I’m kind of a routine guy. I generally like to do things the same way all the time so I know what to expect and how to be most efficient. Not that I can’t be flexible or spontaneous, but I usually like planned spontaneity the most (if that’s a thing). I generally do the same thing when I wake up, when I go to bed, before I work out, when I get ready for work, and before I begin work. Same process, same routine, same structure.
And I do pretty much the same thing every time I get home.
I say hi to my wife and daughter (if she’s not napping…my daughter that is), I put my stuff down on the breakfast bar, hang up my coat, and then head to the bedroom to get comfortable. And by ‘get comfortable’ I mean the following:
I take my wedding ring off (don’t worry, I have my wedding band tattooed around my finger so, as my wife says, I’m still “branded” even when I’m not wearing my ring…although statistically I think men are more likely to get hit-on by women if they are wearing a wedding band…but I digress), I take my watch off, and most importantly, I replace whatever clothes I was wearing out in the world with a pair of super comfy pants, a worn sleeveless shirt that I sleep in, and a giant hooded sweatshirt that says something on it that I can’t read.
The transformation is quite amazing. Going from a pair of Buckle jeans, a graphic T from an Andrew Bird concert, and a hoodie from J. Crew to a pair of baggy gray pants, my old smelly slippers, and a hoodie that could fit a baby elephant is like a Jekyll and Hyde moment.
And every time I walk back out of the bedroom with my comfy outfit on, I have this weird thought that goes something like: Why would I take off all my best clothes and put on these crappy clothes for the woman I love the most and am committed to for life.
Lindsay has never mentioned it or told me it offends her or she thinks I’m way less attractive after I change, but I occasionally will just have this thought about whether I should try and lounge around in my clothes, even if they’re a little tighter and rougher than my comfy clothes.
I love counseling. (subject change, I know, but hang with me)
Not counseling others, I love getting counseling.
I’ve gone to a number of professional counselors over the course of my life and they’ve all been great. Sometimes I’ve gone for dealing with a specific issue or experience in my life, sometimes I’ve gone to process a bunch of thoughts or a difficult obstacle I’m going through, and sometimes I’ve gone simply because, like a pastor at my church once said: “You don’t just take your car to the shop when something’s broken, you have to get regularly scheduled maintenance to prevent something from breaking!”
And Lindsay and I have also gone for marriage counseling. We’ve gone to a few different counselors for a few different things and also gone separately to get individual counseling about becoming a better husband and better wife.
Well one time I was sitting in my counselor’s office and talking through some marriage stuff I was frustrated about. Mainly, about the past few weeks and what felt like me being a recipient of some negativity and complaining from my wife. She had been going through a difficult season with various things in her life and found it helpful to verbally process some of what was difficult for her with me.
And while I love talking to her and being there for it, at the time it just seemed to me that every day I would connect with Lindsay when we got home from work, and all she talked about were the things that were annoying her. She’s an extremely positive person with a great attitude, which was why I was feeling so confused and frustrated at some of our interactions lately.
I looked at my counselor and said: “I mean, I just feel like Lindsay is being so negative and pessimistic and I feel like the rest of the world gets her best positive attitude and then once she gets home, gives me all the negative stuff!’
I finished my rant with an exasperated huff and sat back on the couch, folded my arms, and waited for my counselor to tell me how right I was and how wrong she was and what the best way to approach Lindsay about it would be or for him to just say: “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to her.”
But he didn’t do either of those things.
He continued looking at me, then smiled and nodded.
He looked down for a moment, still smiling.
“Yeah, maybe.” He said.
Then, looking up at me again, still with a slight smirk on his face, he said:
“Or, maybe you’re the only person she feels comfortable enough to be real with.”
Nothing like expecting to be told you’re right, only to be majorly convicted with perspective and understand instead.s
All this time I thought it was her fault for being kind of negative and I was the mature, grounded, spiritually-sound member of our marriage that was going to look her in the eye and challenge her to stop venting such negativity.
But, as frequently happens in my counseling sessions, turns out I’m the problem. Cool.
Lindsay wasn’t trying to bring me down, she simply trusts me. She loves me enough to be real with me, even when being real isn’t very pretty or polished.
Just like I come home and physically shed “my best impression” clothes to change into what I’m comfortable and real in, so did Lindsay. She came home to me, someone she knows loves her enough that she can be absolutely real with about all the positives and negatives going on her in life and mind. I’m not someone who she feels the need to only talk about the great things or keep me at an emotional distance due to a lack of trust or intimacy. She doesn’t need to pretend or hide anything from me.
I have the privilege of being her comfy clothes. And she, mine.
Needless to say, that night as Lindsay and I hung out, I was very attentive to her as I wore my baggy gray sweat pants and giant hoodie while we sat on the couch.
