Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: The Shack

Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young,

"And all I wanted was a God who will just fix everything so no one gets hurt." -Mac, p. 146.

The Shack is a difficult book to review for several reasons. First of all, it does not fit easily into one genre but instead overlaps several ones. Secondly, this book impacted me powerfully on an emotional level that is not always rational and easy to describe. And lastly, I don't want to take anything away from your reading of it by telling too much of the story - much of the appeal of the book is that you are not sure what is going to happen . . and why. So if you are like me, and want to be surprised, don't bother reading the rest of this review. Just take my word for it that this is an absolutely amazing book, "a game changer," an emotional rollercoaster ride of intensely deep life questions, theology, and brutal honesty. Just go buy it and enjoy. I rate it 4.9 out of 5 ninja stars.

If you are still reading this . . . let me say a bit more though I will be purposely vague. This book is first of all fiction, the story of a man named Mac who's life is changed forever when his youngest daughter is abducted during a family camping trip. The evidence that she may have been savagely murdered is found in an old abandoned shack deep in the wilderness and Mac's world is shattered. Four years later as he struggles he receives a note in his mailbox, (apparently from God), inviting him to come meet Him back at the shack. Who wrote the note? Mac eventually find's out as he returns to the shack and is confronted by nightmares, hope, and answers for his questions.

The book is allegorical (much like Pilgrim's Progress) and deep. It explores some of the toughest questions about God, his love, and the reality of human suffering. For me, I was most impressed by how it handles the understanding of God's affection for Himself and for his creation in a sin-stained world. The Shack presents a powerful story about a God who personifies relationship and is concerned more with relationship then performance. This book is special not because it is written by a master writer (Williams is still developing) but because it manages to hit the reader hard both emotionally and intellectually. I cried like a baby many times reading this book and felt closer to God then I have in a long time. On the other hand, my understanding of God was also challenged and expanded in new ways as well. I didn't agree with all the theology written in it but if you can get past that, you will get something out of this book. I would really like to read it again with a group of people and process it together - slowly. This would be a really good book club or small group read for those who want to deep. I can't recommend it enough. It is an instant classic, the kind of book you will want to buy for your friends because you love them.

P.S. When I checked on Amazon this morning, The Shack was number 9 on the bestseller list.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

"The Loving Thing To Do" & "Pre-Nups"

The other morning at Olive Garden it was very slow so all the "front of the house" staff were hanging out and discussing life. As often happens talk turned to relationships. First we talked about about committed dating ethics. Is it OK to seriously date someone if you are sure (or almost sure) that you would never marry them? There was quite a bit of discussion on this one. Most of the younger staff (16-22) thought that it was OK to be going out with someone (even if you didn't see the relationship going anywhere) because (1). It's better then being alone and (2.) It's better then being bored. The older staff disagreed: better not to "waste" your time and possibly break the other person's heart. If you really care about the person you won't live a lie and you'll break up with them as soon as possible to spare them the increased pain which will result when you eventually break up with them in the future anyway. It's the loving thing to do. Of course it's wiser not to start dating anyone who can't see yourself marrying but sometimes it isn't until we are seriously dating them that we realize "Nope, not gonna happen."

We also talked about pre-nuptual agreements: should people getting married get them? Many people though no - why marry someone if you don't trust them? Some disagreed though; you have to protect yourself they argued. As we talked it came to light that the people who thought pre nups were terrible were those who had never been cheated on! Anyone who was in a serious relationship and had been cheated on thought that a pre-nuptual agreement was necessary as you never know if your relationship is secure or not. This made me sad but I could understand it - once bitten, twice shy. I think there are probably some valid reasons for pre-nups, for instance if you are part of business and a divorce would jeopardize the business or your partners. It's a personal decision that I personally would never make, but I can't say it always the wrong thing for others.

Of course everyone agreed that if you were marrying a much richer person, pre-nups are definitely a bad idea! Restaurant staff are practical people after all.

May Light increase!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Movie Review: Be Kind, Rewind

Jobina and I forgot to book a babysitter so I went out and picked up some fast food from nearby Dairy Delight and we watched "Be Kind, Rewind" with Jack Black. I had seen the trailer for this quirky looking film and always wanted to see it. The premise of the movie is simple; in order to save a VHS rental store where all the tapes have been magnetically erased, the two desperate employees tape their own versions of the film over the originals - and people love them! Some of the remakes are extremely funny (ie/ Robocop and Ghostbusters) and you follow that unlikely transformation of the video store into a new video watching phenomenon. Do they save the store? I won't ruin it for you (if you haven't seen it) but Jobina and I liked the ending quite a bit.

The movie starts slow and you wonder if it will ever get going. The humor is . . . different but a refreshingly understated Jack Black working with a great cast of characters with a gritty and poor backdrop is magical. Not everyone will like this movie (especially if you have no "deeper" tastes in movies) but if you open your mind up to it there's lots to appreciate. As a former drama director and occasional amateur movie guy, I really wanted to believe that what they were doing was possible. And maybe it is. And even if not, it was touching and entertaining all at the same time. I rate it 4.1 ninja stars out of 5.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Frog, Toad, and Willpower

Toad baked some cookies.

“These cookies smell very good,” said Toad.
He ate one.
“And they taste even better,” he said.
Toad ran to Frog’s house.
“Frog, Frog,” cried Toad.
“Taste these cookies that I have made.”

Frog ate one of the cookies.
“These are the best cookies i have ever eaten!” said Frog.

Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another.
“You know, Toad,” said Frog, with his mouth full,
“I think we should stop eating.
We will soon be sick.”

“You are right,” said Toad.
“Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop.”
Frog and Toad ate one last cookie.
There were many cookies left in the bowl.
“Frog,” said toad,
“Let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop.”
Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.

“We must stop eating!” cried Toad as he ate another.
“Yes,” said Frog, reaching for a cookie,
“We need will power.”
“What is will power?” asked Toad.

“Will power is trying hard not to do something that you really want to do,” said Frog.
“You mean like trying not to eat all of these cookies?” asked Toad.
“Right,” said Frog.

Frog put the cookies in a box.
“There,” he said.
“Now we will not eat any more cookies.”
“But we can open the box,” said Toad.
“That is true,” said Frog.

Frog tied some string around the box.
“There,” he said.
“Now we will not eat any more cookies.”
“But we can cut the string and open the box,” said Toad.
“That is true,” said frog.

Frog got a ladder.
He put the box up on a high shelf.
“There,” said Frog.
“Now we will not eat any more cookies.”

“But we can climb the ladder and take the box down from the shelf and cut the string and open the box,” said Toad.
“That is true,” said Frog.
Frog climbed the ladder and took the box down from the shelf.
He cut the string and opened the box.

Frog took the box outside.
He shouted in a loud voice,
Birds came from everywhere.
They picked up all the cookies in their beaks and flew away.
“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly.
“Not even one.”

“Yes,” said Frog,
“But we have lots and lots of will power.”
“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad.
“I’m going home now to bake a cake.”

(From Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel)

I saw this on ysmarko today and enjoyed its simple wisdom. Apply as you will.

May Light increase!

To Cottage Or Not To Cottage - That Is The Question

I'm not sure why but as far back as I can remember I have always had the desire to have a cottage. If I close my eyes I can picture it: a place out on the water, far from civilized life; a place to escape and renew myself and the fam. A place to send friends and family who are burnt out or just need some time to themselves. A place to enjoy creation, recharge, and contemplate the ludicrousness and sacredness of life.

Ah yes, a cottage.

Yesterday I was thinking about this dream of mine and wondering if it really is such a good idea. Apparently cottages cost a lot of money to buy (money of course is something I don't have lots of). Also, for the amount of money a cottage would cost you over its lifetime you could probably do a lot of crazy trips, see a lot of beautiful places, and see a great variety of outdoor spaces without spending nearly as much money. Also, camping (the low impact kind I like to do) has a lot less of an environmental footprint then a cottage or cabin does.

I see a few different options of things I could do:
1. Buy a cottage/cabin on the lake. (not much work to do, LOTS of cash necessary)
2. Buy some land, put up a cottage or a cabin. (LOTS of work, much cash necessary).
3. Buy some land, put up a yurt. (medium work, medium cash necessary, environmentally OK)
4. Go camping lots, occasionally rent a cottage. (no work/hassle, cost effective, no ownership)
5. Do nothing, buy a Wii and stay home. (no cost, no work, possible excessive weight gain)

Now just because money is tighter right now doesn't make some of the more expensive options impossible as I have ideas/schemes that could use to help finance them (I could for instance rent out a nice cottage and pay most or all of my mortgage costs that way). As well, I don't have to get a cottage - we live nicely without one now. But if we do get one, I think it would be best to get it within the next couple of years as I believe prices on them will only get higher and higher. So what do you think?

May Light increase!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Life Wisdom From Steve Jobs

If you know me, you know that I am huge fan of Apple, Inc. and it's charismatic founder Steve Jobs. Jobs is widely seen as the key to Apple's huge successes (and mistakes) over the years, a creative and demanding CEO who defies conventional wisdom and creates his own. I don't agree with everything he says or does but I do think he has lots to offer and a way of looking at things that is out of the ordinary. If you have some time and you are in a reflective sort of mood, check out this video of Jobs giving the commencement address (about 15 minutes) at Stanford University in 2005. I found it inspiring. It's classic Steve Jobs but with the added surprise of unusual vulnerability for a usually private man. His life stories are genuine and compelling. Enjoy!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Christian Sex Tip

Warning: Christian sex talk ahead . . .

Hopefully with my provocative title I now have your attention. I was reading "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts" by Les and Leslie Parott (yes, they have the same first name, weird, eh?) and I got to the last chapter which was on spirituality in marriage. I thought it was going to be cheezy and I wasn't looking forward to it. I was pleasantly surprised when the chapter added a few new insights on the importance of a shared spiritual life between husband and wife. One section that really got my attention was the section on prayer:

Sociologist Andrew Greely surveyed married people and found that the happiest couples were those who pray together. Couples who frequently pray together are twice as likely as those who pray less often to describe their marriages as being highly romantic. They also report considerably higher satisfaction and more sexual ecstasy!

There is an old story about a young couple who decided to start their honeymoon by kneeling beside their bed to pray. The bride giggled when she heard her new husband's prayer: "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful."

As strange as it may sound, there is a strong link in marriage between prayer and sex. For one thing, frequency of prayer is a more powerful predictor of marital satisfaction than frequency of sexual intimacy. But get this: Married couples who pray together are ninety percent more likely to report higher satisfaction with their sex life than couples who do not pray together. Also, women who pray with their partner tend to be more orgasmic. That doesn't sound right, does it? After all, married churchgoers are painted by the media as prudes who think sex is dirty. Well, let the media say what they want but prayerful couples know better . . .

Well, you can't say you never learned anything useful from reading my blog. If you have been thinking about praying with your spouse more, this may be the confirmation you've been looking for!

May Light increase!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On-Line Counseling?

Recently I saw that one of the google adsense ads on my blog was for a website called I went to the site and found that it was a counselor's website from which she offers email and chat counseling with individuals. I really liked this site for several reasons. First, it looks good. Second, it's informative. Third, it has a really cool idea - offering counseling and wisdom to people who may not otherwise have access to it.

I have been interested in experimenting on line counseling (or eCounseling) for awhile so I contacted the counselor and gave me lots of information. Hopefully in the fall I will begin to offer it on a limited basis and see how it goes.

So two questions: One, would you ever consider getting therapy from a professional on-line and why or why not? Two, if you are a counselor, would you consider doing email or chat based therapy? I'm just curious.

May Light increase!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stigma Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I had an interesting experience at Olive Garden a week ago. I went to greet a table and was delighted to see that it was a former faculty member at Steinbach Bible College, a good man, who was now in a pastoral position. We chatted and caught up and all was well. He asked me about my future plans and I told him that I was beginning my counseling career but had decided to keep up waitering for the summer to pay the bills. "Hey, that's what you said last time I came in," he said. Just the way he said it seemed to connote something I have often felt from other ministry type people - basically the idea that waitering (or other "menial" work) is in some way a sub-par job choice that I should get out of as soon as possible (before I get stuck in it). The funny thing is that I recognize this prejudice because I used to share it.

Back when I was a youth pastor and camp director I would watch as fellow ministry professionals would leave behind their ministries for some totally unrelated job, often a humble one. One former camp director managed a luxury property. Another became a carpenter. A youth pastor told me he wanted to work at McDonalds. I often subtly looked down on these people, thinking that either they couldn't cut in it ministry or feeling sad that they had abandoned their "sacred calling." I'm ashamed to say it, but that's what I thought.

Imagine then my surprise when I decided to go back to school and realized that I needed to make some money to keep my family afloat. Since I couldn't take on a job that had too much responsibility I was forced to something more menial: waitering. It took me a long time to get over my own stigma against myself and to truly become comfortable with a non-professional job. That it is not so much what I do, but who I am as a person. A man (or woman) is not their job and God will not love them more or less if they are in ministry or mow lawns/pump gas/wait on tables. Waitering can be fun, fulfilling, and is rarely boring or overwhelming. I'm comfortable with the fact that at this point in my life I'm a waiter and it amuses me when other people (especially those in the ministry business) sometimes feel awkward with that. Yet I can't fault them as it was not too long ago that I shared the same thoughts and prejudices.

Men are especially bad at getting their identity from their jobs/careers. I'm reminded about Henry Nouwen, a Catholic priest, popular professor (Harvard, Yale, Notre Dame), and author who at the crux of his "success" decided that to preserve his own soul and rediscover God he needed to leave it all behind. He joined a L'Arche Community in Toronto and spent the next years of his life serving and living with mentally handicapped people. If you want to check out his story read "In The Name of Jesus," a short book about what he learned through this experience. When Nouwen left his old life behind he too struggled with who he was now that he wasn't an important leader and professor in the Catholic Church. Eventually he came to the same conclusions I have - Jesus cares a lot more about how you serve Him then the job you do. I will never look down on someone who decided not to forgo full time ministry and transition to something else, even something of humble means. There are so many noble and good reasons to and I do not want to pass judgment on any of them. Hopefully neither will you. And if you are in ministry and think you need to get out, hopefully you will have the courage to do so - no matter what you or others think about it. A stigma only has power if you choose to believe it.

May Light increase!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Tao of Psychotherapy

"Accept what is useful, reject what is useless." - Bruce Lee

Warning: This post may only be remotely interesting to martial artists or counselors (and maybe not even them)!

The way I figure it, counseling is like martial arts. There are many different schools (or core types) of martial arts. There is karate, kung fu, tae kwon do, muay thai, capoeira, savate, etc. Each of these is founded on certain principles that then influenced the art (or system) that they became. Not only this, but each martial art can be subdivided into offshoot schools, for instance there are literally hundreds of different styles of karate (shotokan, shite ryu, kempo, etc) which are similar but have subtle differences. Each martial art in its purity has strengths and weaknesses that are born out of the foundational principles that each art embodies. For instance Tae Know Do has some of the most powerful kicks of any martial art. But it is weaker in grappling. But to make each a system that is true to its founding principles, they all compromise one thing or another.

Counseling is much the same. There are several main schools of counseling theory. These include cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, gestalt, rogerian, etc. Like martial arts, each is a system founded on certain principles. Each has hundreds of offshoot systems (cognitive behavioral for instance has REBT, CBT, Reality Therapy, etc and many of these each have offshoots). Like the martial arts, each school of counseling theory has strengths and weaknesses. Reality therapy is strong on motivating people by showing them their ability to choose their destiny but is weak on resolving difficulties from one's past. The "sub-systems" attempt to solve some of these weaknesses but can never quite do so without losing their strengths.

Some marital arts are relatively new and aim to integrate the strengths of several different martial arts into a new, improved one. Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do was an early example. Today you see this kind of integrated "art" in the current fascination with mixed martial arts (MMA). Mixed martial arts are a kind of practical combat system and are usually very effective. To get this effectiveness they have to reject much of the "art" and philosophy of each system they incorporate. Thus they don't fully experience the truth strength of each system, but they get enough of it that when integrated with other systems is a powerful result.

Counseling too has new "integrated" theories. In fact when I was in school you could only study integration - there was only one or two courses of a true "pure" theory. You were expected to take the best from each system and make your own system that fit you. This makes a lot of sense in theory but in practice I wonder if it had been better if we had all learned one theory well before trying to come up with our ow integrated systems. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to be great in one system (although it couldn't help every issue) then to be "OK" in many. If I could do it all again, I think I would take specific training in one theory (maybe REBT or solution focused therapy) and only after I had mastered it begin the task of integrating it with other systems. That's after all what most martial artists do. Just some thoughts I have been having.

May Light increase!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is God A Matchmaker?

"Are marriages made in heaven? Maybe, but so are tornadoes . . ." - Unknown

I'm reading "Singles at the Crossroads" right now as part of my Pre-marital and Marital Counseling class. The book is a in-depth exploration of what it means to be single from a Biblical perspective. It attempts to debunk the myth of "the gift of singleness," works through discerning God will as a single, and generally suggests that a balanced, Biblical view is one that honors singleness as a status equal to marriage. What really got my attention in the book was the author's discussion of the "Has God chosen a specific person for you?" question. Ah yes, I know the debate well: Does God have a soul mate for you? That one person who he created for you to get together with? When I was young I was strongly in the "yes, He does" camp. I believed in God's sovereignty, his interest in my life, and the beauty of romance.

I still believe in those things! But over the past few years I have changed my view. Although there are probably a few cases where God specifically chooses (predestines?) a mate for someone (Mary/Joseph as an example), for the most part I do not believe God chooses our mate for us. Why not? Well, for two main reasons: not enough evidence and too many problems:

1. There is no Biblical evidence that we are supposed to discover the one, specific person, who God wants us to marry or that he has such a person "saved" for us. Seriously, it's not there.
2. The idea of a soulmate (or "there is only one person in the world who is meant for me, and without whom I'm lost") is actually a pagan idea borrowed from Greek philosophy. Plato believed that everything in the material world is merely a temporal copy of an ideal, universal, and perfect form. Applied to relationships it means we have an innate, preconceived image of the one person who we are meant to be with, and our never ending quest is for a human facsimile that will match that perfect ideal. Voila, the birth of soulmate anxiety!
3. Unnecessary pressure and fear. I know people who literally suffer mental illness from worrying about if they can find their soulmate, if they'll be able to recognize them, if they've missed them, or that they've married the wrong person. That's a lot of pressure to put on oneself - discovering God's specific choice for who you are to marry or not missing that person when they come into your life. And does God change his mind about who you should marry? That idea too has problems.
4. Reality doesn't fit well with the theory. I know Godly people who have been completely convinced that they were supposed to marry someone - and then realized that they were wrong. My roommate in college one year told me he was absolutely sure that God wanted him to marry his girlfriend. God has confirmed it to him in several ways. A week later she broke up with him! Suddenly he wasn't so sure. Or what about the Godly Christian woman who's guided into marrying a guy who cheats on her and then divorces her against her will? Was it God's will that her soulmate would do that to her? Though I do not think it's impossible to discern God's individual will in some things (very, very carefully) and I don't want to put Him in a box, but to presuppose that everyone (or even most people) should be able to figure this out seems absurd to me.
5. Believing in one specific soulmate can make us passive and reactive. If God has someone for us, someone who is meant to be together with us, that person logically will come to us no matter what we do. Thus, we don't have to put much or any work into it. God will take care of it because it's God's will. Why put the work into becoming a better person, meeting people, discernment potential partners, etc?
6. Free-will. I'm always amazed at the number of people who believe strongly in free will as it applies to salvation but ignore it completely when it comes to the romantic notion of the one true soul mate.

It seems to me that the New Testament is much more concerned with how we treat the person we marry then whether or not we have married the right individual. But if we become a devoted Christ-follower, we have freewill to choose between several great (or poor) choices in a mate or perhaps to choose not to have a mate at all. Perhaps we need to focus more on God's general will for our lives then worrying about his possible specific will for us. If he wants something (or someone) specific for us, he is a Big enough God that he can make it happen. But perhaps you disagree? Feel free to comment or vote on my poll on the right hand side (near the top) of the blog . . .

May Light increase!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book Review: Boundaries In Dating

Book Review: Boundaries in Dating by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (2000).

I really enjoyed this book (except the cover - definitely not guy friendly). I have not read any of the “Boundaries” books before but found this one to be really informative, practical, and Christian. In many ways, the title of the book is a misnomer. Although there is certainly much in the book about boundaries in dating, this book is really a treatise on Christian dating in general. It is not just "boundaries" but a philosophy and theology of dating as well. I wish that I had read this book many years ago when I was in the dating stage and found myself seeing myself and others in the many stories sprinkled liberally throughout the book.

A new idea for me was taking the idea of boundaries (in dating) beyond just the physical realm. Personal boundaries about respect, values, time, control, and blame and applied in the world of dating made a lot of sense to me and I can certainly see this being an issue in many of the couples and individuals who I have counseled in the past. Before I saw dating boundary errors only in the sexual realm (which is also discussed) but my view is expanded significantly. If you aren't able to stand up for your boundary of say, having your date be honest with you, how can you expect them to stand up to your boundary of staying sexually pure? It sounds like common sense but I had never put the two together before.

Two (of many) nuggets of wisdom stood out to me: one was that to be happy in a relationship, you need to be happy without one. This was my experience and I have been telling people this for years, but the authors explain it really well and show grimly what happens if this rule is not followed. The second was in relationships, you get what you tolerate. When we allow someone to get away with things, we enable them to be less then mature with us. I found that to be a very powerful thought and hope it will be a way to help motivate clients to enforce their boundaries (and take responsibility for their own part in it).

I will definitely be using this book with clients in the near future and would also like to try doing psychoeducational seminars or groups with it as well (pairing it with the workbook). It's quite readable and I would highly recommend it for anyone who is dating or wishes to be in the near future. It will teach you what to look for (and watch out for) in your dating choices, how to work on your personal issues that might effect your ability to attract mature future mates, and teaches great ideas for all sorts of common dating issues. It's probably best for those in the 18-30 year old bracket. Recommended at 4.8 ninja stars out of 5.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Today I did a little speak on Father's day at my church. It was a short one, about some of the things my Dad taught me and some of the things I was trying to teach my kids. And it had to be in the context of camping. Sounds easy, right? Actually it was not.

I haven't really done any public speaking for almost two years now and I found myself a little . . . rusty. Actually, downright scared is more like it. There was a time (when I was a youth pastor and a camp director) when I had to do some sort of public speaking at least once a week. And back then I hardly got nervous at all. But last night as I was preparing my thoughts (which of course I did last minute) the old feelings of inadequacy and stage fright returned. I did eventually get to sleep but it was fitful and uneasy.

I remember some of my earliest public speaking moments. The Church Christmas play. My baptism. When I went to college the ante got upped: Homiletics class. We had to preach two sermons in front of our whole class. Later I had to do a presentation in front of one of my other classes and I actually started to pass out in the middle of talking! Luckily I did not go down but I did lose my spot reading and started again in a completely new place, confusing my classmates entirely. And in what might have been my most terrifying moments, I had to address the entire student body (over a thousand people) to give announcements about our GAP (Go And Pray) events. I remember the first one clearly because I felt so sick and then spoke my two minute announcement in about 25 seconds. Jobina was there and just smiled at me when I sat down.

Fast forward to today. Rationally I know that speaking won't be that bad and yet I can't stop the nervousness. All I can do is desensitize it by speaking often - something I haven't of course been doing. As is usually the case the anticipation is worse then the event itself and midway through my speak I felt OK. Truthfully, like hiking, the best part of public speaking for me is when it stops! The sweet feelings of escape and relief! Perhaps it's worth speaking just to feel the joy of not having to worry about it anymore after you finally do it.

I'm a "mediocre at best" speaker and I really admire the people who can do it without feeling nervous (and do it well). Perhaps you are that sort of person. So why did I do it if I despise it so much? Now that I'm graduated I want to get back into serving my church and this one the first thing someone has asked of me that I had the time and ability to do. I also want to challenge myself - to step out of my comfort zone. Lastly, camping is one of my favorite subjects and it was supposed to be short so I had no excuse. Although it was a little nerve wracking I'm glad I did it. And I'm really glad it's done.

Happy Father's day everyone!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Perils of Marrying a Professional Woman?

I found this opinion piece (and counter-opinion piece) very interesting:

Careers and Marriage

Essentially the author at Forbes cites recent studies that have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat and less likely to have children. And if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women--even those with a "feminist" outlook--are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.

These kind of statistics are interesting but I'm not sure how useful they are. They did get the female writer who responded to it a bit riled up though.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Deception and Relationships

"Where there is deception, there is no relationship."

I am reading a book called Boundaries in Dating (which so far looks extremely good), and the above quote stood out to me. The authors had received this advice at a counselor training time in which the teacher was training people how to work with those having character disorders (people who do not take ownership and responsibility for their lives). I liked what this teacher said:

"As soon as there is deception, stop everything." If you are trying to help someone and he is lying to you in some way, there is no relationship. The whole thing is a farce and you should not go any further in trying to help someone until you settle the issue of deception. There are no other issues at this point except that one. Trust is everything in a helping relationship, and when it is broken, it becomes the only issue to work on. Either fix that or end the relationship. Where there is deception, there is no relationship . . . Truthfulness is everything. While essential in the therapeutic relationship, honesty is the bedrock of dating and marriage as well . . . The real problem is that when you are with someone who is deceptive, you never know what reality is. You are not standing on firm ground, and the reality can shift at any moment. As one woman said, "It makes you question everything." (Cloud & Townsend, p. 35-36).

This is quite profound. Sometimes we feel things aren't right in our relationships but we aren't sure what the problem is. We look for all sorts of possible answers but often miss the obvious one. Deception, whether we are deceived or the deceiver nullifies the relationship. And yet we are all guilty of it at one time or another. This book has challenged me to stop deceiving others in my relationships and to stop allowing those I care about to deceive me and get away with it. For their good and mine.

May Light increase!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Medium and the Message (and Blogging)

"The medium is the message." - Marshall McLuhan

(this post is based heavily on a comment I left at the excellent blog "Fun with The Friesens" a while ago)

As my own blog is no stranger to controversy, I have been reflecting on the weakness of the blog medium (and the written word in general) when it comes to discussing things that we may disagree on. A problem with blogging (besides the possibility of people sometimes abusing anonymity) is that so much of a person's message is unclear or left up to interpretation. In face to face conversation you can see facial expressions, detect the tone of the speaker, and hear which words are emphasized (and which ones aren't). These are all important clues to what a speaker is really saying that are missed when communicated in the written word.

A commenter may mean something as gently sarcastic, playful, tongue in cheek, humorous, etc. but readers may hear it as an attack, an insult, jaded, argumentative, depressed, etc. There is so much opportunity for miscommunication! And unlike a face to face conversation, you can't tell if what you are saying to someone is landing on them incorrectly until it is too late. Thus repair attempts (common in face to face discussions) don't happen right away and people can get upset. Strong words fly back and forth and pretty soon what was a discussion of opinions degrades into "personal attacks."

At least that is what has the potential to happen when we jump to conclusions about our interpretation of what others write.

Another weakness of the blog medium is that if someone is offended by a comment or post on a blog they can simply just not comment back (the equivalent of storming out of a room or the silent treatment) - never allowing miscommunicated thoughts to be questioned or corrected. So then even if you think you've offended someone (or if they have been honest enough to tell you), getting specific feedback on what exactly it was that offended other is challenging because the person is under very little pressure to respond. Often they think their job is done! Just telling someone that you are offended by what they said is not feedback. Feedback has to be specific (time, place, what was said/done, explanation). We often congratulate ourselves that we gave someone "feedback" ("You were out of line!") but unless we get specific it is only doing half the work. And work that is only half done can be just as bad as doing none at all.

Blogging is great, but it takes specific writing skills to communicate clearly and accurately. This It also requires patience - patience to ask "Do they really mean what I think they mean?" Emoticons (as much as I hate them) would be helpful but because of their "cheeziness" factor will probably never be utilized. Being honest, specific (not vague), questioning, respectful, and extremely patient/gracious are key factors in entering blog conversation successfully. I am convinced that most people are capable of this. But not all.

May light increase!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Worth It?

I saw this on Postsecret a few weeks ago and it warmed my heart. The combination of selflessness combined with a healthy/realistic view of body image makes me think that the woman who made this postcard is at peace with herself. She seems to be comfortable in her own skin and in today's messed up world of body fixation it gives me hope for the future.

If scars from battle are cool on men, why can't stretch marks be cool on women? I interpret this postcard as reframing something displeasing as something full of honor and pride. Of course I look at this as a man . . . perhaps you see something different?

May Light increase!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Trip To Belize: Day 11 & 12

May 22, 2008

Today was kind of a throw away day, really. We woke up, had a nice breakfast talking to a CBC documentary guy who was staying at Coral House and then biked down to the local post office to send some postcards. This was actually quite the experience as nobody in the town seemed to know where there own post office was. "The white building" said many people but it took us 15 minutes of checking out the myriad of white buildings before we found it. It was fun meandering around though although, biking through the streets. At one point a police officer informed me that I was biking the wrong way down a street. This seemed amusing as there were no signs indicating this. But, chastised, I meekly apologized and turned around.

We felt sad as we checked out of Coral House Inn. Not only were we leaving this great little place to stay, but we were also preparing to leave this exotic little country and I had mixed feelings. I was happy to leave and get back to my kids and my regular life and I'd felt like the trip had been extremely satisfying emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Yet, I felt there was so much more to see and do in Belize and you never really know if you'll be back or not. As Shakespeare said "parting is such sweet sorrow. We flew to Belize city (via Placencia and Dangriga) and this time the short flights were not nearly as harrowing as when we arrived. A view from the plane enjoying the view of the cayes to the east:

Here's a final picture of us in Belize enjoying our final "little plane" ride:

From Belize City we flew to Miami and then flew to Toronto. Along the way I finished reading The Shack and watched "The Bucket List" on the plane. Both were meaningful experiences and I was hit hard again about the importance of relationships. We arrived in Toronto and went to the hotel (no upgraded room this time sadly) and promptly froze as we were unused to normal temperatures. We were exhausted but content and promptly went to sleep.

May 23, 2008
The flight to Winnipeg was nothing out of the ordinary except that on check in security found my swiss army knife that I had forgotten to take out of my carry on. Belizean and American "security" had both missed the fact that I had taken a weapon on board their flights, but the Canadians found it and confiscated it. I was both proud of them and annoyed that my knife was gone (actually they offer for you to go back through security and mail it yourself but I didn't want to miss my flight). After we arrived in Winnipeg we were met at the airport by Jobina's mom and the kids. Jobina cried quite a bit and I was a "little" emotional myself. Sometimes you don't know how much you miss something until you take a break from it. When Jobina asked if the kids had missed us she found out, well . . . not really. It appears Mom missed them alot more then they missed her! I think that's probably for the best.

When we got home we gave out some gifts to the kids. First we gave them some shells and sea glass that we had collected for them at Coral House Inn. Trinity also got a cute little Mayan doll from the PG market. And Riker? Well, he was VERY excited about what we gotten him:

Giving him his "mini-machete" was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me!

So there you go. After a total of 13 days (including travel days) we were home. I find that when people go on vacations they usually fall into a choice-reinforcing pattern. To justify the choices they make (say as in going on a vacation) there is great pressure for them to tell people it was good, otherwise they look foolish. And I would say I've done that in the past (especially about certain sketchy winter camping experiences). But I can honestly say that this was the trip of a lifetime, that it was worth the money, and that given the choice I would do it again. I had an adventurous second honeymoon in an exotic locale with great people and it was better then I even hoped it would be. Why? I think because I met God in Belize and that made all the difference.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Trip To Belize: Day 10

May 22, 2008

Today was a relaxing, lazy kind of day. We had a nice continental breakfast at the Inn and then Jobina and I got on the Inn's complimentary (and old school) bikes and went for a leisurely pedal around town:

Here's the sign welcoming you to Punta Gorda:

It was very hot and we took many breaks in the shaded palapa rest stops along the sea. Here's a picture of us that we took on a little dock where we stopped to rest and dip our feet in the ocean to cool off:

After pedaling a mile or two along the coast we were hot and decided to treat ourselves. On the way back we stopped for ice cream at a little cafe, where we were informed that they didn't have any ice cream. So we had ice cold bottles of coke and red fanta (mmm . . . red fanta . . .) instead:

Here's a picture of the street from the patio of the cafe:

We went across the street and bought some postcards and then headed back to Coral House for a swim. I have a great picture of Jobina relaxing in the pool but for some reason Jobina hates it and threatened me if I would post it. Thus I will post a picture that represents her instead. It's a unique piece of art by the pool that I liked. I think it captures the bliss of floating in cool water on a hot tropical day rather well:

Lunch was at a Chinese restaurant which was unremarkable except that it had air conditioning. After lunch we got some ice cream (finally) and I tried the saursop flavored variety that the Belizeans enjoy so much. We crashed for the afternoon in our nice air conditioned room. Here's a picture of the room, small but nice:

At 6 we walked to an oceanfront bar/restaurant called "The Reef" for our last supper in Belize:

I had a T-Bone steak dinner (cost $7.50 CDN) and a glass of really nice red wine and Jobina had some crepe thing paired with a Belekin- both meals were amazing. We enjoyed our last supper in Belize as night descended and talked about how much we would miss this country, what it would be like to go home, and other things. On our way home we again ran into our friend "The King" who sold me a nice wooden ring, made of the wood of a certain kind of palm tree (whose name escapes me). We felt buying from him was the least we could do to support him as he had provided us with so many unique memories of PG (scaring us in the dark, his friendliness, his crazy home/shack, etc). Here's a picture of the King's home, taken in the daylight:

When we got back we went for yet another swim to cool off and then Jobina went inside to enjoy the AC and read. I spent a long time in the pool: thinking and praying about my life and especially what I was learning about God/relationship from reading "The Shack." I was the only one out there and I let my mind and heart wander where they willed. Later I crept upstairs to the deck overlooking the pool and ocean and read. I honestly feel like I have met God in a new way on this trip and I felt very much at peace.

I was telling my friend Jason yesterday that I have a hard time living in the moment; often I am thinking about the future and I miss what's happening in the "now." This night in Belize was different. I just enjoyed the moment; my book, the quiet, the surroundings, the ocean air, everything. It was very nice. Later I invited Jobina out to sit on the deck with me and we enjoyed the time together. Tomorrow we head home which is sad but good. I miss my kids.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Trip to Belize: Day 9

May 21, 2008

Well, we had our final day at Cotton Tree Lodge. Checkout is at 11:00 but since check in at Coral House Inn (in Punta Gorda) wasn't til 4:00, they graciously allowed us to stay for lunch and we didn't even have to vacate our cabana until right before we left at around 2:30. We said our goodbyes to the staff, Jay, and CeCe and before we left became the first paying customers of Cottonwood Chocolate! Here's a rather strange picture of me holding the first sold chocolate bar:

Antonio graciously drove us to Punta Gorda and dropped us off at Coral House Inn:

This is an exceptional place, I can't say enough about it. After the excitement of our daily trips at Cottonwood we were looking forward to a place to just relax, and Coral House Inn was it. The whole place just oozes relaxation, quality, beauty, and laid-backness. It's a beautifully restored villa, complete with walled in courtyard and a nice pool/bar area overlooking the ocean. Did I mention that they have the only pool in Punta Gorda? Here's a view of the entrance gate in the wall:

From our air conditioned (yes, AC!) room on the upper level we could look down on the pool with ocean in the background:

The pool is not huge, but it is more then sufficient to cool down and go for a great swim:

At the oceanfront there is a walkway down to the ocean where we went down and found some sea glass for the kids:

Here's some bananas growing on the yard:

Needless to say, we were impressed. The location is perfect, far from the core of town but close enough to get there quick. There are cemeteries on each side of the property so the neighbors are very quiet! And the bar is self serve, so you can grab or make whatever drink you want (you just write it down on your tab). We went for a few refreshing swims and got to know some of the guests. Here's a pic of me floating in the pool:

Here's a picture of the thatched bar area and pool loungers:

Soon it was time for supper, the first time we had to choose our meal in 7 days! We went to Marian's, a 3rd floor ocean side place a few blocks from Coral House. On the way, we noticed lots of holes in the ground and enventually we saw these multi-colored crabs pop out:

Very interesting. Marian's was delicious; classic Belizean cuisine. You had three choices: a roasted chicken, beef, or seafood dish. Jobina had chicken and I had beef (about $5 and
$6 CDN) which included the meat plus a salad, potato salad, plantains, rice, and beans. They were super filling and delicious. We tried lime juice, there version of lemonade except with limes - very good. We got to see gecko's chasing each other on the walls of the restaurant:

We walked home in the dark and Jobina was a bit nervous. Suddenly as we were passing a dark shack a large man in dreads shouted something at us and jumped up from his yard and ran up to us! Needless to say it was a bit out of the ordinary (Jobina was quite frightened!). A very eccentric Belizean introduced himself to us as "The King" and asked us where we were from. After talking for a few minutes (which relaxed us) he invited us back to his shack (which appeared to have no power since it was dark) to see the art that he was working on. I told him that maybe we would stop by during the day and though he was disappointed I think he understood how we might be hesitant! After getting back we relaxed by the pool and discussed theology with an American named Todd (who surprised us in the middle of the conversation by going and peeing on the yard). Then we went to bed in air conditioned bliss!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Trip To Belize: Day 8

May 20, 2008

Today was a different kind of day (for a 2nd honeymoon) because Jobina and I spent much of the day apart doing our own thing. CeCe and I wanted to go back to Blue Creek and climb that mountain we had seen while Jobina wanted to relax and "veg" at the lodge (she also wanted to watch them experiment with chocolate making). I have never really climbed a mountain before (at least to the top) so I was pretty excited. Holly from Cottontree also came along under the guise of "scouting out" the trip as a future mainstay tour. Laura (Jeff the owner's sister) also joined us in the morning. Here's the colorfully painted "Jungle Bus" that Vincent drove us in:

When we got to the village of Blue Creek, Vincent negotiated with local guide Sylavano to take us up the mountain (called Hokeb Ha). Soon Sylvano was leading us down the now familiar path to the caves, but then we found the trail leading up the mountain. Before leaving CeCe had asked Vincent "Any rocks?" "No," he said, "no rocks." This was amusing as the trail was covered in loose rocks (as well as trees, vines, and roots). Ah, Vincent, your lies make me laugh. Here's me:

Hokeb Ha mountain is 18,500 feet above sea level (confirmed by my GPS) and was for us about a climb of 13,000 feet of mostly vertical terrain. Luckily there was lots to hold onto as we carefully choose our line up the trail - trees, roots, rocks, etc. Sylvano mentioned to us not to touch certain black marks on trees or roots as they were poisonous and "bad boils" would break out on your skin if you touched them! Here's the view going up:

And here's a picture looking out from the trail a couple hundred feet up the mountain:

The heat was quite intense and that combined with altitude change made some of us a bit overtired, woozy, and (I'm not saying who!) a bit whiny. But we all soldiered on and were treated with some amazing views at the top. The great thing was that there are actually trees and bush on the tops of these Mayan Mountains so you can find shade to sit down after. Here's what it looks like from the top:

Here's a picture of Sylavano climbing a tree on the summit and doing a wild Mayan call into the valley below:

Here's CeCe, triumphant after a hard climb:

Sylvano told me that when he was younger he lead British soldiers (who were mapping and surveying the area) up this mountain. He had chopped out an area for a helicopter to land and the British soldiers had found Mayan settlement remains and had marked it on their military maps as a "ruins" site. There were certainly lots of rocks and Sylvano showed me what was left of a table made of lava rock which would have been used to crush corn or cacao on. This rock is not native to Belize and would have been brought up the mountain from Guatemala - proof that there has once been a Mayan settlement on top of this mountain. That kind of history is all around you in Belize and so much of it is undiscovered or buried. Here's me and Sylvano at the summit:

The climb down the mountain was faster and a lot of fun - way easier then going up. Only once did I almost slip but I caught myself on a nearby tree. After we got down we decided to go for a dip in the pools of Blue Creek below the waterfalls:

It was super refreshing after the heat of the mountain and Laura, Holly, and I, swam right up to a waterfall and put our faces into the pounding water. I screamed happily into the falls as the heavy water pelted me - quite the rush. Later swimming in the pool with the fish was fun (although one of them nipped me) and then we dried off and headed back to Vincent's for lunch and the ride back to Cotton Tree. Here can you see the fish (the largest are about a foot long):

I found Jobina and after she and CeCe went to deliver some school supplies to a nearby school (you'll have wait til she posts about it on her blog), we hung out until dinner. After dinner Jobina hung out in the lodge and I went out to do something I had really wanted to do but hadn't yet - swim in the Moho River at night. It was a bit scary diving into that river by myself in the dark but it was lots of fun, especially under a full moon. To end off our last night at Cotton Tree we stopped by the lodge and were invited to attend an impromptu chocolate tasting party that some of the chocolate makers were having. Nice!