Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Have Trouble Saying No?

Educate yourself! If you or anyone you know has some issues with keeping boundaries please feel free to refer them to our upcoming Boundaries group course. Everyone can benefit from this course, based on the bestselling book "Boundaries" by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Below is the info:

Need Help Setting Some Boundaries?

Take The Boundaries Group Course.

Do you feel like ...

- Life seems out of control?
- People take advantage of you?
- You have trouble saying no?
- Disappointed with God because of unanswered prayers?

This Boundaries Course will help you.

When: Starts on Wed, Oct 15th, 7:30pm (9 weeks, ending Dec 10th)
Cost: $90 (plus book if you like) Location: 1110 Henderson Hwy
Call: 232-5744 for details or email contact@riverbendcounselling.ca.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stumbling Onto A Paddler's Sacred Ground

Two Sunday's ago our little family went for a road trip. We decided to check out the North Kildonan part of the city (close to Riverbend, my workplace) and I wanted to show the family a small park overlooking the river called Bronx Park. After we all got out Riker rushed out to explore, followed by the girls and I came last. Jobina and Riker were looking intently at a monument. "Have you seen this?" said Jobina. On an earlier visit when I had discovered it, I had just briefly biked through it and hadn't noticed the monument at all. I was very surprised to see this (click to enlarge if you have trouble reading it):

I was shocked! This was the very location where one of most epic canoe trips ever taken was begun: Don and Dana Starkell's paddle to the amazon. From this very spot, the two men (plus another Dana's brother who eventually dropped out) canoed an astonishing 12,000 miles to the mouth of the Amazon river in Brazil. Along the way, these two guys from North Kildonan were arrested, shot at, taken for spies, and set upon by pirates. They lived through hurricanes, food poisoning, psychological distress, and near starvation. I've blogged about this book before (check out my review) and believe it to be one of the greatest adventure tales of all time (certainly the greatest paddling tale). It should be required reading for every Manitoban.

Anyway, here I was, standing on sacred ground. I crept down to the rivers' edge and then I saw it; the "big sewerpipe that had served as our wharf." It was a magical moment. I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like to be here on June 1st, 1980 watching the Starkell's push off into the current beginning their two year paddling odyssey. I'm so glad the city put up something to mark their accomplishment. It also reminded me of the power of an idea and how anyone can have an amazing adventure. I must never stop dreaming - or planning.

May Light increase!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Haunting and Sad Moment

This happened a few days ago but I'm wasn't sure I should write about it until after I discussed it with Jobina. I told her about it the other night and she seemed to understand where I was coming from. Just to warn you this might be fairly illogical and you may strongly disagree, but its what I am honestly feeling. So anyway, here goes:

I was sitting on the couch the other day. . . OK, really I was just laying there. Trinity emerged from the bathroom and I overheard her talking with Jobina. Jobina was chastising her gently for taking her eye shadow (or mascara or something like that) from the bathroom and putting it on herself. Jobina told her that if she wanted to try it she would have to ask and she would help her next time.

Suddenly, I got this huge lump in my throat. My 3 year old daughter is experimenting with makeup. Yes, perhaps she is just playing with it right now, but the truth is she will almost certainly start to believe (just like most of the women I know) that she cannot really look pretty without makeup on. She will take this lie and it will become a part of her. You see my beautiful little girl is doomed. She will begin to question her God given beauty and specialness and think she has to add to it. If she is like most women she will get to the point where she does not even feel comfortable going out into public without makeup on. With no offense to Jobina, she will most likely at first see it modeled by her mother, then the media, then her friends, and by that time it will be too late. She will be a prisoner to a terrible belief - that she can't measure up without it. If she wants to be beautiful, if she wants to look "right," if she wants to get a good man - she has to put stuff on. The tragedy of this reality breaks my heart.

