The Only Story Worth Telling

We love stars. Be they actors, singers, athletes, or someone else, we often live vicariously through celebrities, dreaming of what it would be like to be that attractive, rich, famous, and good at what you do. We want that for ourselves, but don’t see ourselves as having the necessary qualities to pull it off.

The problem is that we want to be the stars. We want to be seen as important, attractive, and valuable. We want others to not just know us, but to admire and respect us. Many people are willing to accept a side role, but these aren’t the roles sought after. We may not all want to be movie stars, but we want to be the star in the story of our lives.

For myself, I’d love to walk onto a stage in front of thousands of people and share the message of Christian confidence, but the irony there is that part of it (some days a larger part than others, but always more than there should be) is for my glory, so I can be the hero. 

The only story worth telling is the one in which you’re not the hero.

The truth of my story and really of all of us is that we’re entirely incapable of saving ourselves. We can stop drinking heavily, get a steady job, stop breaking the law, and otherwise mold ourselves into productive members of society, but we can’t change our hearts. We can’t wash away our sins. We can’t redeem our past. And so many times in life, there are battles that we don’t have the courage, character, or ability to win. In all of these, when we are at the end of ourselves, we arrive at the beginning of Him.

My message can never be to my glory, but to the glory of Him who gave it to me, who saved me and gave me a reason to live. I need to surrender the starring role in my own life to play willingly, no, eagerly, whatever bit part He has for me. 

One of our favorite actors is Tim Curry. Whether it’s as Dr. Poole in Oscar (a movie that has inexplicably been almost entirely unknown), Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island, or Count Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, I’m convinced there’s no one who’s ever enjoyed his job more than he does. That’s the kind of joy I want to have playing God’s role for me in His sweeping epic of the history of humanity, not to steal the scene, but to show how happy I am to be there, how glad I am to serve the Star of the show rather than try to be that star.

He’s the real hero, the only hero, of the only story worth being a part of.

Don’t You Know You’re Beautiful

Don’t you know you’re beautiful
Even without the softest skin,
With no flowers in your hair
Or a workout regimen?

Don’t you know you’re beautiful
Though you haven’t a goddess’ body,
And beauty is scarce improved
By wearing jewels so gaudy?

Don’t you know you’re beautiful,
That it doesn’t matter if you’re smart?
Value’s not in sense of humor
Or found in the poet’s heart.

Don’t you know you’re beautiful?
For you’re delicately made,
Each detail of you crafted
With a beauty that cannot fade.

Don’t you know you’re beautiful?
Doesn’t matter what you do,
The reason you’re so beautiful
Is the love of Who made you.

 

Faith Determines Focus

They say the eyes can focus on only one thing at a time, that everything else becomes slightly blurry and is not fully comprehended. For the time that your eyes are focused on something, it’s the thing that matters most to them. The rest of the world is secondary.

In our lives, we’re often like that. When I’m hungry, I think about food. When I’m tired, I want to sleep. And when I’m scared, I think about that which scares me. In this case, that’s the idea that I won’t be able to find work down here, forcing Leah and I to live on the streets, which would mean, in my mind, that I’ve utterly failed as a husband. The thought terrifies me, not that she’d leave me, but that she’d stay and love me regardless, that I would have taken the person I love the most and who loves me more than I can fathom and make her destitute.

It’s a difficult thought to shake. The problem with it is that there’s no faith in God to be found there. If we believe God told us to move down here, then it’s on Him to provide for us when we’re in His will. If I had enough faith in that, my focus could be elsewhere because I wouldn’t see a problem; I’d see a certainty that He would come through. We focus on those things we either want or want to avoid. Those that are already taken care of are generally forgotten. 

My focus should be on doing God’s will, not on my problems. It’s not wrong to pray about situations or have plans, but it is wrong to focus on them to the point that I’m not focusing on God and His will for my life. My focus is only on my problems because my faith in God is not strong enough.

It’s difficult to have that faith when I struggle to focus on God long enough to build it. I guess that is perhaps the first step of faith, to willingly shift your focus from your problem to your Almighty Solution.

On Love, Faith, and Works

I love my wife, and I often try to express that in doing things for her. I tell her I love her every day, but I write her a poem once a month, sometimes do some of her chores for her, offer her neck and back massages, kiss her for no particular reason, and buy her little presents when I’m at the store. I don’t do these things because they are mandated of me, I do them because my love for her is so strong that I can hardly help doing them. I want to do even more for her.

Conversely, imagine that I told her every day that I loved her, but didn’t help her at all around the house, even when she felt overwhelmed by her to-do list. What if I never bought her anything, never supported her in her projects, and was apathetic about kissing or touching her outside of bed? Could it really be said that I love her? She would believe it when I said it for a while, but she’d eventually realize the truth that my words are just wind.

It’s not the words that convince her; it’s the actions.

Even working to provide for us would not be enough to really show affection. That’s part of my duty as a husband. I can work for someone without loving them; it would just breed frustration and bitterness over time.

Because I love her, though, I want to provide for her. I want to take a job that doesn’t just give us enough to get by, but that can get us enough so I can spoil her. And that’s another aspect of love:

Love doesn’t seek to do the bare minimum. By its very nature, it is exuberant and excessive.

Faith works in much the same way. In James 2:14-26, James tells us that faith without works is dead. We can’t claim with merely our words to have faith; we must show it in our actions. Even as far as salvation goes, though it is the faith that Jesus paid for our sins that saves us and not any works, whether prior or subsequent to our salvation, that faith, if true, will almost demand to be shown in works.

For my part, I’m still working on this, to be honest. “I believe, help my unbelief!” as Mark 9:24 says. I have faith enough to move Leah and I to Houston at God’s call, but not faith enough yet that He’ll provide. I’m still going through all the scenarios in my mind of how we could scrounge together money if God somehow lets us down. Yet He can’t, not just because He is faithful, but because He loves us desperately. His love for us practically compels Him to do what is best for us, because it is exuberant and excessive. He’s not the God of the bare minimum; He’s the God of the absolute best, even when that best is not what we were looking for.

Rules of Warfare

So…I intended to talk about decision-making and rules for when you argue in one post, but that last one ran a bit long, so I broke them up.

Leah and I have been very fortunate in how rarely we fight, but one of the reasons is that we have rules we live by that govern our conflict:

1. Either of us can call a 24-hour ceasefire, provided a decision isn’t required in that time, during which the other person can not bring it up. This time is to be used for prayer, seeking counsel from trusted friends, and to cool down.
2. We will not use name-calling, absolutes (such as “always” or “never”), sarcastic “I love you”s, threats of divorce, regret at knowing or marrying each other, ultimatums, or other manipulative phrases (“If you really loved me…”). If this happens, we automatically pause the fight for two hours, unless a decision is required within that time.
3. We’ll never argue in front of our kids and correction of each other, if possible, is to be done behind closed doors.
4. Finally, when we apologized to each other, we don’t use the word “but” to try to pass off some of the blame for our actions. It is an honest, straight-up apology.

We also have several guidelines for dealing with conflict. These are less strict than the rules, but are still worthwhile to follow:

1. We tackle problems together. It’s not us against each other; it’s us against the problem. When we attack the problem and not each other, we can keep calmer and be more creative. It also helps us to compromise because it’s not her position against mine so that I have to defend mine and get locked in; it’s a brainstorming session to find the best solution as a team.
2. We pray and seek our own fault in an argument. It’s easy to point fingers, but there has never, to my knowledge, been a fight in which only one person is wrong. Seeking our own fault helps us be more humble and see the other person’s side of things. When we do this, it’s easier to apologize to each other and get back to the issue at hand.
3. We keep fights to one room and never in the bedroom. We don’t want the bedroom to be a place of bad memories. For us, we’ve chosen the laundry room, just because we’re rarely in there.
4. We judge the behavior, not the person. This is one of the most important ones because when people fight, they have a tendency to villainize the other person. Suddenly, their motives not just in the fight, but overall, are wrong and they’re undoubtedly against us on a personal level. Remembering the truth, especially about your spouse, will help get rid of this anger, which is really based on fear.
5. Try to pull out the facts of the argument, then review them when we’re calmer. It’s rare that either side in an argument tells nothing but lies. A lot may be exaggeration, but when you’ve gone apart for a while to calm down, realize what the facts of the case are. Going by them and not by emotions helps resolve arguments much more quickly.
6. We can agree to disagree, except on:
A. Major theological issues, such as whether Jesus is the Son of God. Minor points, such as whether Job was a real character or an allegorical one, are not worth arguing about.
B. Timing of, number of, and major points in raising children.

Finally, most things in life are really not worth the stress and tension of an argument, let alone a fight. When a person has a strong reaction, it’s usually because there’s something else going on or because the issue at hand recalls an old hangup they’re struggling with. Gently pry at the root cause if someone has an unusual reaction to what you’re doing. That, combined with a humble heart, will lead to a lot more peace at home.

Decision-making

In every marriage, important decisions will need to be made. How they are made and how both people respond when it doesn’t work out well will go a long way toward determining the overall happiness of a marriage.

Leah and I are both very traditional. She wants me to make the final decision when we can’t agree. Today, there are a lot of marriages where they have equal power, but this often leads to fighting. It’s like Congress not being able to decide on a satisfactory budget, so they just keep raising the debt ceiling. Neither of them want to lose or give way and neither has the power to force their idea of a budget through without the other’s cooperation. Also, if the default is to do nothing until a decision is reached, this could potentially result in giving the other one authority to make the decision.

For example, say a man has the opportunity to relocate from northern Virginia to Seattle to take a promotion at his company. The pay is 25% more than he was making and he thinks this is what’s best for his family. His wife disagrees, wanting her and their children to keep the same friends and liking the school the kids are in. If there’s no final authority and nothing is done until an agreement is reached, she wins by default.

I’m not saying that every decision is mine or that at the first sign of disagreement, I assert my authority and run over her to get my way. I ask for her opinion for most decisions. I want to hear her reasons because she’s often right or, at least, she has a viewpoint I hadn’t thought of yet. When we disagree, we try to compromise, whether it’s a big thing (such as a recent conversation when we tried to think of who our children’s legal guardians would be if we died) or a small one (such as which movie to watch). In nearly everything, we’ve agreed pretty quickly or been able to find a compromise. For big decisions, we pray first and wait to hear from God. It’s only in those few cases where this doesn’t happen that I’ve made the final decision.

Some of you may be asking, “Why is it you who gets to decide? Why not her? Or why not take turns?” I would answer that anyone who desires the power to make someone else do what they want isn’t really ready to have it.

Leadership, when done right, is a burden, not a privilege. Leading a family doesn’t mean I get what I want all the time; it means I put my needs behind their needs and my wants behind their wants. I don’t come first because I lead, I come last. In order, it’s God, the family as a whole, my wife, my children, myself. Leadership is service and sacrifice. It’s a form of love and shepherding that has been misinterpreted as either an unnecessary burden or domineering.

Similarly, submission doesn’t mean being a weak-willed sycophant. It doesn’t mean my wife is less valuable. We’re of equal value, but with different roles. Of leadership and submission, the latter is often easier if the leader is doing the job well. I don’t mean that just in terms of making the right decision most of the time, but also in loving and serving.

