How Some of the Best Discoveries Are Made – In Life and Leadership

highland road

Don’t be afraid to take a wrong turn — or go where the path isn’t clear — or act when you don’t have all the details figured out yet.

Some of the best discoveries are made that way.

People are always asking Cheryl and me how we discovered a great new place to visit. Or to eat.

Don’t you love Instagram and Facebook for those postings?

Often it was on a discovery trip.

One time we were in Maryland. I said to Cheryl, “Let’s just take this road and see where it goes.”

It actually went to a dead end. At the ocean. Stop. No way out except where we came from. We may have even been in another state at that point. I never knew for sure.

There was one restaurant at the end of the road. It looked like a dump. Our cell service was so weak we couldn’t Google the place, so we just went for it. It turned out to be one of those memorable meals — in a good way.

We didn’t know where we were going or what we would find when we got there, but details don’t matter as much when you’re on a discovery mission.

We’ve actually used the discovery method to find dozens of great places. On most every vacation or trip we set aside some time just to discover something new. It gives us adrenaline as a couple, keeps things interesting (we’ve discovered some not so great places too) and — whatever we find — it gives us lots of great memories together.

I use the discovery method in leadership too. We try lots of new things. Some work. Some don’t. But, the ones that do prove to be some of our greatest discoveries. We found them by exploring.

Details are great. I know some people feel they need them. (Cheryl is that way.)

But don’t let not knowing them keep you from the greatest discoveries.

Explore. It’s often how the best discoveries are made.

And, it keeps life interesting.

In life and leadership.

Two Ways to Improve Your Marriage Today

Still In Love

Two ways to improve your marriage today

Communicate more often.

Schedule times just to talk.

Plan activities that will allow you to engage with each other.

Get a sitter so you can be alone.

Don’t let too much time to without longer conversations.

Begin and end your day — as much as possible — in communication with each other.

Read a book you both enjoy for something to talk about together.

Take long walks together.

Trade texts throughout the day.

Share calendars to keep you on track with each other through the day.

Shut down all electronics frequently.

Communicate better.

Learn each others differences.

Speak to each other’s head and heart. Learn how men and women communicate differently.

Prepare for conversation by preparing questions of each other.

Always be honest and always be kind.

Consider the other person’s needs.

Really listen to each other.

Laugh together frequently.

Extend grace. Forgive quickly.

Get some conflict resolution training. (If needed)

Don’t go to bed in anger. Stop little issues from becoming major issues.

One of the greatest threats to marriage — and one of the greatest helps — to most marriages is communication.

Use it often. Use it well.

Obviously, you can’t do all of this today, but could you do something to intentionally improve the quantity and quality of your marriage communication?

Any other tips you could share with my readers?

7 Pieces of Advice for In-laws of Young Married Couples

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I often teach and write about the experiences that I have working with relationships. Personal experience is often some of the best information I have to protect and help other relationships.

In helping marriages, I often try to share some of the barriers that I have seen to having a good marriage. My theory is that if couples are aware of the barriers before they become an issue it’s much easier to deal with them when they arise.

One of the consistent barriers I have seen in having a strong marriage is the way the couple deals with outside influences. It could be friends, family, work, or hobbies. It’s mostly people.

One of those primary outside influences that many couples struggle with is dealing with in-laws.

And, the in-laws who are causing a problem are now rejecting this post. :)

The crazy thing about this issue is that I once talked about the issue but now I live the issue. So I realize I am on shaky ground by speaking to a subject I haven’t yet mastered. We have been in-laws now for a couple of years and it is still relatively new for us. But now at least I see both sides of the issue. Cheryl and I are trying to be good in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.

I’m speaking primarily in this post about parental in-laws, but these will also apply to other relatives of couples. This type post gets me in trouble. It’s a sensitive issue. Keep in mind this is an opinion blog. And this is an opinion post. But these are gained through years of experience working with young couples. Apply as necessary.