If you are a woman and reading this you may think I'm overreacting (and perhaps I am . . . a little bit). "It's just makeup!" you might say. But if you can't go out in public and be comfortable (and feel beautiful), isn't something wrong with that? Something profoundly sad? And shouldn't I be angry at something that holds sway over all the beautiful women in my life; my wife, my mother, my daughter? I am angry at it; it is a system that makes women feel like they can't just be naturally beautiful and I hate it. Thing thing is, what can you do? How can you try to teach/convince/reveal to a woman that these things aren't really necessary? How do you stop the tyranny from reaching another generation? How do you stop the cycle?

Trinity, if you are reading this someday I want you to know something: you are beautiful. Not because of your clothes, your makeup, your hairstyle, or how much skin you show. Those things do little to really alter your appearance anyway. You are beautiful just the way you are, because that is how God made you. This other stuff won't change that. If I have any wish for you in this world, it is that you will somehow escape the tyranny of the system that you have been born into (and perhaps all women are born into) that you are beautiful and special as is. Every day I see you, I marvel at your beauty and thank God for you. I love you honey,


P.S. The painting is Norman Rockwell's "Girl At The Mirror."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Building Hedges

I just finished reading a book on recovering trust after infidelity and it was very interesting. It is a pretty engaging book, one written by a couple where the man cheated on the woman for three years before he told her. And he was a Christian. Oh, and the other woman was one of the wive's best friends (from church)! Extremely painful and all the more shocking because it's completely true. The cool thing is that after several years (these things aren't fixed in a few weeks) they recover. And now they minister to other couples struggling in the same situation. There is hope.

One of the last chapters talks about building hedges. The authors say that since very few people go looking for an affair, people ought to be diligent in protecting their marriages by creating "hedges" around it. An example they gave is not spending time alone with people of the opposite gender. Ever. Even in the most innocent situations, even in a public place like a mall. To protect an emotional connection from being made, the authors argue it is better to just not do it. It would be hard to argue with them in person because it would be very difficult to have an affair happen if both parties observed this rule.

I like and don't like the rule. First I like it because it's radical. It's kind of "sermon on the mount" radical in that it assumes a "whatever it takes to do the right thing" kind of attitude. During the 90's when evangelists were falling like flies from sexual misconduct, Billy Graham stood strong in his integrity. When asked why he hadn't fallen he told people that he had a rule; he wouldn't be alone with a woman who was not his wife. Perhaps such a rule is overdoing it, but overdoing it removes a lot of temptation or even just the possibility of an emotional connection. It's not like he didn't work with and enjoy friendships with women . . . he was just never was alone with them. Graham sought not just to protect his marriage but his reputation and God's as well. This rule protects from a lot of problems. . .

On the other hand, it seems a bit rigid. Sure it's safe, but what's wrong with having some female friends. As long as you're careful, right? As a counselor, it makes things even more difficult. Should you only meet with your own gender? Also, there is the socialization argument. When men and women only have friendships within their own gender they don't learn how to relate to the other sex. Should we just "turn off" this interaction as soon as we get married? Jesus himself had a conversation alone with a woman (and she was scandalous to boot)!

I'm going to chew on this one for awhile. Right now I'm kind of in the middle. I've met people from both sides who have both had convincing arguments. What do you think?

May Light increase!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Oh My . . .

In a turn of events that can only be described as "incredible" or "ironic beyond belief" Jobina and I were interviewed and mentioned briefly in Modern Bride Magazine. Seriously! Check it out. We are in the article about unplugged honeymoons in the October/November edition which just hit the shelves. The article mentions our disconnection with the wired world when we went our on second honeymoon to Belize.

I can't describe how bizarre it is to see my name and a small picture in this magazine. By the way, if you read the article, know that they embellished much of the facts. Especially the part about me being a computer addict. (To be fair though, the part about Jobina and I emailing each other while we are in the same house is true.)