When I lead with her best interests in mind, Leah finds it easier to submit to me. When I make a decision she disagrees with, she doesn’t yell at me or do anything passive aggressive to sabotage it. She tries her best to make it a success because we’re on the same team and she knows I made the decision with her needs above mine. If the decision doesn’t work, she doesn’t say, “I told you so,” or secretly harbor a grudge against me. Instead, she tries to mitigate the damage. When a decision yields poor results, it doesn’t necessarily mean that doing what the other person wanted would have been better.

You don’t necessarily have to have the same process that we do. I’m simply saying what has worked best for us and also telling the difference between true leadership and what it’s been made out to be. If the burden is supposed to be yours, take it; if it’s not, don’t seek it.

 

The Marriage Notebook

Ok, so this post has little to do with confidence, but it seems a lot of people I know are recently married or engaged. My wife and I tied the knot nearly 16 months ago and, while we obviously can’t speak yet about how to keep the fire alive or have long-term happiness, we can talk about how to get through that first year much more easily. Many count their first year of marriage as the hardest, especially those who don’t live together before getting married.

Knowing this, I had an idea that really helped Leah and I quite a bit. It’s called the Marriage Notebook. What you do is buy a notebook and write down important areas or areas that will see a lot of change when you get married. A lot of people go into marriage thinking that because they get along well after being together a few hours every day, they’ll get along being together a lot more. It can be true, but many couples have at least one surprise waiting for them, and these surprises can easily lead to fights.

For example, Leah’s parents got pregnant with her on their honeymoon, so Leah grew up thinking that as soon as you got married, you started having kids. I’d wanted to wait three years before trying. There’d have been a lot of tension if we’d gotten to our honeymoon and she wanted to get pregnant, then heard how long I wanted to wait. By talking this out before we got married, we were able to get past each other’s expectations and our own and settle on waiting two years. No fights, no arguing, no hurt feelings or huge disappointments – just a simple compromise that suits us both.

Our notebook included 17 categories:

1. Spiritual walk
2. Finances
3. Children
4. Chores
5. Entertainment
6. Privacy (what we can say to others about our marriage and to whom)
7. Health
8. Rules of warfare (for arguing)
9. Family relations / holidays
10. Sex (frequency and what is / is not allowed. You don’t want to go in expecting it three times a day for the first few months while the other person is thinking twice a day during the honeymoon, then four times a week after that.)
11. General habits / cleanliness (so you can avoid nagging about leaving underwear on the floor or whether the toilet paper goes over or under)
12. Intellectual / personal growth
13. Work-life balance
14. Travel / vacations
15. Decision Management (what happens when we disagree and there is no possibility for compromise. Who makes the final decision? How should the other person respond, especially if the decision turns out poorly?)
16. Home Life (pets, decor, inviting friends over, etc.)
17. Bucket List

Naturally, your list doesn’t have to mirror ours, but I’d strongly recommend #1-4, 6, 8, and 10. For all of these, we sat down together and talked about what our expectations were. We recognized that some expectations existed because that’s what our parents did and we did our best to disregard those and instead think about what we wanted for ourselves and thought was right. We didn’t want our parents’ marriages; we wanted our own. Sometimes, what we wanted was what our parents had, but more often, we were modifying certain things to better suit our personalities and needs.

We tried to go pretty deep here, too. Our page for kids became four pages, as we discussed not just how many we wanted and when, but whether we’d put them in home, private, or public school; penalties for certain behaviors; ages at which we thought certain things, such as water baptism, were appropriate; and much more. We’re not locked into these rules, but we have guidelines we’ve already agreed on, which not only takes out most surprises, but strengthens our feeling of being on the same team.

Make compromises both of you can live with. Be sensitive to the other’s feelings and upbringing (knowing that some beliefs about marriage will be deeply ingrained) and remember that you’re on the same team. Know that going through this will likely take a few weeks. If a topic gets into a heated disagreement, you can always put it away and go back to it later. It’s much better to discuss it before it actually matters than try to hash it out when a decision really has to be made.

I’ll talk about rules for warfare and decision making more tomorrow.