Love Plus Work Equals a Strong Relationship

I learned something about love waiting for a seminary class to begin.

Yeah. Doesn’t sound very romantic, does it? But it’s true. I was sitting with about five other men and the one lone woman waiting for the professor to show up. It was a night class which meant we would not get out until at least 9:00 p.m.

This particular night happened to be Valentine’s Day. The woman was married and in her early twenties. She asked, “So, what did you guys do for your wives for Valentine’s?”

I thought it was a good question and told them I had already delivered my present that morning along with a card and a promise of a night out that coming weekend when our schedules allowed it. This seemed to pass the young wife’s test and gave her some hope that her husband might come through in flying colors too.

She looked at the other men with hopeful eyes. One acted like the thought of it being Valentine’s Day had not even crossed his mind. One was a single guy. He got a pass.

But then one of the married men—unaware that he was about to hit the self-destruct button—said, “I’m going to pick up something from Walgreen’s on the way home.”

Now, if you are a male reading this and are thinking, “Hey, that’s what I do!” then you better keep reading. Like fast. And if you are female and thinking, “That’s probably what my husband does, if he does anything,” then you might want to send him this post.

I’m not going to lie to you. This woman’s eyes rolled back into their sockets until the pupils disappeared. When they came back they were black and she hissed at him, “That’s the best you can do?! You didn’t even plan anything for your wife?!”

I pitied the poor soul. But I was also reminded of something very important in relationships. Making thoughtful plans is important to keeping a relationship alive and growing.

Relationships take work to keep them fresh. “Work” is not something you see often on a Hallmark Valentine’s card but it is necessary for keeping a relationship strong. “Love” is not opposed to “work.” In fact, in one of the most famous “love” passages in Scripture, love is depicted as a verb:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Most often in Scripture “love” is a verb. True love is not just a romantic feeling. It is something that acts.

It’s a good practice to do loving things for your special person all year round. But with Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks away . . . this is a good time to plan something if you haven’t already.

By the way, after class I quickly checked in with the young wife’s husband and gave him a heads up. Lucky for him he’d already made a Walgreens run earlier in the day.

Question: What planning goes into your relationships to keep them strong?


Drop Your Masks and Pick Up New Friends

“When we become vulnerable we become more attractive to people.” I heard that comment recently at a retreat I was a part of. And when I heard it I knew intuitively that it was true.

A bit scary. But true.

One thing I’ve learned in my years of ministry is that everyone wears a mask. Not just some people. But everyone.

Now some have learned to take off their masks. But everyone has at some point worn a mask.

The Greeks had a word for actors on the stage who wore masks. Back in their day actors would step out onto a stage in an amphitheater. There was no sound system, just good acoustics. And there was no big screen to either side of the stage so cameras could project the facial expressions of the actors for all to see.

Instead they wore masks. That’s why the logo for drama or theater is that of a smiling mask and a sad mask. The actor would have this mask to put a face forward to the audience to help them understand what was happening in the play. The word they used for this was “hypocrite.”

We don’t wear those masks. But we wear our own to hide who we really are. And we are pretty good at it. In my times of counseling with people I get to see them when they take their masks off. And you know what? Invariably I am more attracted to them afterwards than before. Attracted in the sense of drawn to them as a human being.

  • I’ve seen talented people who were hiding low self-esteem.
  • I’ve seen great leaders who were hiding their lack of confidence.
  • I’ve seen beautiful people who inside felt they weren’t pretty enough.
  • I’ve seen straight A students who didn’t think they were smart enough.

And not once did I want to throw them out of my office. Instead, I felt like I could actually relate to them better.

Why? Because once they let down their guard I was able to get to know them. I was able to relate to them because I’m learning to take off my masks too.

Are you tired of wearing your mask? Then try this. Sit down with someone you trust and share with them something that you haven’t shared before. Something that lets them know who you are. You’ll have to trust that they will accept you as you are and know that you are a person “in process.”

Stop performing. Start being. And see if you don’t pick up a few more friends in your journey through life.

Find Freedom by Getting Out of Debt

I like the story of Bryant and Emily Adler. In 2012 they took a serious look at their financial situation. What they found was that they were in debt to the tune of $92,645.

Something was definitely out of tune.

Their debt included $79,000 of student loans. That was the lion’s share of the debt. But they also had smaller car loans, credit card debt, and medical bills.

They had goals of traveling and not being defined by their debt so they talked to some friends they knew that had been in the same debt pit but climbed out of it. They found that the advice they received along with the accountability helped them move towards rewriting their story.

The friends had used Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and especially what he calls the Snowball Method. The Snowball Method teaches you to take the smallest debt first, pay it off, and then work on the next smallest debt. You get an emotional boost from achieving a goal and then move on to the next. You continue this pattern until all the debt is paid off.

The Adlers followed the plan with one exception. They started with a car loan because the interest was higher. When they would pay off one debt they’d take that minimum payment and add it onto the next.

Read their story. They were very aggressive, even using holiday gifts towards paying off their debts. Their social life suffered. They didn’t buy any new clothes. But two and a half years later they paid off their last debt. The date was Christmas Eve 2014.

To celebrate they planned to go out to a nice dinner and plan a vacation to Hawaii. Although it was hard to stick to the plan they believe anyone can do what they did. “There’s always hope,” Emily says. They say, “”We know what it’s like to look at your finances and feel hopeless, and like there’s no chance for you. But you can change your circumstances.”

How are you doing with your debt? I don’t ask to make you feel guilty or bad. But how you handle your finances is important not just to the health of your bank account. Finances are important to your spiritual health. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

As long as you are heavy in debt you are serving money. Want to be free? Here are some steps that will help:

  • Find a financial course that will help. There are plenty out there. Just Google them. Dave Ramsey’s has helped many.
  • Make a budget. I have counseled many people over the years and most who are experiencing financial issues do not have a budget. It’s the place to start. Again, if you don’t know how to set up a budget, ask someone or just do an internet search. There are numerous tools out there for you.
  • Make a plan. Do as the Adlers did. Know what your debt is. Face it. Decide on what you will pay off first. Make at least minimum payments on all of them but focus on the smallest. Once it’s paid for take that money and apply it to the next one. Use any extra money to apply to it instead of incurring any more debt.
  • Practice delayed gratification. Learn to not buy anything unless you already have the money for it. You can do this.
  • Pray. Money is a spiritual matter. Jesus talked about money more than he did heaven or hell. Probably because if you handle it well you will have a taste of heaven now. If not, well then life can be …

Take charge of your finances today. Then start planning a Hawaiian celebration tomorrow.

Question: Do you know how you stand in relationship to debt? Do you have a plan to get out of it?

“You have the ability to change something each day of your life.”

Every movement needs a leader. But every movement needs people who believe in what the movement addresses. It needs people with a belief that results in action.

That is why I’m fascinated with stories of the Civil Rights Movement. Who isn’t stirred by Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech“? Or touched with a bit of sadness when his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” is heard again with the hindsight of knowing it would be his last speech?

He was a great speaker and a great leader. But all leaders have to have followers.

That’s why the story of Lynda Blackmon Lowery caught my imagination recently. She was the youngest person to join King in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. They were there to demand voting rights for African-Americans. Lowery was not old enough to vote but was willing to do something to help secure that right for when she was old enough. She believed it was worth more than hoping for that day. She believed it was worth taking action to see that hope fulfilled.

But she had marched before the peaceful one. Earlier in the first of the three marches, along with several hundred others, she took steps onto the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She was close to the front—about nineteen rows back—and could see the men on foot and horseback. They were carrying rifles, bayonets, and billy clubs. There were dogs and tear gas.

She was beaten by an Alabama State Trooper in what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” 28 stitches were needed to close a gash on the back of her head. Seven more were needed above her right eye.

Lowery was fourteen during that march. While other fourteen-year-olds are worried about who they will go to the school prom with she was taking part in history. She was jailed nine times by the time she turned fifteen.

It takes courage to lead. But it also takes courage to follow. She had to fight through her fears to join the bigger, peaceful march because she said, “I was sure they would kill me.”

I was five years old when Lowery was facing her fears. I often wonder if—had I been older and in the right place—I would have had the courage to join the others to take part in the “steady, loving confrontation” which finally secured the right to vote for all Americans?

We don’t have to wonder. There are injustices even today. There is poverty. There is homelessness. There is racism in our world. When we see them will we face our fears and take a stand?

Lowery, now 64, believes that even today “You have the ability to change something each day of your life.”

You can be a leader. Or you can be a follower. But either way you will need courage to be the change you want to see.

Question: What is stirred in you when you read of someone’s courageous actions?

Is it Time for a Soul Check-Up?

My wife and I have been looking at our retirement plans. It’s been on our “priority list” of things to do for awhile and somehow it kept getting pushed aside for other more urgent things. But we finally pulled it back on the plate and have started thinking about the days when we either slow down our work schedules or retire altogether to do something different in the last season of life.

Maybe you’ve done that too. You’ve spent time taking care of your retirement account. Or maybe you decided this is the year you would take care of your waistline or some other deadline.

But what about your soul? That part of you that you don’t see but can send you some signs that it is unhealthy? Signs like hurry, preoccupation, unsatisfied desires, and chronic discontent. We tend to know how to fix a leaky faucet better than we know how to fix a neglected soul.

John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping was written to give us somewhat of an owner’s manual on how to care for the soul.  Ortberg had spent much time with Dallas Willard, a philosopher at USC and writer on the spiritual disciplines, especially in the final years of his life. What he offers in the book is like getting to sit in on some of those conversations.

Willard advised that the number one thing to do to move towards having a healthy soul is to “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Try that and see how difficult it can be. We are a people prone to movement and filling up silence with noise and aloneness with people. And yet we have to slow our RPM’s in order to give attention to the part of us that integrates all of us. The part that we will carry into eternity.

Ortberg suggests a number of practices that help nourish the soul but when asked which he would name as the most important he said “gratitude.” Gratitude allows us to be aware of the presence of God and his grace in our lives. He says, “…the soul was made to run on grace the way a 747 runs on rocket fuel.”

Gratitude fills the soul and when the soul is full and healthy our lives contain joy. Not a “pop-psychology” kind of “speak myself into a state of joy” that won’t last form of joy. But rather a joy that comes from deep within where the soul has been cared for and knows that it is loved and as a result is grateful. “…give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This year you may be planning some doctor and dental check-ups, some financial reviews and vacation rests. But make it a point to take some time to have a soul check-up too. Your retirement will take you to your last day. Your soul will take you into eternity.

Question: What have you done recently that has helped nurture your soul?

The Secret to a Long, Happy Marriage

There’s a lot of advice out there on how to have a good marriage. Some even comes from kids.

Alan, age 10 tells us how to find the right match: “You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.”

Lori, age 8, made this observation when asked what her mom and dad had in common: “Both don’t want any more kids.”

And Kirsten, age 10, offered these thoughts on how two people wind up being married: “No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.”

Their responses give us a laugh. But if there’s a secret to having a long, happy marriage, wouldn’t you like to know what it is? According to a paper from The National Bureau of Economic Research there is a secret and you can know it. Just read on.

They analyzed data from two studies—one from the United Kingdom and one a Gallup World Poll—to search for any common threads they could find in happy marriages. And they found a big one: friendship.

Friendship is the biggest similarity worldwide among happily committed relationships. About half of married couples and cohabiting couples list their partner as their best friend.

Want to have a long, happy marriage? Then marry your best friend. Married people who see each other as best-friends seem to be more satisfied with life. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If life is treating you rough and you have to come home to someone you’re not friends with…well, you probably won’t want to go home.

Friends are important to our lives but if our spouse is our best friend the research says you become “super-friends.” In a Yahoo! Health article discussing these findings, relationship expert David Sbarra offered these tips on becoming a “super-friend” with your partner:

  • Have fun together. Get out of the rut. Try something new together. Make a list of things you’d like to do and then compare lists. Go to new places, eat at different restaurants, or try an activity you’ve never tried before.
  • Fight right. Disagreements are going to happen. But learn how to handle them in constructive ways. As one mentor taught me: “Conflict is only one step away from intimacy.” When conflict happens, deal with it instead of withdrawing and you will find yourself closer than before.
  • Cherish your partner. Learn to view your relationship as the most important thing in your life. It will be the one that is with you all the way through your life.

The Scriptures advise us to “leave, cleave and weave” a life together. Do it with friendship and your life will be full.

Question: Is the person you are married to your best friend? If so, great! If not, do one thing this week to have fun together.


Find More Margin in Your Life This Year

Over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday my wife and I sat down with our calendars and started plugging in commitments for the year.

After about fifteen minutes into the process I realized I was starting to feel anxious and the tone in my voice started to change. Karen asked me if I were all right and I said, “I’m fine. It’s just that putting a whole year on a calendar in one sitting makes me feel a little overloaded!”

So we started making sure we were adding some margin in our schedules. “Margin” is the opposite of overload. Overload is when you have spent more than you have to spend. Whether it is time, money, or emotional energy, if you put out more than you have to give you will be in the hole when it comes to margin.

“Margin” is the space you have left over when you have reached your limit. In other words, when all the words are printed on the page, margin is what is left around the sides of the page. When you’ve spent the money you planned to spend, whatever is left over is your margin. And when everything is scheduled on your calendar for a year, the time left over is margin.

It’s much better to live life with margin than on overload. Just think about it:

  • When your schedule is maxed out you won’t have time to do things spontaneously or be available for serendipitous moments that present themselves.
  • When you spend more money than you make you find yourself in debt. You can’t give generously to people or charities that you’d like to give to. Your stress level likely increases and you become a miser with your money.
  • When you spend all your time with people who drain you and never fill up with those that give you energy, or simply have some down time, you’ll get tense and irritable with the people you most love.

Wouldn’t you rather have time margin so that you can relax and renew? Or have some financial margin so that you can be ready for unexpected expenses or to give to someone in need? And what about having some emotional margin so that you can really be present to the people you are with?

Margin sounds like the better choice, doesn’t it? Here’s how you can create margin. That’s right, you have to create it. It won’t just happen.

  1. Karen and I realized this, so the first thing we did was put the important dates that we knew of on our calendar. Guess what one of the categories was? Date Night! That’s right. We realized that we often give too much of our time to others—which we are wired to do—but needed to make sure we kept some margin for our relationship. So put the important dates on your calendar first.
  2. Next, put any work commitments you know you already have. Obviously, you have your weekly schedule. Put on your calendar each week what you need to do that week. Plan in steps to completing projects, etc. and then stay on point with those things.
  3. Then as you look over a section of time—whether it is a full year or maybe a quarterly run of life—see where margin is needed and schedule a day off, a Saturday with no calls or other commitments…whatever you need to slow down and recharge.

Your car doesn’t run very well without gas in the tank and neither will you. Margin is the high octane fuel you need in your time schedule, your financial plans, and your relationships to keep you running.

You’ll find yourself getting the important things done that need to be done but enjoying life more.

Question: Where, like me, have you felt like you needed more margin?

Leaders Can Help Loneliness

Andy Braner, teen advocate and Founder of Camp Kivu, says that comprehensively all demographics are dealing with loneliness.  Andy asks kids at his camp and in speaking to over 80,000 students a year what is happening in their hallways.  He finds they are more and more alone than ever before.

But it’s not just the young people who are alone. Among a sample of 3,012 people ages 45 and above, 35 percent were found to be “chronically lonely,” according to the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Results are reported in AARP The Magazine.

What does this have to do with leadership? A leader makes space for people where life-change can happen. That’s right. Whether it is at work or in neighborhoods or at church, leaders are people who understand that connecting, or belonging, makes a difference in the lives of people.

Technology is a primary culprit in our loneliness. I remember seeing an interview with Tim Cook when he took over as CEO of Apple. The cameras were scanning Grand Central Station and the majority of people were walking through that large expanse with their eyes glued to their iPhones. We don’t know how to connect in person so we just connect to our technology.

Finding ways to connect are not as easy as they were at one time. About 20 years ago, Ray Oldenburg, PhD, who wrote a book called The Great Good Place, argued that there are a number of attributes that make a third place a third place: It has to be convenient, inviting, serve something, and have some good regulars (which, he says, is actually more important than having a good host).

Isn’t that interesting? It is more important to have good regulars if you want to have a great third place than it is to have a good host. People need to be connected with others on a regular basis. That can happen at work, in the neighborhood or at church. And leaders can help the process.

Leaders must recognize the need to help their people belong. Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion, says that we are now experiencing a “flip” in how things happen in faith. At one time faith developed like this: belief, practice, and then belonging. Now faith is developing first by belonging, then practicing, and then believing.

How can leaders help others first “belong”? Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a “third place.” This can be at work or in your neighborhood. If it’s a work  meeting invite people to the meeting as if it is an event. Wherever it is, serve something.
  • Find time to share stories.
  • Have each person talk about the past week or month’s achievements, what they hope to see in the next month, and any struggles they may want to share. Celebrate the achievements and offer help with the struggles.
  • Provide some good discussion starters to get people talking. Help the less-talkative share by asking non-threatening questions.
  • Put the phones on the table and stack them. Whoever gets theirs before the gathering has ended can pay for the refreshments.

As a leader it is up to you to make space for life-change to happen. People are lonely. Bring them together and if you can find enough good regulars you might help bring an end to chronic loneliness.

Question: What causes of loneliness do you see in our culture?


Increase Your Professional Productivity: Five Goals by the Fifth of Each Month in 2015

You’ve been through the dreaded performance reviews. In January of the previous year you listed your goals for the year. You filed them away and gave a copy to your manager who filed them away. Both of you may have dreamed of the impact your fulfillment of your goals would have on your organization.

Then the year happened. Weekly deadlines. Urgent tasks. Non-important diversions. Suddenly the year had flown by and you get a notice that it’s time for your “year-end review.”

You think, “Yikes! Where did I file my goals?”

Your manager thinks, “Yikes! Where did I file their goals?”

You both meet, have a chat, cross the meeting off your To-Do lists, and gear up for another round in the New Year. And nothing consequential has happened.

I’ve been on both ends of the process. I’ve written goals that I thought were meaningful only to forget about them in the pile of work, family fun, and crises that happen. I’ve received goals that may or may not have been very meaningful only to not really know what to do with them by the end of the year.

Want to change all that? You can. In his book Finally! Performance Assessment that Works: Big Five Performance Management Roger Ferguson outlines a simple but effective and proven way of realizing more productivity in your workplace.

Here’s how it works:

  • At the first of the month you write down your five highest priorities you want to accomplish that month.
  • You also review the five most significant accomplishments from the previous month (things you wrote the previous month to see how you did).
  • Do this by the fifth of each month.
  • Then you send those in to your manager or the person to whom you report.

That’s it. It keeps your goals fresh and current. It keeps your goals in sight. And if you start getting off-course it isn’t a year until you review them again.

What if your organization doesn’t follow this management process? No worries. Can you imagine the reaction of a manager or employer that has such a proactive employee that these are sent on a monthly basis unrequested? I can’t imagine anyone not being inspired by this initiative.

You can try this at home too. In addition to your five professional goals you can have five personal goals and five relational goals. But you will need to share those with someone who can help you review them each month.

Resolve to add this to your work routine this year. It will keep you on track, be easy to remember, and by the end of the year you will have a record of all you have accomplished.

And you may have no need of a “year-end review” in December.

Question: Why not start now? What are five priorities you want to accomplish at work in January of 2015?