So here's me, celebrating my first interview in a major magazine! What's next? Cottage Life? Engineer's Weekly? The possibilities boggle the mind . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Boy Has Skills

A few days ago Jobina and I were talking. I was is in the kitchen washing dishes and she was telling me a story from our dining room. Suddenly she screamed terribly, freaking me out. Riker, who was supposed to be upstairs getting into his pajamas had snuck downstairs, crawled invisibly into the living room, climbed up on the couch and then suddenly popped his head up right beside Jobina! After she calmed down he said:

"I can't help it that I'm so stealthy. This is how God made me!"

A boy after my own heart. He attributes his ninja powers to God and he can give a heart attack to his mother without even trying. In the old days he would jump out and scream but now he realizes that with Jobina so much effort is not necessary. I remember when I came to the same conclusion. He is learning restraint which is good because I think it will extend my wife's life expectancy. To Jobina's credit, she never gets mad at Riker when he scares her - instead she congratulates him as she sits there trembling. What a good mom.

I must say, the boy has skills. Most impressive.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Forgiveness Question: Part 2

As I tried to decide on how to follow up on my last post's topic (forgiveness) I realized that I don't really know that much. I haven't had to forgive any great evil against me. And so perhaps I'm a bit . . . under-experienced? So instead I will just type out a few thoughts and then submit wisdom that is greater then my own in some well known quotes on the subject.

My thoughts: Although occasionally one finds that it is effortless to forgive a great wrong, most of the time it is actually quite difficult. Thus, forgiveness is a decision. As mentioned by others, it is also a process, one that is rarely instantaneous. Like an addict who "slips" several times before gaining mastery over their addiction, the first decision to forgive is usually not the final one. Lastly, for the Christ-follower, the decision to forgive is not an option - it's a command. As much as we try to justify holding off on doing it we are only fooling ourselves. How can we accept the forgiveness and grace of Christ for all our terrible faults yet withhold the same from others? It's not possible. To be Christian is to forgive. I realize this may sound harsh to someone who is thinking "Do you know what has happened to me? How dare you tell me to forgive after the betrayal I have lived through?" I am not saying that it is easy, only that for your sake and to be in line with God's will for us we must do this near-impossible thing. Forgiveness is not something we do because it is deserved, we do it because it is the only real way to live.

A few quotes to inspire you:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
- Lewis B. Smedes

“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love.”
- Bryant H. McGill

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
- Mahatma Gandhi

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”
- Thomas S. Szasz

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
- Lewis B. Smedes

“When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.”
- Alan Paton

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
- Mark Twain

“We achieve inner health only through forgiveness - the forgiveness not only of others but also of ourselves”
- Joshua Loth Liebman

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love.”
- Martin Luther King

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
- Paul Boese

May Light increase!

P.S. The image is Rembrandt's "The Prodigal" which is a beautiful picture of forgiveness (the father) as well as a chilling reminder of bitterness and unforgiveness (the brother).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Forgiveness Question: Part 1

Over the past few months I've started to develop a habit of asking those I work with at OG each day one deep question. Someone started referring to it as "the question of the day" and it kind of stuck. Anyway, I was thinking a lot about forgiveness (and the physiological/psychological/spiritual benefits of it) and so I asked Leslie the bartender out of the blue, "Leslie, how many people have you not forgiven?" Everyone in the area stopped and began to talk. When I first started asking people the question, I had a few hypotheses but they were all proven wrong. Some of the people who are the most emotional and expressive told me that there was noone they hadn't forgiven. Conversely, some of the most pleasant and kind people told me they had several people they hadn't forgiven - and they planned on never forgiving them! Lots of intensity and soul searching from this simple question. One person first told me "noone I can think of of, but I feel like there is someone, I just can't think of who." Later on they came back to me and told me they figured out who it was - it was themself. "I can forgive everyone but myself . . . for some really bad things I've done. I just can't get over it." Wow.

Anyway, I pose the question to you, gentle reader: How many people have you not forgiven? And if you feel very authentic and daring, what are your reasons?

P.S. The painting is by Gilbert and George, 1982.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Leave It Behind?

Ever hear something in church that just doesn't sit with you right? Lately I find I've been sensitive to whenever I hear someone pray something like:

"And God, please help us to set aside the issues in our lives today as we come to worship you . . ."


