The Desert is Never the Destination

My wife and I are moving from the erratic weather of scenic Colorado Springs for the jobs, homes, and humidity of Houston tomorrow. I have looked for a job, but don’t have one yet, just faith in the God that called us that He will provide.
And yet this still feels like a desert to me. There’s the uncertainty of not knowing what I’ll be doing or from where the money will come. I’ve been hoping that I won’t have a breakdown of Israelites-in-the-desert proportions, wondering if God led us there to finish us off.
But then, God’s purpose for the Israelites wasn’t to kill them. It wasn’t even to leave them in the desert. It wasn’t that long after they were freed from Egypt that they came to the border of Canaan and sent spies in to see the land. Caleb and Joshua brought back a good report, saying God would help them conquer the land, but the other ten were afraid and their fear spread and kept the Israelites from attacking. As punishment, God decreed that only Caleb and Joshua, of all the adults 20 years and older, would enter the Promised Land. The wandering came after the disobedience; though God knew it would happen, the desert was never the destination.
Houston may be Canaan, or it may be the desert. I don’t know how long we’ll be there, what lessons God will show us, or how He will provide. (Keep in mind that even despite their numerous transgressions, God still sent them manna, led them with a pillar of fire by night and one of cloud by day, and even their sandals didn’t wear out.) But I know that if this is the desert, this is not the end, merely a piece of life I must go through faithfully to get what God has for me.
Whatever situation we’re in, God is there. Always. And if you’re in the desert, it’s the time to cling to God (or return to Him), not the time to abandon Him and wander around. This is not where you’ll end up if you’re faithful; He has something better in mind for you. It may or may not be riches or the love of your life or whatever else on earth you want, but it will be better for you than these because it will bring you closer to Him.

Sex Begins With Doing the Dishes

Ok, so this is something of a public service announcement for the fellas out there: your wife’s idea of sex begins way before yours does. For us guys, we generally think of sex beginning when the kissing turns passionate, the hands start wandering, and steps start leading to the bedroom.
For most women, though, this isn’t the case. Your wife probably enjoys the physical feelings of sex, but most women have it primarily because of the feelings of closeness and intimacy that sex brings. They feel secure in your love and in the relationship when they’re having sex. And sex itself, since it is so physical, causes the brain to emit oxytocin, a chemical known to cause emotional bonding between the person feeling it and the one causing it. It happens very strongly when a mother nurses her baby or when a woman has an orgasm, but it also happens when you have enjoyable physical contact with another person for more than about 30 seconds. This bonding chemical lends credence to women referring to sex as “making love.”
But because sex is so emotional for women, they have to be in a certain mood to want it. It has a little bit to do with how their day went and how tired they are, but much more of it is how they feel about you and how they think you feel about them.
For example, my wife’s primary love language is quality time. If I don’t talk to her and pay attention to her when she talks to me, she feels unloved. I show her I love her by calling her to say hi on my lunch breaks and by making sure we have a few conversations a day, even when we’re both super busy. She also has physical touch and gifts as love languages, so I give her little gifts from time to time and cuddle with her on the couch nearly every night. I give her a poem every month on the anniversary of our first date, tell her I love her every day, and sometimes do one or two of her chores for her, such as doing the dishes.
And I try to lead her as I believe a husband should lead his wife: with self-sacrifice, endless love, grace, patience, kindness, and correction when necessary. I try to lead us closer to God and to emulate Jesus in my life.
Because of all of these things, she feels very loved, and that makes her happy to show that love in a variety of ways.
Please don’t think I’m talking about manipulating your wife into having sex with you. That’s the worst thing you could try here. I’m saying if you haven’t been getting enough sex, it’s likely because your wife doesn’t feel loved enough. When I do these things for Leah, I don’t think about what she’ll do for me; I think about the smile on her face when she finds out. I think about how much I love her and want her to be happy. It is better to do nothing for your wife than to do things to manipulate her; she will see through it sooner or later (and my money’s on sooner).
Whether you’re satisfied or not, just take a few minutes this week and think of some things you can do for your wife, things you can do with sincerity, whether you’re rewarded or not. Tell her you love her and appreciate what she does for you. Take her out to dinner if you can see she’s tired. Give her a shoulder massage as you watch one of her favorite movies. Just show her how much you honestly love her, how much she means to you. You’ll find that her smile is easily reward enough, even if that’s not all the reward you get.

An Unpopular Message

In writing a book on confidence, it never really occurred to me how unpopular a message this might be. I think it’s because in writing it, I was learning that my value isn’t in what I’d thought. It wasn’t in my honor or intellect or in working hard. It wasn’t in friendships or title or relationship status. And considering how stressed all of these made me, I was ready to cast them aside. 

Or so I thought…

And therein lies the problem: It’s difficult to get rid of parts of yourself, even parts that you hate or are hurting you. Until the message of my new value started sinking in, I was doomed to be lost, trying to deny the things that I thought gave me value while at the same time not really believing that God’s love for me made me so valuable. People need to be valued. Maybe it’s a twisting of our original need for love, but we crave it, as Jack Nicholson might say, “deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties.” There is no need stronger; it is the oxygen for our souls, a constant requirement that we don’t talk about much unless we’re not getting any. 

Then there’s some guy nobody’s really heard of telling them they don’t have to breathe in the same foul air they have been for years, that they can leave behind their source for their strongest need. I mean, imagine telling someone they don’t have to breathe anymore. I’m not the only one sharing this message, I know, but this is hardly a movement, at least, not yet. And why should it be? It sounds crazy.

Except for one thing: what most people are breathing in for their value isn’t really working for them. It makes them work only harder, gets them only more stressed, and robs them of the life, both literally and figuratively, that Jesus gave His life for them to enjoy. 

I remember learning how to swim. I had the floaties on my arms that were as big as my head, yet I still clung to the side of the pool as though a kraken would drag me down to the depths of YMCA’s pool the moment I let go. Then I started letting go, slowly and very cautiously at first, often grabbing the side again, yet those times became fewer with longer times between as I started learning how to swim and as my trust in my floaties grew. Eventually, I didn’t even need the floaties, and then I was free.

Your journey toward self-confidence, if you haven’t already started it, will probably be a lot like this. Mine certainly was, though it can take much longer to change a heart than it can to learn to swim. If it is like mine, don’t give up. Keep letting go of what you have been clinging to. It gets better. And better still, when you get scared or feel that you’re not valuable, start clutching onto what God says about you rather than your old go-tos. That will take a while, but that’s when you’ll really be free.

 

There is no Plan B

My wife and I are moving to Houston in a couple months. There are better opportunities down there: more jobs, cheaper homes, no state income tax (though the property tax usually more than makes up for that), and just overall cheaper living. None of that really matters, though, for we feel God has told us to go, and so we’re going. And whether Houston has a wonderful job for me, a beautiful home for us, and a great church, or whether we struggle mightily to make ends meet and end up working as fry cooks at McDonald’s, we’re committed to this move because God’s will for us will always be better in the end than our will for us.

Unfortunately, in our hearts, we’re still nervous. We still have fallback plans of what we could sell if times get tough, of where we could cut back if we had to, or of putting off having children until we’re more financially stable. We have plans to stay in an apartment for the first 10-12 months, then buy a four-plex, pay that off as quickly as we can while living in one of the units, then buy another four-plex, and so on, building a small real estate empire of 10 or so of these units so I can retire early and we can live comfortably. On paper, it’s a good plan, but the whole point of the plan is really that we don’t have to rely on anyone for our financial well-being. No employer, no clients, not even God.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s wise to plan and to work hard for a better future. I even have a blog about financial planning (lessonsinpersonalfinance.com). Where we often go wrong, though, is in trying to plan to be independent of God. It’s not only impossible, but it’s foolish to try. Our source for all real blessings is Him. He’s the one who rewards us for our work or teaches us lessons through withholding blessings. He’s our Father, the only one we on whom we should ever really depend. I could get a six-figure job and we could make buy a hundred of these units and we should still depend on God alone for our finances, our health, our spiritual lives…everything. We’re still going to start on our plan and do it to the best of our ability, but we’re willing to scrap it if God leads us to do otherwise. We’re willing to abandon any plan, even having children, if God leads us to. We’re struggling to be in His plan wholeheartedly, but we’ve been learning through this that He has a plan, and if He is planning for us, we don’t need a plan B. We need to get closer to the Master Planner and trust fully in the only plan that will ever matter.

Statues of God

First, I’d like to apologize for my (word-of-the-day alert) reticence. Working two jobs with 50-70 hours a week plus the occasional class cuts down on my available time significantly.

That said, a thought occurred to me on my way home that I feel led to post. 

It’s amazing to think that the same God that created the Universe created you and I and even considers us to be His greater masterpieces. We are in His image. The Universe isn’t. The elephant isn’t. A virus isn’t. Neither is a redwood or a whale. You are. 

Then God tells us to not worship images of gods. I don’t know anybody who bows down to Baal or Zeus, but there are many versions of gods out there. For a lot of people, money or status is their god. Some may do anything to get that next high. Some want relationships, and in this is an especially dangerous trap.

I love my wife more than I love anyone else. Yet if I fall into worshiping this image of God instead of God, I do both her and God a great disservice. I dishonor them both by honoring them outside of their proper order. And I do myself a great disservice because my relationship with both of them is damaged when the priority of them has gone awry. 

Leah, for all her wonderful qualities, cannot teach me how to love unconditionally. It’s simply not in her of herself to do so. Even with the love of God flowing through her, that can show me what that love looks like, but it cannot teach me to love that way. And I need to love her (and others as well) that way if I am to honor God, grow in Him, and treat them as they both deserve (as children of God) and as He desires me to treat them. 

And when I love her more than I love God, when I worship the gift instead of the Giver, then I pin my hopes of happiness on her, which means she has the power to hurt me deeply with her actions or words. It enslaves me to her because I want that happiness and I have viewed her as the source of it. Instead, we ought to be slaves to God, a God who will never, even unintentionally, do anything that is not in our best interests in the end if we love Him and serve Him.

Idol worship is not just about the ancient gods or money and fame. It can be as close as the person in bed next to you at night. Love that person, but guard against loving them too much, for when you do, you love them less than you should.

Lesson from a Worm

Leah and I watched a sitcom last night in which one character, born and raised a nerd, was being taught how to fish. The woman teaching him told him to put a worm on a hook, so he did, draping the worm over the hook instead of spearing it on the hook.

And that got me thinking about us and God. In fishing, we take worms out of the ground, impale them while they’re still alive, throw them in water (in which they may drown), and hope they get eaten. Why? Did the worms do anything to us? No. Did we have some deep-seated hatred of all worms from a bad childhood experience? Probably not. We don’t have anything at all against the worms, yet we treat them brutally so we can have a relaxing time with a few friends. And we don’t have any problem treating them this way because they’re so far below us. They’re nothing compared to us.

Yet when things happen to us that we don’t like, what’s our response to God? “Why is this happening to me? What did I ever do to You?! I thought You loved me!” And it doesn’t seem to cross our minds that we’re closer to the worm than we are to our Creator. When we go fishing, we don’t give the worm a choice, neither do we owe it one. Likewise, God doesn’t need your approval to let something happen to you. He could let hell on earth happen to you like He did with Job and He would still be worthy of our honor and respect because of who He is.

And I’m as guilty of blaming Him and yelling at Him as anyone. None of it does any good. It doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t change His mind. It doesn’t improve my situation.

What’s more, God, though He has every right to do with you or me whatever He sees fit, actually looks out for our best interests. He doesn’t impale us, drown us, and hope we get eaten so He can have a relaxing Saturday afternoon. He actually loves us and the trials we have are either punishments or lessons, and often both.

Being Thankful

It’s the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States. It’s one of the holidays that I wish was celebrated around the world, though naturally, different countries would pick different days to celebrate it. There’s something innately wonderful about being grateful for what you’ve been given. It helps you to live outside of yourself for a moment, to remember that life isn’t all about you, and that others in your life have remembered that life isn’t about themselves long enough to bless you.

There’s always something to be grateful for, even if that is only that your tough times won’t last forever.

I’m not going to urge you to list things for which you’re thankful. There will be thousands of posts in the next few days that will urge you to do that more poetically than I could. Instead, I’m going to urge you to actually thank those who have blessed you, whether they’re coworkers, family, boyfriend or girlfriend, teacher, or someone else. Just as it helps you to be thankful, it helps others to be thanked, to know that their efforts are not wasted or ineffectual. It helps to know they’re making a difference, especially if they feel like nobody’s noticing.

And be sure to thank God as well, for it is Him from Whom all the truly good things in your life come.