And if that’s what a good marriage is, then bring on the slippers.
(Title key: Don’t Go To Counseling if You Want to Hear: “You’re Right!”)
According to Jesus, when we fast, we are to do it in a way that doesn’t blatantly give away that we’re fasting.
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:16
Now, I understand the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law so I understand that Jesus is making a teaching point about not using our fasting as a means of getting attention and praise of people for things that we should be doing for the worship and love of God.
Meaning, I don’t think that if someone is fasting and they’re offered a Tic Tac, that they should come up with some elaborate story to refuse the Tic Tac to avoid saying that they’re fasting. (“No, thanks. My grandmother died choking on a Tic Tac and a Tic Tac made fun of my weight once when I was in junior high, so I’m good.”)
All that to say, a while ago I fasted with my wife and while doing so, I decided to record some of my thoughts so I could write about them later. (I just didn’t want anybody to read this post, go to biblegateway.com, look up Matthew 6:16, and e-mail it to me with some scholarly comment about how I already received my reward, which I also think was something Jafar said as the creepy old dude to Aladdin in the movie before he tried to stab him)
Anyway, here are some of my thoughts during a time when I fasted for three days. Three days might not sound like a long time, but even saying no to Jersey Mike’s on a full stomach is difficult for me.
– The brain becomes obsessed with something when we intentionally or unintentionally don’t have it. Food, rest, sex, pop, etc. And when fasting, the term ‘obsessed with food’ is not an overstatement.
– It’s amazing how many commercials are for food, which you don’t notice until every single shimmering beef patty and steaming pile of pasta is displayed on a 45” plasma screen in your living room at 8 times its normal size every 3.5 seconds.
– Never go grocery shopping when fasting. Unless you’re okay with coming home with a family pack of Ramen soup and almost every frozen pizza in the store.
– Food smells awesome. And the person next to you at Chipotle during your work lunch is totally taking it for granted.
– Water is gross after the 49th glass of the day.
– Gum tastes explosively awesome when it’s been the only thing in your mouth other than water.
– Water tastes even grosser after having gum.
– You will start to crave the baby food you’re feeding your infant daughter and occasionally the morsels of lamb and rice the dog is eating.
All in all, I kinda think fasting is like getting a tattoo. Leading up to it, there’s some excitement as you embark on something significant and meaningful (except for those of you who have a tattoo of some Loony Toones character, or barbed wire around your neck…those aren’t meaningful, sorry). You’ve thought about it, you know it won’t be totally pleasant, but you know it’s a big deal.
Then after a short period, your body is like: “What the…?! Why would you do this!?” And you think: I can’t really remember.
So those are my thoughts of fasting.
Not very deep or spiritual, but most of my thoughts are like that (for example: today I thought: When can we join hands across America and just admit that all of Katie Perry’s songs are super catchy?)
And as unpleasant as it might be, the truth about fasting is that it’s obedient. There are so many references to fasting throughout Scripture and times when fasting and prayer are linked together when seeking God. And more often than not I choose to just pray instead of fasting or doing both because prayer is familiar and easier. And even though I know this, it’s still hard to commit to fasting sometimes.
I want to see God move and hear Him speak more and more. And if part of how He tells me to do that is to deny myself cereal, cheese, and Buffalo Wild Wings, then so be it.
Before I had a child, I always thought I’d be the kind of parent who didn’t just spoil their children with stuff. Too many toys or sweets or gifts at Christmas.
And I still think it’s dumb to give a one-year-old more 15 Christmas gifts (she kept getting mad when we would take away her awesome new toy so she could open another one) or always giving them what they want when they whine or cry.
But, maybe I was a little incorrect.
The other night I was feeding Eva, who is now 14 months old. And she’s at the point now where she can tell me what she would like to eat. She points ands says or motions “more please” or will shake her head vigorously if offered something she doesn’t want or doesn’t want more of.
She had just eaten a good dinner of cheesy broccoli, a half a hot dog, crackers, and some mandarin oranges. She then raised her little hands in a shrug, looked at me, and confidently said “all done” (which sounds more like “ah duh”). I got up and began to put the dishes away and get her cleaned up.
But then I thought something. I thought: I bet she’d love some chocolate pudding.
I went into the fridge, grabbed a tiny, blue, baby spoon, peeled back the foil, and gave her a delicious cold glob of pudding. She tasted it, looked at me, and prompted clapped her hands loudly (the baby sign language for ‘more’).
I laughed and proceeded to give her about half of the Snack Pack while making her giggle as I ate the other half using her spoon.
And as I was feeding her, I realized something: I totally want to spoil her!
Toys, sweets, attention, play time, tickling, making her laugh, more of everything, and any other possible thing she could want!
I understand that this might sound like a really obvious thing for a parent to say, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized it.