"Father, may you help us to forget about all of our problems and stressors and just concentrate on you . . ."

When I hear these things prayed I feel a ripple of annoyance surge through me. Is it just me or shouldn't we be be bringing all our cares, worries, and issues to God? Couldn't it be a little inauthentic to try and forget about them to focus exclusively on God? Doesn't God care about these things? I know, I know, I'm a little too sensitive. I understand what these kinds of prayers mean and why they're said. "It's not about me, it's about Him." But I still think that Church should be a place to bring all of your cares, not forget about them. Not that we should focus on them exclusively, but to ask God to banish them from our minds seems futile and counterproductive. It's my opinion that God can handle our pain and that God is big enough to accept worship mixed with the tears and the anxieties of life. Doesn't it seem absurd to think that the spiritually mature are the ones who "can leave it all behind" and are unaffected by their life circumstances in the midst of pain? I say it is. Let's give people permission to bring their real life with them to church. The above prayers in my mind give a subtle message: "If you can't put aside your stuff and give your full attention to God, you're not spiritually mature enough - try harder!" At least that's my impression, perhaps you think differently?

May Light increase!

P.S. The painting is of Jesus in the Garden. I'm thinking his "cares" about his impending death were not banished from his mind . . . of course he wasn't in church now was he?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Manipulating Mercy?

Naked Pastor posted this video the other day and some of his uncomfortable thoughts about it. He believes that it in some way is "marketing compassion." I liked it, but he felt something wrong in that it took slick marketing by a handsome guy in a suit to awaken people's compassion. Shouldn't we already feel it? I guess we should. We should naturally care about the downtrodden, hurt, weak, and poor. I hear what he's saying. But sadly we often forget or marginalize them and maybe we need a "hook" to reawaken our hearts. What do you think of the video? I suppose this kind of video (or say a World Vision/Compassion Canada TV commercial showing starving children) is an attempt at "manipulating" a compassionate response out of people. Is it wrong if the motive is good? Where are the boundaries (if any)? These are the questions going through my mind today.

May Light increase!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Steel is Real

Today I did something that I've been wanting to do for awhile: I biked to work. Work being a meeting at Riverbend which is located on Henderson Highway. After biking from Gimli to Winnipeg I didn't really have anything but a psychological barrier to stop me. Today Jobina needed the van and it was a perfect day - no reason not to. It takes me about half an hour to drive and today I biked it in about 55 minutes (against wind most of the way I'll have you know). I can't describe how good it felt knowing that I had not burnt a drop of gas. Beautiful. Let me encourage you to try it. You'll be smiling all day afterwords. An "earth-friendly, weight-burning, joy-of-biking, healthy lifestyle" kind of smile that is!

On the way home I took the time to meander around and go exploring. Exploring on a bike is one of the most enjoyable things I can do in the city. In my wanderings I biked a few blocks south of Talbot Street (a somewhat rougher area) and suddenly found myself in manicured gardens overlooking the river. It was like I had entered another dimension. When you're on bike and you randomly turn down streets you discover cool stuff like this and more. I took a shortcut on my way back from church the other day and found hidden by the river a massive castle like structure called "Castle On The Seine." Absolutely amazing stonework outside with statues and ornate carvings. It looked like it should be in Paris or Rome. I found it by just thinking "I wonder where this path goes?" and voila - new discoveries.

As much as I enjoyed my ride I'm beginning to realize I'm going to either have to spend some money on my antiquated bike or get a new one. I kind of don't want to though because I really like the feel of my bike. It has a chromoly (steel) frame which is pretty rare these days. Most mountain bike frames are made of aluminum which is lighter but is so stiff that it can feel jarring. A good steel frame is heavier but has just a touch of "give," which makes for a much more pleasant ride. Most long distance touring bicycles are still made out of steel. I can't imagine going back to aluminum now (even if I got full suspension which I don't want). It's true: steel is real (I feel so old school). Maybe I should buy a slightly used, older steel mountain bike. Anyone got one kicking around? Or any suggestions on a newer steel bike that might work for me? Also, what's stopping you from biking more? If you have a bike, use it. Your body, the earth, and possibly even your spouse will thank you for it.

