Five Minute Sherpa

an espresso shot of thoughtful guidance

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On Healing

The way we heal the wounds in our lives is to tell the story. Tell the story of your harm over and over again until you are no longer limited and harmed by what has happened. This is the essence of therapy … to become familiar with our own truths (and lies) and live honest and peaceable lives.

You cannot do this alone. We are not unbiased about our wounds, nor the words we use to describe our experiences. We need others to hear our stories, and to help us to see parts that we’d rather not see. Parts that we hate.

Untold stories (secrets) poison our hope, dreams, and relationships. Yes, there is much pain in these stories but pain is only there because there has been a fracture of relationship. Just like cold is not it’s own created thing, it is the absence of heat, so too is pain. Pain only exists because a relationship (love) has been broken.

If we cannot forgive those we hate the most (and this doesn’t mean that we have to like the person we’re forgiving), we will never be able to accept the forgiveness of others. Telling our secrets—our stories—is the process of grief, of forgiveness.

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Myth #3: Miserable and Married

This post is part of a series in response to an article about reasons not to be afraid of a divorce. The bolded first sentence/statement are the words from the author in the linked article. The following comments are my opinions in response. Read the introduction to this series of posts here first.

Previous Posts in This Series: 
Myth #1: Divorce Pain is Temporary
Myth#2: Society Says Divorce is Bad


Myth #3. “The same people judging you for getting divorced are probably part of the Miserable & Married crowd.”

The Author’s point is pretty clear: Don’t stay married just because people will judge you out of their own jealousy. If it were as simple of an explanation as this, I would agree with her. Staying married just so you don’t get judged isn’t all that great of a great idea. However, staying married doesn’t mean you have to be a card carrying member of the “miserable and married” club.

There are a lot of members in this club, mainly because it’s an easy club to join. To do marriage well is beyond hard. Saying that it takes work is an understatement, and it’s easy to dismiss this work in favor of expectations that the spouse should meet. The misery people experience in marriage is usually about these unmet expectations.

My clients that are lonely in their relationships tend to experience more difficulty than someone who is single and lonely. The main reason for this is the expectations. Having a ring on your finger is a constant reminder of “what could be” in your life. In some seasons of life, this feeling can be incredibly hopeful. For other seasons, this same expectation can be incredibly hopeless because of what’s lacking.

It may seem like it, but divorce is not the only option for a marriage that is miserable. One of my suggestions for an individual or couple who are miserable and married is to engage in a therapeutic separation. I usually suggest taking 3 to 6 months to therapeutically slow the quickening decline of the marriage.

This idea is often scary because it feels like divorce is the only logical resolution to the separation. Quite the opposite is true. In my experience, if a couple is trending towards divorce and they don’t separate, they are more likely to end up divorced than those who do a separation. Sometimes the stress of an intimate relationship is too much to deal with without intentional space to allow for changes in habits, relational patterns, and assumptions about the other person.

A therapeutic separation provides a set time and space that allows for the destructive patterns of the relationship to slow down. When this slow-down happens, a new dialogue and pattern of relating can emerge that gives hope to an otherwise hopeless relationship.

A final word about separations. Don’t do this on your own. Find a counselor who can help guide you through this process. There are lots of issues that need to be agreed upon (money, dating, time together, length, kids/schedules, communication, etc), and trying to do so on your own without help will likely be too much. Something to consider: Perhaps the fear of external judgement is actually a hopeful part of you that wants out of the pain, not necessarily out of the marriage.

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4 Things Women Need to Know About Their Husbands Porn Use

Men often seek help in dealing with their porn use, yet many times their wives do not seek their own help. Though the issue with porn is not a new problem, the access with technology has made it so much more available in it’s different mediums. Here are the 4 things women need to know about their husbands porn use:

1. It’s not about the wife.

In young marriages, women need to know that their husbands porn use is almost always something they brought with them into marriage. It’s less about the wife “not being enough” and more about the man’s inability to have an intimate and close relationships with a women. Porn use is easy because it requires nothing from a man beyond what his body is naturally programmed to do.

It is hard for men to develop a healthy view of women that is apart from the notion that women are sex objects. Over and over again the modern culture tells both sexes that women are sex objects. It’s why so many men are unable to have close relationships with their daughters as they go through puberty — it’s difficult to see a woman as anything other than an object. Porn distorts the reality of a woman’s value.

2. Porn use is about shame.

Shame is certainly felt by the use of porn, but I think shame is the real reason that porn is used. Shame says “I’m not enough” which can easily be felt sexually and non-sexually alike. In this reality, women need to know that though the use of porn is unacceptable, their husbands, as a man in a broken and faulty world, are acceptable and good enough. If a wife catches her spouse using porn and condemns both the act and the man himself, this will lead to more problems. Hate the act, not the person.

Shame doesn’t last very long in an environment with grace and empathy. But here’s the problem: Wives often can’t give the gift of grace and empathy to their husbands because of their own stories. These young women have been sexually abused (to varying degrees) and they have their own wounded sexuality. Without doing her own work of recovery and healing, she will not be able to offer empathy and acceptance because the husbands use of porn will always make him like “all the others who have harmed me.”

3. Having more sex can cause more harm.

This is a delicate topic as withholding sex can be harmful just as the use of porn is. Some errant advice given to wives of porn addicts is that they need to make themselves more available sexually and this will keep the husband from acting-out. This is almost always harmful advice because it invites the fantasy life of porn into the marriage bed.

Women do not need to be more sexual for their husband to keep him from fulfilling his needs elsewhere, this can be enabling an addiction. Most would not want the affair partner in their marriage bed with them, but this is exactly what the advice to “become more sexual for him” is doing. It’s bringing a fractured sense of intimacy into a sacred space meant to be shared by husband and wife.

There needs to be hard work and conversations about the harm that porn has caused in a relationship before sex can be trusted as an expression of love and commitment. This does not mean that couples need to stop having sex altogether if porn is present, rather that the purposes of sex be talked about, perhaps with a professionals help, to establish healthy boundaries. Taking this one step further; limitations in sex need never to be used as a form of punishment or control.

4. Porn use is cheating.

Though men are resistant in accepting this, porn use is an affair. It is taking the most trusted and vulnerable act that a couple can share together, and giving it to someone else. Yes, it’s a “one-way” relationship as the images provide no relational feedback, but it is still taking the sexual embrace outside of the marriage bed.

All affairs are a result of a breakdown of trust and intimacy. Affairs are a passive “screw you” stance to the spouse. Instead of working out the issues of the relationship in the context of the relationship, fulfillment of sexual needs are being done outside the context of the relationship.

It’ll be helpful in dealing with these issues to seek the guidance of a counselor or pastor. It’s not an easy topic to address, but it’s not impossible to heal from. Be patient, take your time, and work hard to find reconciliation.

For some statistics about porn, click here for a 2014 report: http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/

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Parenting as a Vehicle

Parenting. Hordes of books dominate the shelves of bookstores, teaching you the love languages of kids, the brain rules, and even how kids raise parents (which is my most suggested book for current and aspiring parents). There are classes, techniques, and even some really stringent cult-like ideas that all hope to help parents master the art of parenting.

I enjoy referring to parenting in football defensive references. If a family has two kids, it’s “man coverage,” with 3 kids they are in zone coverage, and with four or more, the all important (and most anxiety producing for a football fan) Prevent defense. It’s clever, I know.

The truth is, no metaphor, book, technique, or principal can help to prepare someone to be a parent. And yet, we all need help to shepherd us along the way.

It’s really hard work, and mostly exhausting to deal with free-willed little people who refuse to be your robot.

Go to bed. Unload your dishes. Be nice to your sister. Pick up your clothes. Turn off the lights.

If you’re a parent, you get it. Most of the time parents are directing, pointing, teaching, yelling, and ending the day praying the kids turn out ok. It’s the ultimate journey of faith, trust, and powerlessness.

Parenting is the vehicle that gets our kids onto or nearby the launching pad for their lives. Each kid has their own unique launching pad. Sometimes parents don’t see that different kids have different needs, which produce different lifestyles, goals, and vision for their lives. If we take all our kids to the same destination, the same launching pad, only one is going to pleased.

This vehicle is the container that provides safe travel while the journey is still in the confines of childhood. Slowly, methodically, and gradually the kids will begin to branch out and become curious about their world. More often than not, a kids curiosity will trigger a parents fear of losing control. This fear, left undressed or unexplored, leads straight to the command center of the kids’ launching pad.

As a fearful parent, I want to be in the command center. I want to be in the control room that has the correct flight plan, path, and coordinates for my kids rocket. I want to know what is going to happen, where they are going, and that they will be ok. In reality, I just want to be ok. My kids are an extension of me (they’re still in the early journey of curiosity), and if they hurt, so do I.

It’s easy for parents to be in the mindset of putting the kids in an auto-piloted vehicle, and retire to the control room where they can push the buttons, speak commands, and remain aloof from the reality of the kids who are in the vehicle. This is the safest form of parenting, but it’s not really parenting. It’s more like a warden, a boss, or an autocrat.

James Masterson, a therapist and author, says that the role of the therapist is to be the guardian of the true, real self. Not surprisingly, this is a lot like the role of a parent. Our role is to guard our kids from buying into the lie that posturing, faking it, or performing is what works. It’s our job to show our kids that money doesn’t buy happiness, nor does money solve the real challenges of life.

The ultimate challenge of parenting is to cultivate a relationship, the vehicle, that allows for safe return from misplaced curiosity, foolish choices, or damaging actions.

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Sunsets and People


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“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”
Carl R. Rogers

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Project Parenting

What is your goal for parenting? Is it to just “survive” the process? Or perhaps might it be to “make sure I don’t screw them up too bad?” I often joke with friends that I don’t have a college savings fund for my kids, I have a therapy savings fund. My kids will probably need twice the therapy to work through their dad being a therapist. Bless them.
 
“What is your goal?” is an important question that I don’t think about a lot, but whatever my stated or unstated goal is, it drives my attitude and actions towards my kids. There are many days that I get home from work and don’t want my kids to be kids. I love them dearly, but goodness they can make a mess of things. Kids force me to see that life doesn’t work by my rules, nor does the world revolve around me (despite my best efforts to make it so). This is a big reason why I (and you, if you’re honest) both love and dislike my kids: They alert me to my self-centeredness. 
 
Poor parenting happens when my goal for life as an individual, a selfish person, is different than my stated goals for my kids. When I don’t pick up my shoes and socks on the living room floor, but get onto my kids for not picking theirs up, I’m not being a good parent. Living life with different standards will teach kids that duplicity is an acceptable way of living. 
 
Becoming a parent is a two-fold challenge (and there’s probably more folds than this). First and foremost, we have to learn how to raise the kid inside all of us. We have to be kind, respectful, loving and at the same time tough, hold boundaries, and be willing to say no to that part of us that wants instant gratification. We cannot be helpful parents until we have first learned to parent ourselves. 
 
The second challenge is to raise our kids as unique individuals with similar and different challenges in life than what we ourselves face. Parenting our kids as though they wrestle with the exact struggles as we do is myopic and not helpful guardianship. 
 
My goal as a parent is to be a guardian of my kids’ true selves. Said more simply: I want to help my kids find out who they really are … not just what they love to do, but to believe in and be able to express the uniqueness of their own voice. 
 
Most days, I get caught up in training my kids to be good performers. Showing them what is good and bad from a perspective of human doing. The days when am content with them are when I’ve not tried to control or train them like I would an animal, rather that I’ve allowed them to speak their own creative ways. 
 
One final thought. Err on the side of being in relationship (not a friendship) with your kids, that’s the only way you’ll thrive together once they are no longer under your care and protection. 

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Befriending Grief

As I was driving into work one morning this past winter, I realized something: I don’t take pictures of the sorrowful parts of my life. Instead, I only take pictures of happy moments. I think this must be true for everyone. Spend 5 minutes looking through Instagram, your digital camera archive, or a regular photo book and you’ll see almost all pictures of joyful moments.

I think this is true because we need photographs to remember the happy times. In general, these are not the moments that make us who we are. Happy moments are fleeting and usually leave us thirsty for more. Much like fast food, happiness satisfies the most basic and simplest of cravings.

Certainly there are some exceptions to this, but I think the reason we tend to take pictures of “happy” is because sorrowful or sad moments need no documentation. They are etched into our lives like a tattoo, never needing a video or photograph to summon their memory.

We are uniquely crafted and altered by the experiences of pain, hurts, longings, loss, joy, and gladness. Having sat with lots of individuals and couples, I’m convinced that the level of our maturity and health as humans is directly proportionate with our ability to grieve and find joy in the losses of life. If one cannot grieve, one cannot grow.

So, what is grief? It’s the process of letting go of what is, what was, what isn’t, and what will not come. Everyone has something in their lives that has not gone according to plan, and most of us do not have a medal, picture, or trophy to commemorate these events.

For some, this is a failed (or failing) marriage; for others, it’s the death of a loved one. Regardless of the loss, ultimately it’s the loss of hope in something desired. It could be that the loss of a dream is what has shaped you the most. The loss of trust, security, or relationships all summon the same feeling of being lost and not knowing where to turn.

Here’s the deal; grief doesn’t always mean heaviness, depression, or sadness. Usually what we refer to as “joyous moments” are the byproduct of something lost. For example, one of the biggest changes in my life happened when I became a father. Peterson (who is now 10) came into my life when I was 24 and I grieved the loss of my singular focus in my marriage. Now instead of it just being Stephanie (my wife) and I, we now had someone else to consider. I was glad to do this, but I had to say goodbye to my life as a self-serving person. The crazy thing is that this was also the most joyous event of my life. It is so difficult to hold both of these emotions together at the same time.

Dr. Seuss wisely says to not cry because it’s gone, but smile because it happened. Grief is crying because it’s gone and learning to smile because it happened. This doesn’t literally mean that we always shed tears, though often times we do when our old friend grief shows up. Regardless of where one is in life, grief and joy beckon. This is a difficult beckoning to heed, and often presents a challenge to our maturity.

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a hard battle,” (Philo of Alexandra). This is the truth of life, that you and I are both mired in a great battle, fought to secure hope and, at the least, to remain present enough in our lives that we can give and receive grace and love to and from those around us.

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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Three Ways to Grow Trust and Deepen Intimacy

There’s a simple formula that I use with clients in my counseling practice: Get you, be you, give you. This is the life process of maturing, and is a helpful mantra to live by. The problems occur when we try and do this formula in reverse, because one can’t give what one doesn’t have. We first must learn who we are before we can give.

This truth applies to marriages as well: We must first understand us (get me), then we can be us (be me), finally we can give (give us). The marriage is a combination of two uniquely individual people, and it is hard work to develop trust and intimacy. Relationships will not survive without trust and intimacy. Couples may stay together for the rest of their lives because of the commitment, but may never experience the redemption of trust and intimacy. With this in mind, here are three avenues that will grow trust and deepen intimacy in your relationship.

Date Night (Get Us)

Dates are one of the best ways that couples can engage to learn about themselves and each other. Anecdotally, one of the great regrets that I have about our newlywed years (first 3-4 years of marriage) is that we got sidetracked from dating one another. Our rationale (which was probably more of mine than hers) was that we were now spending so much more time together than we did when we were dating and engaged. This was both true and false.

It is true that the newlywed couple spends more time together, but often the quality of time spent is not as it was dating. It’s why I often hear spouses lament about the wish to return to the dating years. Having a regular and consistent date night can alleviate this dilemma. Date your wife. Ask her questions on the date to help you get to know her better. Questions like:

  • What can I do to make you feel more loved; valued; joyful; secure; and/or confident in the future? What character trait would you like for me to develop?
  • What attribute would you like for me to help you develop?
  • What goal would you like us to work towards together?
  • What would indicate to you that I really desire to grow?
  • How have you felt the most/least loved by me?

Find A New Community (Be Us)

Before getting married, most couples have already been living in a town/city and will return there after the wedding. It presents some unique challenges to transition from a single to married lifestyle. New habits and routines will change the way some old relationships function. This can be a frustration for newlyweds. Pressure to maintain old relationships out of loyalty can stress the building of the marriage relationship.

Finding a new community brings several benefits. For one, it offers both husband and wife the ability to be apart of the community building experience. Both spouses get a voice that will help to shape who and where the couple will spend their time.

Secondly, new relationships will usually result in new personal information. Longstanding relationships have built-in assumptions. Because familiarity is so normal, new data about a person doesn’t happen as frequently. By initiating new relationships, couples will have chances to hear and learn more about each other.

Lastly, new communities bring new opportunities. Charlie Jones said “You are the same today as you’ll be in five years except for two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” Growth doesn’t happen by staying still. Read new books, and meet new people, together.

Find Service Opportunities (Give Us)

Finding and new community along with consistent date nights will give you and your husband a great groundwork from which to give. Giving will bring new levels of joy and intimacy to your relationship. You’ll rarely get to see the side of your spouse as you will when you serve together. I’m not entirely sure why this is true, but it is. There is something about giving that brings out both our darkness and brightness. Ultimately, we cannot truly love someone until we have seen both.

This can take many different directions. You could serve at your church in the nursery, at the local soup kitchen, or in your neighbors yard. It also looks like parenting. Serving now before you have kids will be a great exercise in training. Having kids is the ultimate act of service, and is not natural in us.

In year four of our marriage, my wife and I began relationships with other pre-married couples who were close to getting married. We built relationships with them so that they’d have someone a few steps down the road from them giving guidance.

These are just a few examples of what can lead to growth and intimacy in marriage. If you will commit to accomplishing each of these in the next year, you and your marriage will grow. It might not take the path of growth you thought it would, but it will grow.

(Article originally published at Start Marriage Right)

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A Father’s Redemption

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I was invited to be a guest speaker at Fourth Avenue Church of Christ this past Sunday on Father’s Day. I’ve spoken in many venues before, but it was a first for me to give the sermon in a church. I’m grateful for the opportunity and blessing of being able to share from my experience as a son and a dad to help cast a vision for father’s as they navigate the difficult waters of fatherhood.

There is a relational disconnect between a father and his children. For various reasons, this disconnect creates disharmony and obstacles as the children grow up to become adults. There are three roles that we as dad’s can play in our kids’ lives to not only raise them into adulthood, but also to ease the relational disconnect that exists. You can listen to the message here:

Click Here to Listen (35 minutes in length)

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The Importance of Wise Counsel

Unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, begin planning their life together, get married, and come home from the honeymoon expecting happy ever after. Then some kind of pain happens, and it’s as if these two people barely know each other.

I recently heard about a couple who is calling it quits after 15 months of marriage. They were young and ignored the counsel of friends and family to wait on marriage. They were encouraged to address some personal and relational issues. They didn’t listen and married anyway. These issues flared up and created too much of a block for reconciliation to occur.

After a little more than a year, it’s over. They didn’t plan on this happening, nor does any other right-minded person who is getting married.

One of my professors in grad school taught a class on domestic violence. She was the unfortunate recipient of years of abuse by her husband, which began on the honeymoon. She told her harrowing story. Upon arriving at their honeymoon beach house (the only house on this Canadian island) he told her that she was his property and that she’d better start doing what he said or she’d feel his wrath. He began physically and emotionally abusing her that day, and it continued for years. It’s a tragic story that repeats itself every day.

What we want to see in others can cloud us from seeing what is true about others. The engagement process gets so consumed with wedding plans that the relationship fails to grow or be seen for what it truly is.

At any point in your intimate or budding relationship wise counsel is your best ally. If the fatality rate of texting while driving a car was 50+%, I think that a majority of us would take heed at the importance of this stat and behave differently.

The sad reality is: This is true for marriage. The death of marriages happens at more than a 50% clip. The divorce rate offers a warning and caution that there is trouble ahead, and the outlook isn’t all that favorable.

Assuming that one is teachable, wise counsel might be the difference between a failed marriage and a successful one. Counsel comes from friends, family, professional counselors, pastors, authors, and proverbs. Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth for the good of your soul. Friends that find no fault or see no areas that need growth in you or in your significant other are either being naive, or they are lying to you. Telling the truth is hard to do, especially when it potentially threatens a significant relationship.

Prior to getting married, my wife and I spent a couple of months with another couple who was 10-12 years ahead of us. They offered encouragement and some warnings about how our fights in marriage might play out. We were too “star struck” and in love to really understand what they were saying. Not until 6 to 8 months into marriage did we understand, and that was only because we fought daily about needs, wants, and expectations (all of which this couple had warned us about).

If you’re considering getting married, now is a great time to seek out a third party that can help you identify potential difficulties. Find a relationship coach, couples counselor, or pastor who is willing to walk through 4-6 sessions with you and your partner. Pre-engagement counseling is usually more effective than pre-married counseling because once a decision to marry has been made, it’s my experience that couples rarely hear the warnings heeded by others.

If your partner won’t go with you to counseling, this might be reason enough to not pursue a marriage relationship. Insecurities that prevent people from asking for help are always going to cause problems in relationships. Refusal to get or accept help is a sign of deep insecurity that will manifest itself in other, likely more harmful, ways. Proverbs 15:22 says, “without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

(article originally published at Start Marriage Right)