Here’s some of my best advice for in-laws:

Remember “leave and cleave”.  It’s Biblical. Two people are trying to become one. That’s the goal. That means the two can’t be part of another unit in the same way. Yes, they are still family, but they are creating something new. Their new will likely look different from yours — hopefully even better. No doubt you will have influenced who they are as a couple. That may be in good and bad ways. Let them as a couple determine what they keep of your influence and what they leave behind. Again, they are still part of you. But, in the formulation of a new “them” they have to leave some things behind.

Know this: Everything you say to your child impacts their spouse. One way or another. And, it will likely either be repeated and injure your relationship with their spouse or cause a hidden wedge in their relationship. You can’t expect them to become one if you have a private world of communication with your child. And if they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse. Yes, you should always be a safe place for your child. And there may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare. Very rare in my opinion. You can help them reduce friction in their marriage by not contributing to or promoting private conversations.

They sense the pressure to “come see you”. Chances are they have pressure elsewhere too. Maybe even from other in-laws. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them? Yes, it’s hard when they don’t seem to want to — or you feel slighted in the amount of attention you receive — but guilt and complaining won’t accomplish what you’re attempting. It might even get them there, but it won’t promote quality time with them.  And, it will often build resentment.

Get rid of the phrase “What you should do is”. It isn’t helpful because it’s usually received with an immediate pushback. They are trying to form their own identity as a family. Hopefully they will solicit your input at times but don’t offer it unless you’re asked.

Offer advice only if you’re asked. I thought this one merited repeating. Again, it’s not that you don’t have some good advice. And they would probably be better off if they listened to your advice more often. Most likely you have experience they don’t yet have. But most young couples want to discover things on their own just as you possibly did when you were younger. Unsolicited advice is almost never seen as valuable as solicited advice.

Be a fun place to hang out. All young couples need to see healthy people and healthy relationships. Marriage is hard without any outside influences. So the more healthy an environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment. Don’t create drama for them. Don’t constantly be bickering and fighting when you are with them. Learn to enjoy doing things they enjoy doing.

Love them unconditionally. I would say equally, but that’s hard — isn’t it? You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with them. Give grace generously. Hold your tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful. Forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.

The point of this post — and this blog — is to help. I’m not trying to stir more frustration. Other blogs do that well. :). Seriously, my aim is to address issues I see often and help us learn from other people’s experiences. I realize this is a hard season for many parents, but with careful intentionality it can be a great season. Enjoy!

Remember, we are new at this.

What other tips do you have? 

7 Ways We Keep Our Marriage Strong

happy couple 2

Cheryl and I are in a good season of life and marriage. We’ve been empty-nesters for a few years now — we’ve adjusted — it was hard missing our boys at first — but now life is good. Really good.

This weekend we had a destination wedding (I love those) and added a few days for time just the two of us. We needed it. As great as a season as we are in it’s a busy season. We’ve been running hard for several months.

The good thing — we can’t think of anyone we’d rather be with when we are off from work.

Isn’t that a great feeling?

Cheryl and I intentionally strive to keep our marriage strong. It’s a work in progress. We know that if we ever let up the enemy will win. The Scripture is clear — Satan crawls around like a roaring lion, waiting to devour.

So, how do we keep our marriage strong? I’ve been asked that so many times.

Here are 7 ways we keep our marriage strong:

We walk. Cheryl and I walk together almost every day. When weather and time permits, we walk hours and miles together. This may sound strange unless you’ve experienced it, but as an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. When my boys were home, I engaged more when we were throwing a ball together. For Cheryl and me, it’s walking. And, here’s the key: Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So — we walk.

We talk. And, that’s so incredibly important. Every day we talk about our days. We debrief our life. There are always moments of the day we would have to explain to understand them. We explain. It cuts down the surprise factors in our life. I’m a part of every aspect of Cheryl’s life — and she is of mine. Our work. Our friends. Our families. Our hobbies. Our thoughts. Our fears. Our dreams.