May Light increase!

Inadequate Words

Heads up: this post is going to be a little rambling. Last night I had a very difficult conversation. A dear friend of my family is dying. I haven't seen this man in several years but we recently found out that according to the doctors he doesn't have much time to live. My mom called me and told me that she talked with him over the phone (he's in a hospital in another province) and that she had mentioned my brother and I to him. She told me he'd probably appreciate a call from me and asked me if I'd call him. To be honest, I really didn't want to. Comforting people in their pain is one thing, but what do you say to someone who has recently been told their time here on Earth is coming to an end (possibly in three weeks)? What does that conversation sound like? Should I encourage them, cry with them, distract them, counsel them, etc? I'm sure most people know what to say and how to say but it is not always instinctual for me. I approached the hour to call with some fear and dread.

But I called. And I'm glad I did. It was an awkward conversation, calling someone I haven't talked to in years in the twilight of their life but I did it. The man was lucid and though his voice had the telltale tones of medication and weariness bring we were able to talk. We chatted, we laughed (this guy still has an amazing sense of humor), we were silent, and then I said goodbye. Maybe for the last time. I was reminded about how precious life is and how I need to learn to be comfortable with both the healthy and those who aren't. Suffering is a part of life and being with someone, even briefly, as they go through it is true reality. I don't want to run or hide from it. Neither do I wish to fixate on it. Instead I want to give death and suffering it's proper place in my life - whatever that is. I also want to pray for those who need miracles.

I've been asking myself the past few months; how long do you in faith pray for someone who is dying? Is it ever acceptable to give up praying for a miracle and pray for other things instead? Is it lack of faith if our resolve to pray for total healing falters? Perhaps it is different for everyone. For myself, I am taking David as my example (praying for the life of his son with Bathsheba). I want to pray and entreat God until the moment that person is gone (or is healed). This is reality to me - there is blessing and suffering in this world - lots of both. God is sovereign, he will do as he sees fit (and somehow this is just and loving) - but I will pray for miracles as long as some are possible. Of course I will also pray for peace, acceptance, etc as well even though these things seem contrary to faith that someone can be healed. I guess the truth is that I'm praying because there is nothing else I can do - and I'm praying to remind myself that God is good in a sin-stained world. And I pray, believing that God can do a miracle - and trusting him in a rough situation. I have seen miracles and they are awesome. God, please bless me with faith - I need so much more of it.

P.S. The image above is a painting by Erika Hastings called "Support."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Racing Slow

The Hare was once boasting of his speed before the other animals. "I have never yet been beaten," said he, "when I put forth my full speed. I challenge any one here to race with me."

The Tortoise said quietly, "I accept your challenge."

"That is a good joke," said the Hare; "I could dance round you all the way."

"Keep your boasting till you've beaten," answered the Tortoise. "Shall we race?"

So a course was fixed and a start was made. The Hare darted almost out of sight at once, but soon stopped and, to show his contempt for the Tortoise, lay down to have a nap. The Tortoise
plodded on and plodded on, and when the Hare awoke from his nap, he saw the Tortoise just near the winning-post and could not run up in time to save the race. Then said the Tortoise:

"Slow and steady wins the race."