And as I was giving pudding to Eva, I realized something: This isn’t how I think of God.
I don’t think of God as wanting to spoil me.
And I’m not sure why. But for some reason, when I think of God, I think of a good, loving, God who knows me and wants to bless me…but not too much. He wants to give to me, but only what I need. Not only that, He gets concerned if I get too happy or appreciative of the things I have. Like I don’t deserve it or something.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! – 1 John 3:1a
These words are difficult for me to swallow.
They’re beautiful and I love them. But for some reason, my brain can’t seem to adopt this idea that God doesn’t somehow hold all my sins and shortcomings against me. Not in an obvious way (because, well, He’s God), but somewhere in the back of His mind there’s this disappointment with me that holds Him back from freely blessing me.
But according to His Word, that’s untrue.
According to the Word of God, it’s kind of the opposite.
God lavishes His love on me.
And desires to bless me.
With love, with stuff, with blessings, with peace, with joy, with resources, with hope, with rest, with His presence, and probably a billion other things I can’t even imagine.
And I don’t fully get it, but I think that’s pretty cool.
I picture myself in a high chair with rice grains in my hair and cottage cheese in my lap and hot dog under my finger nails. And God sits before me with a blue, rubber spoon that’s heaped to overflowing with delicious, cold, sweet pudding.
And He’s smiling. So excited to give me something absolutely amazing.
Not because I deserve it or have earned it. But because He’s my daddy that totally wants to spoil me with how much He loves me.
And I smile…
And I open wide…
…and then say: “More please!”
I hate getting sick.
I’m sure nobody would ever say that they enjoy being sick, and while there are some benefits to being sick (not going to work/school, chicken noodle soup, full seasons of TV shows, sleeping in, etc.) I absolutely hate it.
Mostly because no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do, I seem to always experience the same miserable journey through a cold that lasts a solid week and a half.
Here’s how it goes down:
– It starts with a scratchy throat. Nothing major, but I notice it the second I wake up. And everyone around me notices it as I clear my throat 1000+ times that day.
– Next my throat swells up so much it hurts to swallow anything bigger than a mustard seed.
– Then my nose clogs up with what feels like at least a pound of quick-dry cement.
– Then my nose begins expelling stuff from inside my sinuses that I’m pretty sure came from Mount Doom in Mordor.
– Then I get so much sinus pressure that I feel like the slightest tap to my forehead would pop my eye balls right out of my head.
– Then it finally starts to clear up, all the while keeping me sounding like Fran Drescher.
And no matter what I do, this is what happens. I pound Emergen-C like it’s my job when I sense it coming on, I drink herbal tea, take Echinacea and zinc, I drink water, juice, and pour scalding hot water through my nostrils. I go to bed earlier, take naps, sleep in, blow my nose, take hot showers, and consume enough Vitamin C to conquer a small village.
But every time, it’s the same.
And every time I get sick, right in the middle of the pile of tissues, chapped lips, and throbbing forehead, I have the same thought: I should make sure this doesn’t happen again.
And by that I mean, I should take part in all these cold-fighting techniques before I get sick next time, instead of waiting to see what it feels like to sneeze and cough and expel mucus all at the same time.
Because once I get the bug, it’s already too late. So instead of waking up with a scratchy throat and rushing to Walgreens to load up on bottles of things to make it go away, maybe I should just regularly take Vitamin C, drink herbal tea, and get plenty of rest.
That’s what I think.
But I don’t do that.
I get better, feel great, am glad my cold is over…and then just go back to living like I did before.
And it’s not like I live a grossly unhealthy life-style, but I can tell you one thing, even as I exercise, sleep, and eat well, I don’t ever think about preventing a cold.
I only think about it once I have it, and I want to get rid of it.
Well not to make too big of a comparison jump here, but I’ve found that this is also how I deal with sin.
I find that when I’m not faced with a moment or relationship or situation where I might struggle to obey God or not, I don’t really think about it. Because I don’t think I need to. It’s not until I’ve already been tempted or crossed a line or hurt someone or said something or thought something that I know was not the way God would have wanted me to behave, that I begin to think about how to avoid those situations.
Only once I’ve already offended God and maybe someone along the way to I get my mind in gear to figure out how to fix the situation or remedy my mistake.
But maybe then it’s too late.
Not too late for grace or humility or reconciliation. But too late for me to truly grow.
Maybe I need to start thinking about how to grow and challenge myself and avoid sin before I come face to face with it, instead of waiting until I’m already in a moment of weakness.
About a year ago, a friend of mine was trying an experiment that I thought was brilliant.
He talked about the virtue of self-control and how little he really had to exercise it. We live in such instant gratification, we’re not very accustomed to having to wait or say no to anything. Food, sex, entertainment, people, etc. are all, quite literally, at our finger tips that there’s never any need to have self-control when we need to.
So, he was trying something.
He was practicing self-control unnecessarily. Meaning: Every day he would make a habit out of denying himself things that he didn’t necessarily need to.
So, for example: He would finish a meal and want to go grab a cookie or something sweet, but he wouldn’t. Or he would want to stop jogging after 2 miles, but push through and run one more. Or he would want to listen to a great song on his drive home, but would, instead, keep the car quiet. Or he would want to have the game on in the background while he was working from home, but wouldn’t.
All of these things aren’t bad or sinful in any way. In fact, they’re all pretty enjoyable.
But in moments when he didn’t have to exercise self-control, he practiced it.
He was taking preventative action.
Practicing the discipline of something in a moment when he didn’t absolutely need to, so that when the moment came when he did need it, he was well-prepared.
I’ve always remembered that.
And maybe we need to do that too.
Maybe, alone with taking vitamin C, we need to start asking ourselves a question like: “What sin temptations might I face today/this week/this year and how can I prevent myself from giving into them?”
Sin isn’t really something we want to think about, but I wonder if acknowledging our potential pitfalls before we get to them is the best way to avoid them. By admitting the potential for disobeying God, we can then take action steps ahead of time to keep us healthy.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’ve started practicing denying myself things like doing my taxes and shoveling and making the bed…just to build up my ability to resist and stuff. I know, it’s pretty impressive. I’m just doin it for all the kids out there. You’re welcome. God bless.
Like many of you, I’ve heard the story of Christmas many times before.
I’ve heard it read from Luke during family Christmases, I’ve read it on my own as I’ve studied the life of Jesus, I’ve heard teachings on it, I’ve read books on it, I’ve read blogs about it, I’ve seen pictures of it, and I’ve even acted it out in my dad’s bathrobe.
And I don’t know if this is okay to admit, but sometimes I find myself kind of numb to the story.
Not that I don’t understand or totally appreciate the incredibly power and love that is seen and experienced when reading about God Himself being “with us” in such a miraculous, humble, world-altering way. But sometimes I think I miss some of the rawness and truth of the account, having heard it so many times.
However, there is one piece of the story that I’ve always found incredible. It’s an account that isn’t often read about or at least paid attention to, but offers an amazing element of intimacy to the birth of Jesus.
There are no angels or wise men in it. There’s no dove from heaven or divine healing. There’s just this one guy.
His name is Simeon and he’s only mentioned in 10 verses in all of Scripture. We read about him when Jesus is brought to the temple by his parents to be dedicated at the temple.
Here’s what it says:
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required,Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” – Luke 2:25-35 (NLT)
There’s a lot that jumps out to me, one of them simply being how Simeon’s heart was so pure. The one thing he earnestly desired from God was to live until the Messiah was there. And his spirit was so in tune with God’s, that the Holy Spirit revealed to him that this would happen.
I have to wonder too, with all the misconception of what the Messiah would be and look like (most Jews believing the Messiah to be a strong warrior that would come lead the Jewish people to freedom against Rome), Simeon may have been shocked to see that the Messiah came in the form of a baby. And yet, despite his probable surprise, he takes Jesus in his arms and praises God right then and there.
The faithfulness of God that Simeon must have felt in that moment is astounding.
I imagine that with Simeon, as with us, hearing and sensing the Holy Spirit move and speak always brings a small tail of doubt along with it.
Did I hear Him right?
Was that even God?
Am I missing something?
Am I being stupid and naïve?
Did I just imagine that myself?
That can’t be right, can it?
What will people think?
I’m sure these doubts crept into his mind year after year as he got older and older with still no sign of any kind of Messiah or Savior.
But then he is prompted to go to the temple and there he not only gets to see and meet the Savior of God’s people, but he gets to hold him as well.
God is faithful. God is good. God is true.
Like the many times when God is faithful to us by providing safety, health, finances, or finding our lost keys, Simeon must have been overwhelmed with God’s faithfulness.
I can just picture his walk home from the temple.
I don’t know how much longer he lived but I like thinking about the amount of peace and joy and contentment and amazement he must have felt for the rest of his days. I picture him arriving home, sitting down, and breathing out this sigh. A breath of gratefulness to God and absolute stillness in his heart.
He got to hold the Messiah.
That God sent.
And God promised he would see.
God was real, God was speaking, God was faithful.
So much joy.
Now he could die in peace.
Then I’m sure he jumped right back up, slammed a few cups of bold blend, and went and told as many people as he could about how freakin’ awesome God is.
The shepherds didn’t get to hold Jesus, the wise men didn’t get to hold Jesus, but Simeon did.
And he’s probably my favorite Christmas story person.
I kind of wish he was my grandfather.
Then I would know how to dress up like him when I help act out the Christmas story with my cousins. JK…sorta.