Discerning Your Seasons of Life

Four seasons collage

As I write this, we are approaching spring on the calendar, but today is a cold day that follows two warm, very nice days. A couple weeks ago we had 17 inches of snow on the ground. A couple days ago I was able to run outside in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Warmer days are predicted later this week.

Like the saying goes in my part of the world, “If you don’t like the weather now — stick around — it will change.”

Seasons. They come and they go. Sometimes quickly.

Life is like that.

Life happens in seasons.

Ecclesiastes says there’s a time for everything. Everything has a season.

Good seasons. Bad seasons.

Productive seasons. Growth seasons. And, seasons of decline.

Seasons of mourning. Grief. Seasons of laughter. Jubilee.

Seasons where there are more obstacles than opportunities. Often followed by seasons where we can’t seem to find time for all the opportunities.

There are seasons of stretching, where God seems to shape something new in our hearts. And, we often don’t know what that new is until we enter another season.

Seasons of passionate, growing love. And, tough seasons, where love is tested.

Seasons you’re more the leader and seasons where you’re more being led.

Seasons of blessings. And, seasons of wondering where are all those blessings others seem to be experiencing.

There are seasons of discovery and seasons where we get to invest what we have discovered in others — while we keep discovering something new.

As parents we have lots of seasons. The seasons where we never seem to have a break and you can’t get everything done and the kids are driving you crazy some days and you just need one good night’s rest. And, then seasons where the house seems empty and you long for a cluttered floor of toys again.

Seasons. Life happens in seasons.

What’s your current season?

It’s important to understand that seasons occur and to know what season in which you are currently living.

When we don’t understand this concept of seasons — especially in the bad seasons — we can begin to believe that seasons never change. We may stop trusting. Stop dreaming. Stop taking risks.

But, life comes in seasons. Seasons do change. Sometimes quickly. And, sometimes seasons overlap each other.

When we find ourselves in a good season — especially an extended good season — we can start to take the season for granted. We may even forget that seasons change. Sometimes quickly. And, so we aren’t prepared.

Take a minute and reflect: What season of life you are currently experiencing?

Review your life by how the seasons have molded you. God never wastes a season. Ask God to place in your heart what He wants you to learn during this specific season of your life. Invite God to speak into your seasons.

Life happens in seasons.

Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Sermon

Happy senior couple.

In the series Love Helps, I shared a message about the importance of actions building oneness.

I shared four actions to help build oneness:

5 Ways a Once Good Marriage Slips Away or Falls Apart

couple in distress

How does a once good marriage slip away?

I get asked that question when it becomes public that a marriage everyone thought was rock solid falls apart.

As the song goes — It’s a slow fade. A good marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight. It diminishes gradually.

There are probably lots of reasons. There are usually a few common causes in my experience.

Here are 5 ways a once good marriage slips away — or falls apart:

Other interests come between them. It could be a relationship — even other good relationships — or a hobby, or work, but something gets a higher priority than the marriage. Distractions will destroy a good marriage.

Unresolved conflict. Conflict left unattended sometimes sits like it never existed. But, oh it did. And, it does. Someone is holding on to it. Trust me. And, the longer it sits the deeper the wedge it causes.

The couple stops dreaming together. When a couple is dating they have lots of dreams together. They discuss their future. They dream about where they will live and travel. They dream about family and adventure. It’s an energy that fuels the relationship. When it stops. The fuel it brought stops.

Boredom. I’ve long said this is one of the leading causes of marriages unraveling. Couples quit dating — quit laughing — quit having fun together. They get caught in the routines and busyness of life. Boredom sets in and the closeness they once shared begins to drift. The enemy love this and suddenly one or both spouses seek excitement elsewhere. Dangerous.

Living separate agendas. It’s okay to have separate identities. Even encouraged. It’s okay to have separate interests. It keeps things interesting. But, it’s not okay to have separate agendas. The agenda should be two very different people blending those differences into one. When that’s not happening — the strength of the marriage will slowly — or quickly — fade.

I’m praying for your marriage — as I continue to pray for mine. Stand firm.

The Two Shall Become One Flesh

himher

I’m not good with art, but if you were sitting in my office, I would attempt to draw this diagram on my dry erase board. I hope you can get past the crude drawing to get to the intended meaning, because it really is important to understand in shaping a marriage.

Taken from Ephesians 5:21-33, I believe this is the model of a healthy marriage that God is attempting to build. It is by design that two unique and imperfect people are called to become one.

To accomplish that task, two things must occur.

First, as indicated with the upper left and right triangles, each spouse must get rid of the “baggage” he or she brings into the marriage. While most of us come with lots of baggage, in simple terms, this is anything that will not help the couple become one. If for example, one spouse is selfish, while that may be allowed in some relationships, it will not work in making one flesh.  Discovering what parts of each spouse will not work in building one flesh becomes one goal in building a strong marriage. This could even be natural bents or personalities, but they must be considered as to whether they make the marriage stronger or weaker.

The middle two triangles, with the words “One Flesh”, illustrate the process of taking the best of each spouse, that part that helps completes the other spouse, and using it to build God’s design for the marriage.

As an example, my wife is the compassionate one in our relationship. (You could have guessed that most likely.) In our life together, she helps me be more compassionate.

At the same time, Cheryl would enable others to take advantage of her if I were not around. Many times, I provide the strength that makes us strong as a couple and protects our family life.

So what do you do with this information?

 
Well, first working together (if you can’t do this together in love you have other issues to work through first), begin to make lists of those things that could keep it from becoming one flesh (your baggage). Over the course of time (don’t rush this process), each spouse begins to work on his or her baggage.

Second, make an opposite list of those qualities in each spouse that add to the strength of the marriage bond. Obviously, this is a more pleasant list to put together, but it’s most helpful if each spouse share the strengths of the other spouse. Once this list is in place, over time, begin to yield the marriage to the each of these strengths.

The seemingly impossible goal of becoming one flesh is not only challenging, but it is a lifetime process. Learning to communicate strengths and weaknesses each spouse brings to the marriage can help build the marriage God intended for you to have.

What strengths or weaknesses do you and/or your spouse bring to the marriage?

3 Terms Guaranteed To Strengthen Your Marriage

Happy Couple

Sometimes we make it harder than it has to be.

One of the best and easiest strategies to helping couples grow their marriage is to practice and apply these three terms to your marriage:

Identification

Learn how different each of you is from each other. God designed a man and a woman with different desires, needs and interests. Each spouse communicates differently, prefers life organized at a different pace, and handles disappointments and excitements differently. Spend quantity time identifying those differences. That’ll take you a lifetime together.

Expectations

Each spouse has unique expectations of what he or she expects from the marriage and the other spouse. These are the things required, in one spouse’s opinion, to make marriage work well. Spend quantity time identifying these expectations. Ask questions. Dream. Explore. By the way, these change over time, so prepare to do this often and continually.

Communication

Communication is the key to a healthy marriage. And, males and females — and every person — communicates differently. You’ll spend the rest of your time together learning how each other communicates, but the more you practice the better you will get. And, the better you get — the better the marriage.

Most problems in a marriage begin as minor problems. The key to keeping the marriage strong and working through the problems is to address the problems while they are still small. If your marriage is experiencing minor problems, which you feel in your heart could become major if not addressed, then this post is for you. Even if your marriage is thriving now, but simply want to strengthen it, implementing these three terms may help.

Could using these three words help make your marriage stronger?

9 Things You May Not Know About Introverts

Thoughtful businessman with glasses

I’ve been an introvert all of my life. I was born that way — or at least I’ve been that way as far as my memory carries me. As a child, I remember at social gatherings people asking me if there was something wrong with me. Because to some people it’s “wrong” to not be talkative. I had to force myself to engage others all through high school. And, I wasn’t a recluse. I was elected student body president of my high school.

And, if you’re really an introvert. I just said some things you understand.

The major problem with introversion — which, by the way, is not a disease — and not a problem — is the misunderstanding of it. People act like it’s a personality flaw. But, it’s nothing like that. Introversion is a preference in how we respond to life. Nothing more. It’s a wiring. But, there’s no flaw in the wiring.

So, I’ve attempted to change the misunderstanding to understanding. Helping you understand introverts.

That’s the point of this post.

Here are 9 things you may not know about introverts:

We can be very social. You should see me on Sunday. We can even be the life of the party if we choose to be.

We have humor. We may even be very funny. It might be a dry wit. You may have to “wait for it” — and pay careful attention. We usually have time to think about it before we project our humor on the world. And, when we do be prepared to laugh. Laugh hard.

We love people. Seriously. We do. Deeply. Just because you may talk more than us doesn’t mean we don’t love as much as you do. Introverts are often very loyal to the ones we love. Just like extroverts may be.

We are unique. We are unique from other introverts. We aren’t all alike. And, we are somewhat offended with a stereotype. (Just as any other stereotyped person is.) Introverts have a realm of introversion. Some appear more extroverted than others. Some more introverted.

We aren’t afraid of people. We usually don’t need you to speak on our behalf to remove our fears. Fear is not the reason we are introverted. It’s a personality.

We don’t need help formulating thoughts. I realize it seems at times that we don’t know what to say — but usually it’s because we are processing, taking our time, or simply don’t want to interrupt everyone else who seems to be talking incessantly. Believe me — thinking is not a problem for most introverts. We do it quite well.

We don’t always want to be left alone. Yes, we may like our time alone – or at least our quiet time — but we don’t have to be alone. Personally, I don’t enjoy life as much when Cheryl isn’t around. Even if we aren’t talking non-stop, I like her in my company.

We can have fun. Some extroverts think we can’t. Because to them more fun is more conversation. But, we can have fun. Lots of it. And, there doesn’t have to be constant noise to do that. And, sometimes there does. And, my definition of fun may not be yours. And, that’s okay. But, let’s hang sometime and I’ll show you how it’s done my way!

We aren’t weird. Well, maybe. But, it’s not because we are introverts. Something tells me at least one of my readers of this post will be weird. (I’ve got some weird tendencies — I guess we all do.) You may or my not be introverted.

So,there are a few things you may not know about introverts. Anything else you could share?

7 Suggestions for the First 7 Years of Marriage

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.

It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And, it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.

The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.

Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.

Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:

Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.

Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.

Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And, it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But, eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. And, money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.

Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. And, yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.

Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. But, let’s be honest — some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.

Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But, it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And, things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And, you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.

Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.

Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.

Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?

2 Critical and Dangerous Assumptions in a Marriage

Happy senior couple.

There are 2 critical assumptions in a marriage relationship.

I mean critical.

And, dangerous assumptions to make.

Making these two assumptions and not understanding the gravity of them can cause major problems in the relationship.

In my experience, the assumptions happen naturally — and often cause conflict — but when they are misunderstood, the conflict magnifies exponentially.

Two critical assumptions:

Assuming that what you value your spouse values.

The fact is you will likely have different values.

Let me give you a very practical example from my own marriage. I think our house is always relatively “clean”. Things are in place. I’m not tripping over stuff as I walk through the house. I’d be fine if people “dropped in” unannounced.

Cheryl isn’t okay with that. She sees things I don’t see. She values a “clean” house much more than I do. She sees the dust on the furniture. She knows if it’s been 3 days or 7 since the bathrooms were last “cleaned”. It bothers her if the shoes at the front door are not in their proper place. Her value system is different on those issues than mine.

And, there could be plenty of examples of things I would value that she may not. One for me, as an example, is getting out the door when it’s time to leave. “Come on, let’s go.” But, at that moment, her values of having everything in it’s place conflict with my value to get on the road in a timely manner.

This type conflict in values happens continually in every marriage.

And, equally critical — and dangerous:

Assuming that your spouse’s values don’t matter to you.

They do. They matter greatly. Even if they conflict with your values.

They matter to me because they matter to my spouse.

When I fail to validate a person’s values — any person’s, but especially my spouse — even if they aren’t my values, I speak volumes to them that I don’t care. That may not be true, but that’s the perception received.

Part of having a successful marriage is learning the values of the other person, validating them, and working to balance each other in them.

Cheryl can’t expect me to have the same values as her. Actually, over time, our values do tend to align more. We will always be different, because we are different — designed by God to be different.

Cheryl should expect me to value her values. And, likewise for her to value mine. It’s part of what makes a marriage work.