-The Hare and the Tortoise, From Aesop's Fables

I was thinking about this story as I finished reading "Jump In" by Mark Burnett, creator of Survivor and The Apprentice. It's a fascinating read. Mark Burnett was an ex British paratrooper who came to Los Angeles with less then $600 in his pocket, chasing the American dream. The first thing he did was find a job - as a nanny! How he convinced a family to hire him I have no idea. But he did. Eventually he heard about the Raid Gauloises, an international team outdoor endurance race and decided he wanted to do his own race. Before producing his own, he first raced twice in the Raid, losing badly both times but learning. Eventually he did create his own race called the Eco-Challenge. While producing the Eco-Challenge he head about the idea behind what would eventually be called Survivor . . . and the rest is history. Here's a video of what the race looks like:

Anyway, Burnett tells fascinating stories about the Eco-Challenge. Usually the 4 person teams of athletes are endurance athletes with a specializations in outdoor pursuits. They race for about a week with minimial supplies, lots of danger, and little sleep. What's intersting though is sometimes they get groups who come in who don't want to win - just to finish. He tells the story of a granny who's team finished a week later then everyone else. This may not seem very impressive, but this race is difficult. So difficult in fact that sometimes over half the teams don't finish! Often people will get injured, lost, exhausted, disqualified for splitting up from their teams, lose their minds, etc. In their desire for speed, they often wear themselves out or take unnecessary risks. The granny's team finished last, but unlike many of the competitors, they finished. As Aesop said in his story above, slow and steady can win the race.

Sometimes we race and we are so greedy for the prize (first place) that we gamble it all. I was thinking about my bike ride from Gimli to Winnipeg. I definitely took a "tortoise" approach to it - but I did it (even if it took 10 hours). There is wisdom in slow and steady. Whether it is relationships, investing, school, or career we must not be like the hare. There is a time for speed, brashness, and gambling (the hare) but it needs to be balanced by the slow, steady approach of the tortoise. Sometimes finishing is more important then finishing first.

May Light increase!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Ballad of Ratface

"Judge not that ye be not judged . . ."
- Jesus, Matthew 7:1

It's been awhile since I shared a waitering story so here goes. First a little prologue thought; if you tip poorly, treat servers ignorantly, or do illogical things in a restaurant . . . servers will notice. And they will tell others. And if you return to the restaurant a few more times (sometimes only more time) the servers will give you a nickname. Trust me, you don't want this.

I remember serving a lady known as "the seafood lady." Her trick was to always come in with a friend, let the server know she was severely allergic to seafood, and then her friend would order seafood. Seriously, this happened every time. So of course the kitchen would go to great lengths to make sure that everything that cooked the seafood lady's meal was uncontaminated with anything fishy. Great lengths. Eventually when the food was brought out (on separate tray's) the two ladies would begin to eat. The server would check in and everything seemed well. A little later the seafood lady would excuse herself and go to the ladies room. When she got back she always had a rash on her neck - an allergic reaction to seafood. Apparently she did this by scratching her neck while in the washroom. She almost always got her meal for free!

Another guy was know as "the chicken marsala guy." He was a man of Indian origin and although he was a nice man his accent was so thick that no one could understand him. Imagine trying to take a man's elaborate order (as he always customized his entire meal) and asking him to repeat it over and over again until you get so sick of asking him so you just "guess" what he wants. Every server's nightmare.

One regular at our restaurant caused anger just by showing up at the front door. Dubbed "Twoonie Terry," this gentleman only tipped $2, no matter how big his bill was or how good his service was. I have never seen servers as rude to a person as they were to this man. Knowing how much exactly (and it's usually way less the standard) a tip you are going to get is an instant way to get servers testy. I don't like to admit it but I have seen this man come in and prayed that God would let him get seated in my section. These days the hostesses usually give him to the newer servers who don't yet know him. It's sad to see the crushed look on their face when they go check the table after a meal - but you are so glad it wasn't you!

Anyway, fast forward to tonight. I had just started serving a two top and went to punch in their drink orders when Johnny came up to me grinning. "Do you know who you're serving? You got 'Ratface.'" Johnny snickered at me. "I served him a little while ago. I gave him amazing service. No problems at all, the food was great, service was perfect. He didn't even give me 10%!" I won't go into the details on how his nickname came about - kids can be so cruel. Now Johnny is a really, really good server. He always makes a lot of money. Not a good sign for me. Another server Lisa also chimed in that she too had served the ratman. Ratface had apparently put a hair in his food and pretended it had been there all along. Even after the kitchen had made him a new one he had still wanted it for free! He then tipped her poorly. Lisa and Johnny both laughed at me and wished me "luck." Johnny outright said that if he couldn't even make 10 percent there was no hope for me. I thanked them for their encouragment.

