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He sat across from me in my office, silent.  His hands were fidgeting as he continued to look down and shifted in his chair.  Was he contemplating the non-existent pattern in the carpet?  Had he heard me, I wondered?

Almost a complete minute of silence had passed since I had asked him the question. Apparently, it had provoked a deep introspection.  We had been discussing the value of communicating thoughts and emotions in his relationships.  As his griefs had surfaced over the past season, so had a deep confusion over his identity.  For this man, it had always been easier to logically assess a situation, plan a practical task, and move forward, ignoring the effects of his words and actions on those around him. 

Relationally, he was oblivious.  Until lately.

Now, in the midst of the cost of his marriage, his Inner Life was waking up.  My question had been a simple one:  “If you were your wife, what would you think or feel about you?”

I have learned over the years, to allow my clients time to think through their answers, and wait for responses.  But, as the silence wore on in this particular session, I began to realize we were on unknown ground for this particular gentleman. 

I broke into his reverie. “Are you having trouble?” I asked.

“She told me before she left,” he replied. “I just didn’t want to listen, I guess.”

“What did she say?”

“She told me that I didn’t want her.” He stopped. “Why would she say that? We never talked about this stuff.  Where would she get that idea?”

And there it was. After years of ignoring his wife; expecting her to take care of him without verbal or relational connection; leaving the care of the children and the home completely in her hands; acknowledging her only in public… this client was surprised at his wife’s apparently inconceivable decision to leave.  Hadn’t he been a provider, he reasoned?  That should be enough. After all, he was the man, he said.

“What do you think you would think or feel?” I repeated the question.

“I guess I would feel lonely,” he sighed a response. “I just didn’t know I was supposed to care about those things. It never occurred to me how she might feel.  I mean, she took care of everything.  I really thought she was happy. In control, you know…..”

“Did she ever tell you she was unhappy?”

He shifted in his chair again. “Well, a couple of times when we had fights. I would bring something to her attention, and she would burst into tears and ‘go off.’  You know, hormonal.”

“What does that mean: ‘you would bring something to her attention?'”

“Like something she needed to change — about herself; or about the house, or how she was handling something with the kids.”

“Did you help her?”

“I didn’t have time to do that.  I was working.”

“Were you critical of her?”

“Probably, but only to help her.” He looked at me. “Isn’t the wife supposed to take care of the husband? Isn’t that her Biblical reponsibility?”

At that point, I called him by name. “Do you realize that when you try to change your wife in that way, you are telling her that you don’t really want her as your companion? What she hears is that you want someone else who will act and respond in a different way, and be a different person than she is. You are telling her that you don’t want her. Not only that, but when that is the only communication she is receiving, it is doubly damaging.”

He looked at me, dumbfounded; his mouth and eyes wide open, like a deer in the middle of a road facing bright headlights.

“Not only that,” I continued. “But as to Biblical responsibilities, the Word has much more to say about the man’s responsibility to care and nurture his wife than it does about the woman’s role.”

“For real?” he asked.

Being female, it amazed me that he hadn’t known this.  This man, although he loved his wife dearly, had been content to live and function on a facts level only, ignoring his family, making demands. In contrast, his wife had been living in emotional starvation since their days of courtship.  Then, through the years of marriage, this husband had mistakenly assumed that because he could explain away her complaints and emotions as “not being logical,” they didn’t matter.  If he could discount them, and find an alternate perception, it became his habit to expect her to consistently adjust and make personal changes.  

This man had expected his viewpoint to determine Acceptable Truth.  Apparently, there had been no alternatives; no team; no unity.  He felt it was his God-given privilege.

Since that meeting several years ago, I have encountered many in our culture with the same issues; many marriages with the same struggle.  Sadly, in my own experience, situations like this one are even more prevalent within the mindset of the Christian church, than in the secular environment. 

God’s original design for marriage is that each partner seek to outserve the other one; not one-sided or demanding.  The husband submits his life to Jesus, and loves his wife without condition, laying his life down for her.  The wife responds by submitting her life to Jesus, and honoring his intentional choice to serve.  Together they are a team, seeking to build each other up — without asserting rights, choosing to learn how to grow together, living their growth honestly and vulnerably in front of their children and the rest of humanity.  This is the way of the Kingdom.

When we come to Christ, he calls us to forsake the desire to put ourselves first.  We become disciples — learners. We choose to serve.  A marriage doesn’t work when one partner does more serving than the other — because it isn’t God’s plan.  Such a relationship becomes selfish.  The non-communicative partner becomes the center of the orbit; with everyone seeking to gain their approval…… this is narcissism.  Sadly, it lives in the American Church as well; in marriages that would like the label “Christian.”  But Christianity is about what Jesus would do — not about our rights, our feelings, or our comfort.

We are not called to rule each other — we are called to serve each other. We are called to empathy.

I have had the exhausting joy of helping many broken and abused women over the years in rebuilding some semblance of their lives. I still find myself getting angry when legalistic dogmatics contend for some sort of “scriptural” selfishness and entrapment when it comes to abuse in Christian marriages.  In a day when our American culture has become increasingly self-focused, self-centered, and self-absorbed, there is a desperate need for more than surface answers in our homes and families. 

It is time for a house-cleaning  from the attributes of Denial, Entitlement and Religiosity. 

It is time for Honesty, Healing and Growth.

If you are in a relationship like the one described here, let me encourage you to seek help.  Find a good, solid, Christian counselor who won’t offer platitudes; but will speak real solution.  God’s plan for marriage is that it reflect the relationship Jesus has with His Bride — Honest, Safe, Secure, Loving and filled with Grace.  Within the context of Reality; it means growing, learning and communicating; allowing your spouse to know your entire life, with nothing held back — ever. 

I’m glad to say that in that particular appointment years ago the husband began a process in working, hard, I might add, to win his wife’s heart back.  What took many years to destroy, God rebuilt in a season of months — in fact, I spoke with him not long ago, and he said, “Thanks. We’re still learning– every day!”  

Aren’t we all?  (Thank God!) 

Welcome to Discipleship 101.

(c)2010 DG Awakened to Grow.  Duplication without permission prohibited.

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I love my car — really.  Well, I’m thankful that I have a car.  More than being grateful for the vehicle, I guess what I should say is that I’m thankful for my hubby; indefatigable man that he is.  I know this because we have remodelled a house together, built a church together, remodelled another church,…. you get the idea.   

Well, about a year ago, he was out of town for a class; he’s a doctoral student. (I think I mentioned that somewhere.) While he was away, he delegated to me the job of purchasing a car.  I know, I know, I hear you. But it wasn’t like that.  No. Really, it wasn’t. We had looked for weeks – together.  He had done the leg work, and wanted me to look the car over.  A mechanic, who was a friend, or should I say, used to be a friend, had gleaned the best of two used Hondas and merged them together to create what we hoped would prove to be a hybrid.  It was affordable, and it was available — what could be better?  

Bill must have forgotten that I know as much about picking a car as I do about football. (I’ve watched it for years, I just don’t get it.)

Our friend had taken a car with a blown engine, and replaced it’s get-up-and-go with the motor from a Honda with a trashed frame — 121,000 on the good frame; 81,000 on the good engine.  Such a deal it was. Really it was. I keep telling myself that…

So now, here we are, a year later.  Thanks to my husband’s tenacity, and the kindness of our friends (one in particular who is an excellent mechanic — not the other guy),  I have a new car.  Not the shiny kind. ..

Maybe we’ll paint it.

The new car I refer to is my little Honda.  Yes the very same.  We now have a new air conditioning system, new brakes, new tires, new head gasket, all new hoses, a flushed radiator, a new lower control arm, new window motors and regulators, a new master cylinder, new fan motor control switch,  a working window washer unit, all new spark plugs, new shocks and struts, and the list continues….

I’ve always liked lemonade….. did I say that out loud?  I still do — it’s the south….

Not only that, but the “Cash for Klunkers” program didn’t appeal to me.  I just can’t see taking our used cars to a dealership, who then would have to destroy them; unable to sell them just to comply with the program.  It didn’t seem right to me, or to Bill, that the steel in my little Honda then be sold to Japan or China to build their steel industries, while our American car auctions see a freeze in the market….. didn’t seem right somehow.

So, I’ll drive my little Honda til the wheels fall off.  And I’ll be grateful, really grateful,  that I have a car, and no car payments.  Come to think of it, maybe the first mechanic’s idea of a secondary market wasn’t all that off, after all.  All she needed was a little love and tenacity.  Those ingredients can fix just about anything.

Even marriages. 

How long would you drive your car down the road with all the lights on the dashboard blinking?  How far would you get if the temperature gauge pegged itself to “hot,” and steam was coming out of the engine?  And yet, many times, we think we can continue travelling blithely through life when the relationships in our lives are sending us glaring signals — yet we wait until the motor seizes to do a tune-up

If you are in such a place in any relationship in your life, let me make a suggestion to you.  Considering the American culture, and the social networks within what we call the “Christian Culture,” only one in four of those who are referred to a counselor actually follow through with seeking one out.  Of that 25%, less than half will follow through with pursuing the healing that requires personal change.  Knowing the stats on broken and blended families, what does that tell us about the emotional stability of our nation? And our level of actual spiritual maturity?

The inside is more important than the outside.  Going through the rebuilding process with my little Honda has taught me that, yet again!  It’s made me love her more. 

And most importantly? The radio works, and I can park  her anywhere!!

(C)2010 DG — awakenedtogrow.com

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You read it right, friends.  Believe it or not, it is the name of magazine: “Garden and Gun; Soul of the New South.”  As I sat waiting at a friend’s house this week, I picked it up to read. Fascinating.  I wasn’t born in the south, but I wish I was.  I’ve been eating grits, rice and gravy, okra, catfish and ribs for as long as I can remember.  Our family has gone through a gallon of sweet tea a day since Bill and I married back in the 70’s…. Am I telling my age?  Oh well.

The article that tickled my fancy in this particular issue, was called “Fetch Daddy a Drink,” by P.J. O’Rourke (I find myself wondering whether that is a man’s real name — but whatever — this is the south)….. It was the sub-title that caught my attention — “How to apply gun-dog training methods to your children.”  I was hooked.  Was Mr. O’Rourke calling my children animals? (Not that I hadn’t thought it quietly to myself once or twice when they were smaller — but to put such a thing in print?  Really now…)

In a nutshell, Mr. O’Rourke had taken the instructions of famous dog-trainer, Richard Wolters, in the book “Gun Dog” and translated them into parenting lingo.  While the hilarious outcome of his discussion was entertaining, I found several things I agree with, that I can’t resist sharing with you; logging them away here in cyberspace.

Three Rules To Train A Good Dog

1. Start ’em young — Don’t wait to train a pup until he is a year old.  Begin early.  Make solid imprintings that leave a legacy of behavior patterns. (I stopped to think; manners, habits, making the bed, even prayer….. okay.) O’Rourke says puppies who begin training at one year see a success rate of 20%, while puppies who begin such training at  5 weeks see a rate of 90%.  (In people years, that would mean waiting until my child was 7 to expect him/her to make their bed….. and looking back… potty training definitely had to happen earlier than seven…. Continue O’Rourke… I’m listening.)

2. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Keep repeating the lesson until the pup learns it, Mr O’Rourke says. (My years as a children’s pastor tell me this is true as well — I always had to remember the One Minute Window Rule.  That’s the rule that says I get one minute of undivided attention from a child for every year of their emotional development….. Hmm…. are we on to something?)

3.  Keep things concise.  “Don’t clutter a pup’s brain with useless nonsense,” quotes the author.  “Keep your commands short.” (I agreed with him up til now, so I read on…. ) The basic commands are SIT, STAY, COME, and WHOA. According to O’Rourke, his son will need to learn those rules if he wants to experience a happy marriage….

I put the magazine down.  I found myself smiling — and at the same time wondering whether the author didn’t have a good point in the midst of his bizarre approach to child rearing. 

In the 1920’s, algebra and geometry were college courses, as were foreign languages, and the lab sciences.  Back then, long division was introduced in the freshman year of high school. Music, the arts, and hands-on classes were part of the learning experience; education utilized all of the learning styles.  Now, in the twenty-first century, our schools are aimed for the 7% of the population who are visual learners. We are harried, hassled, and time compressed.  And now? Five times the amount of information the children of the 20’s and 50’s were expected to absorb, is now on the plates of our children who attend school.  We have become obsessed as a nation with seeking to make sure our children know more, do more, make more and become more than any generation before them…..

Additionally, our children’s health conditions show the results of that approach to preparing them for adult life.  They struggle with ADHD, ADD, childhood depression, behavioral disorders, OCD, obesity, anxiety, sleep disorders, to name a few.  Just last week, I read a news article about a middle schooler who had tried to end his life.  Presently, in my own counseling practice, I regularly see at least five children under the age of 12, with big-people sized problems.

What’s gone wrong with our plan?

Which brings me back to Mr. O’Rourke. There are two major elements underlying the author’s entire “gun-dog” approach to parenting; elements we all really should adhere to if we desire success in raising our children — or our grandchildren — or our employees, even, for that matter.  They are elements applying on any level of leading — whether coaching, counseling,  mentoring, teaching or parenting. 

That missing element is Relationship; personal contact and consistent communication.  To put it in “gun-dog” lingo: When an owner trains a pup, he is personally involved, on every level, for each stage.  He learns to anticipate what the pup will do. He spends time observing; learning how his dog thinks.  It’s how obedience happens.  It’s how loyalty is nurtured.

With personal time.

As parents, we teach our children not only by what we say, but by what they see us doing; day in and day out.  Our actions and attitudes do more to teach than any lecture.  Thank you Mr. O’Rourke for your insight, and your humor….

I know I needed your advice. And the laughs.

But I don’t think I will ever be able to look at one of my children with a palm raised like a stop sign and utter, “Sit and stay.”  (I’d like to raise their personal value level a little higher than that, I think.)

(C)2010 DG– awakenedtogrow.com

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Don’t you just love the AT&T commercials about the mother who wants her family to realize the value of their rollover minutes?  I think my favorite part of the whole thing is watching the facial expressions of those around her; her sons, her husband…. Body language says it all, friends.

(If you haven’t seen the series, I include a youtube link here.)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFepU_hcZ0s&feature=PlayList&p=23F1FDE8BDDDEBA1&index=3 

Which brings me to yesterday’s funny moment. Believe it or not, a lot of them happen in counseling…. Anyway, one of the couples I see in Inner Life Development, was sitting in my office. The three of us are in the midst of discovering how they can best communciate with each other.  Even though they have been married awhile, this man and his wife can go days without indepth touch or connection.  Some days they don’t even speak to each other. 

They never learned how…. How can you do something you never were taught to do, or even saw occur? 

You can’t. It’s impossible to give away what we haven’t received…..

Sadly, each of us have areas in our lives where that question could be applied… Each of us must discover our own need for conflict and change.  And by change, I mean growth. 

The element to lift us from our melee? A healthy response. Our response when we become personally aware of our ignorance;  that response is telling in our development of character.  It is the key to the Holy-Spirit-provided door to unlock our Personhood. Most especially, our response shows our capacity for relationship; not only with others, but with God as well.  How do we respond?  Do we become angry? Withdraw? Defend ourselves?  Or, do we open our lives to others, ask a question, apply the answer, and continue towards emotional health; then spiritual maturity?

One cannot happen without the other.

Currently, I see four couples; each of whom has developed discontenment with the normal “non-talk” in their day-to-day.  Rather, they have chosen to live on a learning curve; bravely stepping into the unknown; learning to speak a new language; to invest themselves; to leap with their eyes open.  As such, they are in the 8% of those in our culture who are willing to actively seek healthy change and pursue it. 

These couples are learning to bond in their marriages where they have not been vulnerable to anyone else before; ever.  And, as they make discoveries, I am gaining  fresh understanding as well.  As we go, we are creating Learning Steps for the process of bonding.  The steps eventually will come in the form of worksheets; then a workbook I hope to make available on a larger scale; “Bonding: How To Do Relationships.”   As we go, each of the couples has agreed to let me share parts of their stories as part of the learning process we will make available for others.

Which brings me back to yesterday, (with permission, of course.)

At the end of our session, this precious couple was discussing with me, the week’s realizations.  I was explaining the worksheet packet they were taking away as part of their homework for the next week.  I said, “I would like you to set aside time to speak with each other for ten minutes each day.  This needs to be purposeful time. You are going to share your hopes, your experiences and your fears. You can even talk about what you are learning as you work through the worksheets I have given you. The time you share together has to go deeper than just the facts of the day. Please sit at a table together to talk. Don’t be distracted when you share. Set a timer, if you have to.  Here is the rule: You don’t stop communicating until the timer goes off, but if you go past the ten minutes; that’s a good thing.”

The husband looked at me.  For a moment, he was quiet. Bear in mind, he is learning the value of communicating and vulnerability.  He asked, “If we go over our ten minutes on one day, can we count those minutes on the assignment for the next day?”

After a few seconds of silence, I laughed out loud.  I couldn’t help it.  “No,” I answered. “That doesn’t work! We don’t rollover minutes on communication!”

It opened an entirely new door of learning.  Right then.

Which makes me think once again of the AT&T mom — and I wonder … How many couples out there are holding bowls of unused minutes, saving them for later? 

After all, leftovers never are quite as good……

(C)2010 DG — awakenedtogrow.com

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She’s only five.  Just. She has short blond hair, and dancing eyes that look right through me, especially when we are drawing pictures together; especially when she plays with the knights and ladies and horses… but most of all when she is standing next to my desk, asking for yet another heart-shaped lollipop. 

Yesterday, she came in with her mother. 

Yesterday.  It was snowing in our city — in the month of March– much too late for icy weather in the south.  Drive slowly on black ice, folks.  You don’t see it coming. Yesterday. The child couldn’t stay inside during our session.  So, she and her mother created a ten inch snowman ornament for the hood of my little car.  Wish I had taken a picture — he was formidable. He endured the drive home, and was still frozen to my car’s hood, pointing forward, this morning at 6am. She makes me giggle.

Yesterday.

It wasn’t long ago this little one first came in to see me.  We had to get to know each other, you see. She was having trouble letting go in the morning. No one knew why. She wouldn’t talk —  In my own humble opinion, the child holds too gracious of a spirit to burden the adults around her.

So we played together — drawing pictures, punching play-doh, jousting knights and ladies, with puppets, …and with the dollhouse.  When the focus of her fear finally surfaced, she crawled into a fetal position; she substituted grunts for words; she quietly pulled away and wept; she tried to climb into the five-inch opening between my desk and wall cabinet.  It was her attempt to find a safe place to hide; a cave; a womb.   It was time for a rescue.

Did you know that a child will show their trust by speaking to you? Such a feat requires time and safety….

Her abuser denies any wrongdoing. 

We are slowly working through her perceptions about herself, and about men in general. Much too soon she will be confronted with the much larger outside world.  Can we help her steady her feet before it appears?  Dear Jesus, I pray so. 

How does this happen to a five year old? I have seen many such children over the years, and yet it still confounds me —

The pervasiveness of evil in the world around us? On a small level, perhaps — but in reality that entity is nothing, but a loud bully on the playground.  What confounds my heart and mind is this — The infiniteness of the love of Father God; deeper than any evil, any fear, any abandonment, any pain; wider than any blockage, any accusation, any broken place.  He reaches into our humanity, and restores identity; greater than any loss, any abuse, any difficulty — and it is eternal. Eternally mine, because I belong to Him

Do you belong to Him?  Then, it is yours as well. And He will move heaven and earth to redeem, to rebuild, to restore, to repair and to re-create what the false gods and philosophies of this world have stolen from you. 

He  is God.  No substitutions, no additives. Just God.

It’s been several months now, since my dollhouse tow-head came to visit for the first time.  Her mother can’t pay, so my cheeks receive my fee in sticky kisses (lollipop derived); as her mother is trying to rebuild her life.  We came up with a business name and made flyers and business cards last week — we can’t wait to see what Jesus will do for her.

I have long said — “People who need help and counsel can’t afford it; when people have money for help and counsel they don’t want it. They become distracted with all the things they think will heal their pain.”

My husband suggested that I invite those who are taking this newest adventure of blogging with me, into my own journey. He said you should know what it is I do these days…..

Many of my clients are just like these two precious souls — like butterflies emerging from a long and hard winter; getting ready to unfold their wings and become.

Pray for us.  Pray for me.  And, if it occurs to you, and you would like to support our ministry at Awakened to Grow, you can do so through my website; awakenedtogrow.com. And I promise, any gift you give will be used to provide care for those who cannot afford to pay for themselves.

(C) 2010 DG — awakenedtogrow.com

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