We question. Cheryl and I have been known to ask some strange questions of each other. More than, “What are you thinking?”. Cheryl or I might ask something such as, “If you had one prayer — and only one prayer — for our boys, or for me, what would it be?” Questions that may seem silly to some, but to us they make perfect sense, because it keeps us thinking deeper about our life and each other.

We dream. Everyone has them. Some of us hide them better than others. Cheryl and I have a consistent habit of dreaming together. No dream is too small or too large. It’s a dream. It may or may not become reality, but that’s okay. It’s fun and energizing of our relationship to dream together.

We laugh. A lot. We don’t have the same sense of humor, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy laughing together about whatever there is to laugh about at the time. It would probably be silly and not funny to anyone else, but that’s okay. Our mutual humor keeps us close at heart.

We cry. Okay, I’ve got to be honest on this one. I’m not a big crier. I cry, but very selectively and very privately. But, Cheryl and I share something with each other. We are vulnerable to each other. Very vulnerable. I’m not afraid to tell her I’m afraid. That I’m hurt. That I wish life was different than it is — even if I have to say it with tears in my eyes. Our lives are open books with one another. It builds a closeness that is hard to destroy.

We love. Deeply. I’ve heard it said I’d rather be deeply loved than widely loved. Cheryl and I deeply love each other. It’s the kind of love that can overlook the flaws we bring to the relationship. And, we bring a lot. Mostly me. But, love is ultimately a choice we make — a deep, committed, loyal kind of choice. I choose Cheryl. She chooses me.

That’s our seven. Do you have more to share?

What keeps your marriage strong?

12 Ways to Make Marriage Fun Again

Elderly couple

I previously posted this several years ago, before we were empty-nesters. I believe more in it today than I did then. Sadly, as someone who studies marriages, I see more and more marriages that are just going through the routines of marriage without really enjoying the journey. At the same time, I do know couples who have learned how to make their marriage work for the good of both spouses and are truly enjoying life together. My wife and I want to be included in the latter group.

What does it take to put or keep fun in a marriage?

I first shared these tips at a pastor’s retreat, so that was the original audience, but I believe they work for all of us.

Here are a 12 ways to make marriage fun again:

Prioritize your marriage – If you want to have fun in your marriage, you have to make your marriage a priority in your life; above your hobbies, work and even your children. All of us would say that our marriage is a priority, but do we practice what we say we believe? Our marriage should take precedence over every other human relationship and every other activity. My wife knows when I am putting her first and when something else has my greatest attention.

Schedule time for fun – We should schedule time to simply enjoy life with our spouse. Everyone I know is busy, but we should make sure our schedule never gets so crowded that we cannot enjoy time with the love of our life. As a pastor, I am never really off work, but I try to be home when I am home. Still, I will often hear my wife, and my boys when they were home, ask me something like, “Are you really listening to me or are you thinking about your next appointment?” We must set boundaries between our home and our work or other activities. Add to your calendar opportunities to have fun together. When is the last time you and your wife went on a date? You can be wise with your expenses and still plan for date nights.

Let worry go – Struggles will never completely disappear, so we should learn how to balance the need for control in our lives and the desire to live at peace and trust God through the hard times of life. It is important that we not allow struggles that come into the marriage to tear the marriage apart, but instead we should let our trials draw us closer to each other.

Expect surprises – Stuff happens! We know that; we see bad things happen everyday, but for some reason we are caught off guard when they happen to us. We should not be surprised when our marriage needs a little extra help because of the struggles of life. Cheryl and I have discovered the tough times bring us closer together if we allow them to work for us rather than against us.

Celebrate along the way – I have been told that it takes three or four positive life occurrences to offset every negative. If this is true then each of us need to look for opportunities to celebrate the good things of life. When times are especially stressful, Cheryl and I try to make sure we are remembering the positives in life. They are always there, but we have to sometimes look for them. Have you ever just taken time to reflect together how many things you have for which you are thankful? You may even have a better life than you thought you did; once you take time to celebrate.

Enjoy each others interests – It’s okay to have outside interests, but one of the goals of marriage is to enjoy life together. That usually involves enjoying each others activities together. I don’t like to shop necessarily, and there are certain stores where I refuse to shop, but I go shopping regularly with Cheryl because I love her and she loves shopping. It has always amazed me that when I invest the time to shop with Cheryl she always tries to give back to me by allowing me to enjoy one of my interests — with no guilt.

Get away – We all need time away from all the demands of life. On a pastor’s income, I can’t always take fancy vacations, but I am not afraid to invest in my marriage. My wife and I love to travel. One of our more fun things to do together is to plan inexpensive day trips. There is something about physically leaving the environment in which we are comfortable that pushes us closer to the ones we love. For years, while my boys were younger, I gave Cheryl a trip for Christmas to be used sometime during the year. She looked forward to the gift and the trip every year. On bad days during the year, the thoughts of the gift or trip to come fueled her positive emotions.

Serve Together – We have discovered that the more we serve other people together the more fun we have in our marriage. It gives us more common ground with each other. Taking mission trips have become a fun way to spend time together. Serving our church together brings us closer to each other. Sharing ministry stories and experiences helps us draw from each others strength.

Little things matter – Moments in a marriage that may seem to be minor details have the potential for major impact on the marriage relationship. It is important to handle little issues or conflict before they become big things. If a husband and wife have a minor disagreement it can easily escalate into a major division in the relationship if left unattended. Keep the relationship fresh and free from minor drama.

We should also allow little pleasures to bring happiness to the marriage. One of my favorite times of day is the walk Cheryl and I take at night. That few minutes each day keeps us close relationally, allows us to catch up from our day away from each other, and helps me to enjoy Cheryl in a fun setting.

Laugh at life – I read a statistic once that preschoolers laugh an average of 300 times a laugh an average of 17 times a day. The older we get the less we laugh. Laughter is good for our health and laughing together builds stronger relationships. Couples need to learn to laugh through life together. Cheryl and I laugh much!

Dream together – When couples are dating they seem to have fun discussing their future plans. Once we get married we tend to lose the art of dreaming. Dreaming inspires and encourages the heart. Dreaming together as a couple keeps the relationship fueled with new passions and desires. (I wrote a whole post about that HERE.)

Spread the pain – I am trying to model my pastoral responsibilities like the Acts 6 model in the Bible. I am learning that I cannot do everything. I must be a good at delegation. Don’t be afraid to say “no” in order to protect your marriage. (I wrote about the this in THIS POST recently.) Many couples I know are so busy they never have time just for the two of them.

It is also important, however, to have some close friends with whom we can share life’s burdens. None of us were meant to live on an island to ourselves and the same is true for married couples. Cheryl and I intentionally build relationships with other couples we can trust. (Yes, pastors, you can do this too. I wrote some tips on that HERE.)

Try these steps and see if the fun comes back into your marriage. Marriage is supposed to be fun!

What tips do you have for making marriage fun again?

It’s Never Too Late to Intentionally Date Your Spouse: 15 Questions to Get You Started

Romantic Chinese Couple Enjoying a Coffee together.

I want to encourage you to plan an intentional date night. Make the reservations. Get a babysitter. (Trade with another couple so they can do this another night.) And, date.

Not just a normal date. That’s not what I mean by intentional. Date. Like you did when you were — well — dating!

Get to know each other. Sure, I know, you’re married now. You already “know” each other. But, great couples never stop learning one another. It’s part of becoming one.

And, With two unique people — as unique as you — yes you — it will take a lifetime together to fully accomplish.

Don’t assume you already know. Explore new territory with each other. Ask questions.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • What do you like best about me?
  • When do you feel most loved in our relationship?
  • If there was only one day you could capture, and repeat again in our marriage, which day would you choose?
  • If you had a “do over” of any day in our marriage, which one would you choose?
  • What is the best way your husband/wife encourages you?
  • Tell me (again if you’ve told me before) about your favorite childhood memory.
  • What was the first thing that attracted you to me (tell me again)?
  • What do you think is the hardest part about being a man/woman? (Each answer for their gender and the other)
  • What is the greatest fear you have about growing old together?
  • What did you admire about the way your mother and father treated each other?
  • What would you do differently?
  • What is the best way for me to communicate difficult feelings about you so that you are not offended?
  • Do you remember what we talked about on our first date?
  • When you meet a new friend, and they ask you to describe me to them, what do you say?
  • Who do you think was the most influential person/couple in your life in shaping who you are as a husband/wife? How did they influence you?
  • Who is one couple we both know that you’d like to have a marriage like theirs? Why?
  • If there were no limitations in life, what dream would you pursue?

Make this post better. Add some more questions.

Then comment and tell me how the date goes.

The more intentional we are with our marriage, the greater results we can expect. 

7 of the Greatest Needs of a Husband

asian mature couple

I  previously shared 7 of the greatest needs of a wife, based on personal observation and experience working with married couples.

Today I continue with the man’s side of the needs.

Here are 7 of the greatest needs of a man.

Respect – This is number one! I would even be emphatic and say every time. In my experience, men are using a different word that means this if they say it isn’t! Ephesians 5:33 says, “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” God knew what He was talking about. Men want to know that they are respected by their wives above every other person. Every man feels this internal pressure to excel. We need to be successful at least one place in our life. If we can’t feel that respect in our home, we will find that it somewhere else.

Ladies, you want your husband to love you unconditionally. Are you willing to respect him unconditionally? You probably aren’t always extremely “lovable”. (I can say that through my blog where I’d be afraid to say it in person — but you know it’s true.) He’s probably not always respectable. Do you want to be loved any less when you aren’t at your “best”? Neither does he in the are of respect.

Admiration – Men want to be desirable to their wives. That’s physically, but in other ways too. Are we strong enough — masculine enough for you? Do we meet all your expectations in a man? If our wife is always commenting on the sexier man in the movies or the more successful man in the world we certainly will not feel admired. As an example, if a family struggles financially and the wife complains about it all the time the man hears that as “I’m not good enough.” The greatest assurance of the fact that we have “what it takes” comes from our wives. Men who don’t sense this will often quit trying.

Ladies, if your husband’s success was proportional to your admiration of him — and the communication of that admiration — how successful will he be?

Peace and Tranquility — I get in trouble with this one, but men want their home to be a place to prepare for the world — they want to be able to relax. Men, that is never an excuse for laziness! (Laziness is a sin by the way.) I know this can be an ouch statement, but men want their wives to be their wife, and not their mother! Plus, and this is so important to understand, nagging never accomplishes what the wife hopes it will. It may get done what you wanted done, but not with the heart or attitude you hoped to go with the action. (If you are raising boys, remember this!)

Ladies, is your home a place of peace and tranquility? Someone said the wife/mother is the thermostat of the home? If that’s true, how comfortable are we living?

Commitment – Yes, men want this too! They want to know they are number one with you. Men don’t want to see their wife looking at other men or hear them commenting on how wonderful another man may be. They want to know you are faithful only to them. (Can you women tell we have shallow and fragile egos?)

Ladies, does your husband know he’s number one to you — that no man could ever take his place?

Acceptance/Participation – Husbands aren’t really looking for a wife who will try to change them. Granted many men need changing, but the Biblical way to do this is through prayer and modeling change for us.  Men also want our wives to appreciate our hobbies and interests, since it is so much a part of who we are as men.  You don’t have to love golf, but to know that the lower score is the better is a great plus when we come home after a good game. He’ll need to brag to someone. He’s hoping that someone is you.

Ladies, would your husband say you’re his biggest fan?

Be able to lead – Most men want to lead in their home, but don’t really know how. The wife should allow her husband to make some mistakes and not criticize us when we can’t do something as well as you can, (which we know is many things!) If we take the effort to fix the bed, don’t go behind us and straighten the comforter (or at least don’t let us see you doing it.)  If we find we can’t compete in an area, we just quit trying.  Applaud what we do right and we’ll try harder to please. We really do want to succeed!

Ladies, are you allowing your husband to sense your satisfaction in his abilities to lead? If you want him to lead, ask yourself, are you willing to follow if he does?

An emotional release – I saved the hardest for last. Most men do not know how to function in a highly emotional context. So, when our wives are upset, we panic. We move into a “fixing” mode, which is usually counter-productive. When you are emotionally upset, for whatever reason, and you know it isn’t his fault, it’s helpful if you can just let him know the two of you are okay, he didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, it’s not his fault and there is nothing he needs to do to fix it.

Ladies, does your husband ever feel responsible for your emotions that are completely out of his control?

Men, that is my list. What would you add?

7 of the Greatest Needs of a Wife

happy young couple

In my years of counseling and ministering to married couples, mostly in distress, I have learned some principles that run fairly consistent within each marriage. Couples really are not that different from each other.
There are common needs most men and women bring to a marriage in order to make the marriage the best it can be. We may use different terms, but the needs remain relatively similar from marriage to marriage. While this is based on my observations they seem to resonate with many couples.

I’ve also learned that understanding the needs is the first step in addressing them. We only know what we know. Here’s to a better understanding of each other’s needs. Be sure to read the husband’s greatest list HERE.

Here are 7 of the greatest needs of a wife:

Love – Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” How did Christ love the church? 1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

Men, do you love your wife above everything else in your life (apart from your Christ relationship) including your work, your hobbies, your friends, family, and even the children? And, more importantly, do your actions prove your words?

Attention – Wives want to be listened to (even when the television is on) and know that we believe what they have to say is important. Our wives would prefer to talk with us over other women, even though another woman might better understand.

Men, are you truly listening to what your wife is saying? Again, do your actions prove this?

Protection – Wives want their husbands to be the defender of the family; not just against the strange sounds in the night, but against all the threats in society. They want us to take the ownership in leading our family spiritually and in teaching our kids how to defend themselves and stay strong in an evil world.

Men, are you working to protect your family — from all threats?

Security/Commitment – The wife wants to know you are going to be there forever. Wives often see their visually stimulated husbands looking at other women. Does she know you won’t cheat on her? Are you going to be faithful always?

Men, can she trust you? Do your actions build that confidence?

Appreciation/Value – Wives want to be valued for who they are as much as for what they do. Wives want to know we see them with value beyond just what she does to keep the household running. Is she more important than the stuff she does? Is she still beautiful?

Men, do you regular tell her what you admire about her? Do you genuinely compliment her — not just what she does?

Compassion – The Bible refers to women as the “weaker vessels”. Of course this doesn’t mean they are less than men, but that men and women are different. Women are going to respond differently to situations. They may cry easier, take longer to resolve things emotionally, feel tired quicker. Also, wives want a little romance in the marriage. (For most of us, if we’ve been married over a week they already know that’s not going to happen with you.) We can all, however, be kind, loving, and occasionally romantic. We usually get good credit here just for honestly trying.

Men, do you understand that your wife is not wired like you? Are you patient with her, allowing her to process things differently than you? Are you still attempting to be romantic at times — pursuing your wife — like you did before you were married?

Partnership – Wives don’t want to do life alone. They want their husband’s participation in raising the kids, making decisions around the house and yes, sometimes even picking out paint colors. They want someone to do life with them, not live two separate lives in the same household.

Men, would your wife say you are truly her partner? Are the two of you becoming one more everyday?

Ladies, that’s my list. Again, it’s from personal observation. What would you add to the list?