What to do? Some servers would give up at this point and give these people terrible service because they don't expect a tip. Other might just do the opposite - suck up like crazy and try to give the best service they've ever given. I thought about both of these strategies. The pressure to go along with the judgment against him was very strong, but I steeled myself and decided to do something different. Trying to erase the words about this man from my mind, I decided to give good service, not react to anything ignorant, and try to be my authentic self (in other words not do anything out of the ordinary). Good, but not over the top service. "I will not prejudge you! I will not write you off Ratface!" I whispered to myself.

The meal went off without a hitch. The couple was actually quite nice and even laughed at some of my conservative jokes near the end of the meal. The only thing out of the ordinary was that I gave them double the amount of mints I usually do. Later when I went back to the table to pick up their credit card slip I was shocked: they'd left me almost 20%. Yes! Usually I don't discuss my tips with anyone, but of course I had to show this off to Johnny and Lisa. They were suitably impressed and a little annoyed. I explained to them that it was because "I had skills." Mostly though I think it was a combination of chemistry, luck, decent service, and the refusal to give into a label. Ratface had been tamed! But more importantly, so had my mind, which was much more important.

Moral of this story; Don't judge people or listen to other people's judgments - it's social and moral laziness - you need to figure people out for yourself. Treat them based not on their appearances, descriptions, or actions. Treat them as they ought to be treated. If you're not sure about what that would look like, read the Gospels.

May Light increase!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

To Infinity and Beyond

If you were caught in a riptide and rushed out to sea (without) a life jacket, how long do you think you'd last? My guess for myself used to be an hour or two. So I was amazed to read this story about a Dad and his autistic son who this very thing happened to and were able to last for over 12 hours in the open ocean. It is truly an amazing story. I can't image what it would feel like to slowly drift away from your son and listen to his voice getting fainter and fainter . . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Two "Achilles Heels" of Sucessful Investing

On occasion I have listened to some "info-commercials" on the radio (CJOB in Winnipeg) for a company called Trained to Invest. Based here in Winnipeg they are a financial education company, run by Christians apparently. For a fee of several thousand dollars the company will teach you how to invest in the stock market and suggests that if you do their program properly you will make approximately 30% on your investments. How they do this is by teaching you to purchase stock that grows in value by 1% and then you sell. Do this every two weeks and you end up with 30% by the end of the year. I have spoken with a few people including a few friends who have been successful with it. Maybe someday I will try it myself.

One thing that has stuck with me from listening to the radio shows is that the gurus talk about two main problems that mess up investors, what I call the Achilles heel(s) of investing. The first is fear. Fear stops you from action. It prevents you from seeing potentially profitable deals and it prevents you from acting on them. Fear is what stops most people from investing. They don't trust their judgement, they are not willing to risk anything, and they continually tell themselves that it's just not worth it. Fear is the first enemy to successful investing.

The second enemy is greed. Greed is many ways the opposite of fear. Instead of preventing you taking action like fear does, greed prevents you from acting wisely. Why sell now when you could wait and sell for more? Why pay for management on a property when you could do it yourself? Or why settle for only 1% gain when by tomorrow my stock could go up another 1 or 2%. Greed says the profit is never enough, it always wants more. Greed motivates people to bend or break the rules sometimes, ignoring their morals. Greed is an enemy that is just as destructive and dysfunctional as fear.

I find it illuminating that the Bible speaks about both of these issues and admonishes us to get them out of our lives. Fear and greed are deadly for our souls . . . and our bank accounts. Although fear is occasionally an issue for me, for the most part I am not afraid to invest. Jobina may disagree but although I'm optimistic when approaching any opportunity I also am somewhat cautious. But usually not afraid. When we bought our first house I felt like it was the smartest thing we'd ever done - I felt way better about it then I did buying any vehicle we've purchased! No, my weak point is the greed. I want the maximum benefit of my investment - and occasionally it clouds my vision. We are trying to rent or sell a property right now and it probably would already be taken care of if my greed hadn't clouded my judgment. Ah well, live and learn. So which of these two do you have more of a problem with? And what are you going to do about it?

P.S. The painting is John Morgan's "Parable of the Talents." The man in the picture is the one burying his talent, instead of investing it. Definitely for him, his problem was fear . . .

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kind of Freaky . . .


http://view.break.com/565864 - Watch more free videos

Jobina asked me "Why did you post that video?" I thought it was interesting. Look at how distraught these people are over trees being killed. Should we not have more sorrow over the wars of the world, the slaying of the unborn, poverty, and injustice? Also, these people's cries caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up (no small feat). Anyway, extremism always has a few lessons to teach us, both in what we should not be and what we should be - often at the same time.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It Takes One To Tango: Part 3

Like all significant changes in one's life, they usually begin with us changing first. Here are two similar ways to effect change in one's marriage, experiment with them and see what happens:

1. Do nothing. Some people are fix-it addicts and fixing one's marriage can become the main focus of their lives. The problem is that marriages are kind of like see-saws. The more one person does, the less the other will do. I see this in my relationship all the time. If one person does all the finances, the other person won't even think about paying a bill. If one person remembers birthdays all the time, the other partner doesn't have to. Sometimes the very best thing a fix-it-addict can do is back off and do nothing allowing the other partner to step up to the plate. Backing off can be a great "do something different" behavior. nothing sometimes will shock those partner's used to their spouse's fix-it ways.

2. Do a 180. Just as it implies, if what you're doing does not work, try doing the opposite. I remember several years ago Jobina and I were having an argument. Jobina tends to be passionate and fiery when she argues and I tend to be calmer and rational. This occasion as we argued I realized that my rational, calm approach wasn't helping anything: so I decided to try the opposite. Although it felt quite unnatural I raised my voice and said some angry and illogical things. To my surprise Jobina suddenly became calm and concilliatory. Within a few minutes we had worked everything out and everyone was happy! If you tend to try to control your partner, this technique can be great, they will be shocked at your sudden relinquishment of power. A wife came into therapy complaining that her daughter and husband were always fighting and the wife's attempts to intervene in the fights between them weren't working. She would always try to mediate between them and usually ended up defending her daughter which caused her husband to lecture her on never supporting him.The counselor suggested she do two 180's and not intervene anymore (at all) and she would agree with her husband instead of defending the daughter. Since the wife agreed that intervening never worked, she agreed to it. Although it was very difficult, she managed to not get sucked into their arguments (althougth the daughter chased her around the house begging her to get involved. Much to her surprise they managed to work things out without her! The next time they fought she tried the second part of her homework which was to agree with her husband (instead of defending the daughter). This shocked both of them so much that her husband forgot to finish lecturing her daugher. Within a week of her newfound support of her husband, her husband decreased his fighting with the daughter and the two of them grew closer. All because she did the opposite of what she did before.

Both of these techniques are very difficult because they ask us to do what we don't want to do. They feel unnatural and uncomfortable. We get into the habit of doing the same unproductive things over and over and they feel comfortable to us - even if they don't work. It takes a lot of courage to try something new and awkward feeling - but the payoff is worth it. There is a very strong chance that you can change your marriage by changing yourself. Remember: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want to see changes, we'll need to do something different. What's not working in your relationship and what can you do differently? What's holding you back from experimenting with some changes to your behavior?

May Light increase!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

It Takes One To Tango: Part 2

Hopefully in my last I opened up your mind to consider that it may only take you to change your marriage for the better. Some may argue that the following techniques are a form of manipulation. Like I do, Weiner believes that manipulation gets a bad rap - we are all manipulators. Manipulation simply means we are attempting to influence someone else's behavior toward our own ends. