promised to be continually perfected (see 1 John 4:18). Remember, it is not the type of season that you are in that defines the marriage, rather it is how you respond to it, and how you recognize opportunities to draw
towards a deeper renewed joy stage.

Also, if you are in the renewed joy stage, it is about thankfully embracing, enjoying and cherishing that, while acknowledging the reality that life events or circumstances may shift you out of that stage at some point. Thankfully, it is God’s design to teach, grow and love you and your marriage through each stage regardless of the circumstances and choices others may be making. As much as your marriage is about two individuals who have taken a vow to pursue an unconditional love, God is also equally married to the two of you and will show everlasting strength of love that will truly cast out all things.

My prayer is for your marriage and all marriages to be a witness as well as a contributor to the great design He has made for a husband and a wife, and may He always help you weather the storms!


Justin
     
 

Couples Connection Challenge #4: Learning to Dialogue and Engage with Your Spouse

So here we are, the final week of the challenge. Did you make an honest effort for interviewing your spouse? Were you able to make room in your heart for the honest answers you may have received? Were you prepared to answer any questions your spouse may have had for you? Are there any questions that you aren’t quite ready to bring to the surface?


In this stage of a couples challenge, each couple’s experience will vary drastically. Yet, it is by maintaining focus on the consistencies and principles that God invites us toward which will allow for enough security to “be still, and know that He is there” (Psalm 46:10). And so to finish this couple’s challenge, I invite you to the art of learning to dialogue….more importantly, the ability to keep the dialogue going not just through the end of the issue being discussed, but throughout the life of your marriage.


So what exactly is dialogue? Speaking in dictionary terms, the definition of dialogue includes, “a conversation between two or more persons; an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue; to discuss areas of disagreement candidly in order to resolve them”.


While I don’t disagree with those explanations, I also believe a marital dialogue is more about allowing the conversation of the topic, but also from the heart, to continue, to expand, and to be integrated throughout the relationship’s journey. All too often couples misconstrue the scripture verse of “not letting the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26) as a reprimand for “we must finish and conclude every disagreement….now!” However, I have found working with couples that it is spiritually enriching when both spouses commit to continue the spirit of the conversation, sometimes throughout many seasons, not as a way of avoidance rather as an intentional honoring of the importance the issue has for each of them. When there is a felt security in knowing the dialogue won’t end just because the conversation of the issue has temporarily ceased, it allows both spouses to trust the value of reflecting internally and upwardly to God to get a better understanding and perspective, as opposed to demanding a solution or compromise of either spouse’s heart.


So that is where we start with this week's challenge. The first step in learning to dialogue is to create a healthy and emotionally safe environment for dialogue. As a couple, work towards an agreement on the best times and places for deeper discussion. Find the right “temperature” in your heart for when and how to bring up the issues needed to be discussed, yet instill grace and patience for not having all the answers and solutions according to a human made timeline. When initiating a dialogue, it is helpful to simply ask, “Is now a good time, if not when would be for you?” Also it is wise to give a bit of an overview of the issue, the level of intensity or urgency the issue has for you, as well any hoped for outcomes you might have prior to even having the discussion. The important thing is for both spouses to feel prepared and secure, or at least be ready to lean on God and the Holy Spirit to guide the discussion from an honest place of the heart, and not from a defensive or reactive attitude.


As the topic is discussed, it is helpful when both spouses are given the space (within a reasonable time frame) to present and share their perspectives, without reactions or defensiveness, but rather with a heart of seeking to understand the intention, concern, and hoped for outcome of each spouse. Try to avoid jumping straight to action, requests, or planning a “fix it” solution. It may help to end discussions with a statement such as, “based on what we just discussed, is there any future planning or further discussions that would be helpful to have…if so when would be a good time for us”


Remember to be open to continuing the dialogue….like a good volley in a game of tennis, allowing each other to contribute to the giving and receiving of the information and emotional sharing of the discussion. It is in this process that a couple deepens their ability to build trust and credibility in each other as well as in their relationship’s strength to endure temporary disagreements or dilemmas, knowing that with perseverance there will be resolution.


As you reflect back on this past month, my hope is that you have seen the value of each step we focused on. Marriages thrive when spouses genuinely invest their time and energy into connecting and being more present with each other. Yet a spiritual marriage is strengthened when there is an intentional effort to explore and learn more about each other’s heart, and commit to develop the art of dialogue. In many ways, the various circumstances the two of you face throughout your lifetime together is how God dialogues with each of you. I pray that He continues to guide you and lead you to a deeper knowing of His love for you and His plans for your marriage.


Thank you for taking the Couples Connection Challenge!


Justin
     
 

Couples Connection Challenge #3: Learning to Interview and Explore Your Spouse’s Heart

It’s now the third week of this challenge…does it feel like it’s been that long. How have you done so far on genuine efforts for initiating connection with your spouse? Have you noticed any changes, any shifts in either of your hearts? Or, perhaps, have you come across any new barriers, perhaps some internal resistances that you weren’t prepared for?

As with any renewed effort or exercise, trying to re-connect with your spouse will likely bring you both excitements at the new possibilities as well as reminders of the age-old fears and insecurities that dwell in the shadows of your heart.

This week’s challenge is focused on your willingness to learn, both about your spouse’s heart as well as your own experience in the marriage you are in. As we open our eyes, ears and heart to our spouse, we begin to connect to the spirit of God’s heart. At His core, God is about relationship, and relationship is about the freely giving and receiving of one another. Just as it is important to “lead with love” in marriage with kinds words, thoughts and actions, it is as equally important to develop the art of “seeking to understand”. It is amazing to think of how uniquely detailed God knows each of us (see Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:13; Matthew 10:30) yet how endlessly He seeks us out and desires to draw ever nearer to our heart.

As a Christian marriage therapist, I have seen the beauty of many couples softening their hearts towards each other, sometimes in a mere instant, all because one or both spouses begin to set aside their own agendas and demands to feel heard, and genuinely seek to understand the other’s heart. Their entire demeanor changes and it opens an avenue of connection like they may have never experienced before.The great thing is that it’s not some magic trick nor does it take a Herculean effort. Rather, it starts with a willingness and trust.

It starts with a willingness to make room for the other person’s thoughts, feelings and attitudes, even if it’s not what you wanted to hear. With a willingness to see value in the others perspective and to show interest in learning not just what or how they did something, but rather what they experienced while they did it…and perhaps what part in the larger story of their life it played.

Seeking to understand also takes trust. It takes a sense of trust that you don’t have to defend yourself or react negatively, rather you can trust what your spouse’s heart is saying is true…at least for them, and that God will give the both of you enough love to stand firm against any misconceptions, transgressions or fears that result in not seeing eye to eye on a particular issue or event. Being willing to seek to understand takes trust in your spouse that they too want to hear your heart and will make room for where you stand, even if they don’t agree with it.

When couples can commit to learning how to trust and how to be vulnerable, while showing love and respect for each other, it allows the marriage to become a true safe-haven for sharing from the depths, as well as a fun and exciting arena to practice expressing different versions of each other’s personality and desires to be known. To be clear, not all couples are ready for this depth of honesty, and unfortunately, some spouses refuse to soften their hearts and make it very difficult to present vulnerability without creating more damage or wounds in the relationship. If that is the case in your marriage I strongly encourage you to seek counsel and support from a resource that will provide safety yet help to draw out the truths that need to be dealt with.
So now it’s time to put this concept of “seeking to understand” into action.

In its basic form, what “seeking to understand” looks like in a marriage is as simple as….interviewing. However, it’s not about playing emotional “go fish” and looking for a particular answer from your spouse….and it’s definitely not about jumping right to an action plan once your spouse gives you an answer. Rather learning to interview your spouse is about seeking out a relational connection, a deeper understanding about the person and story being told, more than it is about the facts or details. It is also important to ask interview questions in an explorative demeanor, using phrases such as “what was it like for you when…?” or “how was it for you as a…?. Explorative questions will be received much more lovingly then the unintended interrogative or judgmental tone that the word “why” can have, such as in questions like “why did you do that?” or “why do you feel that way?”

Many spouses question this type of interviewing and suggest that “I’ve already asked them about that” or “We’ve been together so long that there isn’t anything new to learn”, and in many ways they are correct. Indeed a sharing of factual information in a relationship can only go so far because sometimes the answer to the question may always be the same (i.e. “were you nervous on our first date?” or “what type of vacations did you go on as a child?”). However, when we share in a sense of relational information, it is always changing because this type of sharing is more about the type of experience they had and/or about their current view of the experience.

As a husband for nearly a decade, and as a professional who is trained to study people, I have a pretty good grasp on the type of person my wife is and what to typically expect from her. However, I would be amiss if I were to only focus on predicting what and how she will do something because I would likely fail to learn why she did it and what that means about who she is and the heart she has. A therapeutic term for this type of learning of our spouse is referred to as their “love maps”. A love map is an abstract concept of a collection of knowledge about the inner details of your spouse’s inner being, their inner thoughts and emotions, their little white lies and their deeper fears as well as dreams. The more a couple actively pursues learning about each other and creating a detailed knowledge of each other’s “love map” they create a multitude of connection points and often enjoy each other’s presence and have a stronger foundation to deal with the trials and struggles in life.

So as I give you various examples of interview questions and categories to being learning about your spouse, I encourage you to take to heart the importance of the “heart to” of interviewing with a greater focus on the “behind the scenes” rather than just the “facts and statistics”.

Here is a list of starting questions in various relationship categories to choose from.  I also recommend “Love Talks” and “Family Talks” by Gary Chapman, and “Love Talk Starters” by Les & Leslie Parrot.  These are a collection of interview questions with a wide range from the funny to the serious that are great conversation starters and keep your interest and intrigue alive and active in your marriage as well as your discussions with your kids.

So there you have it….challenge number three is now in front of you! I wish you the best and may God continue to bless your efforts for drawing nearer to your spouse!

Happy Interviewing!


Justin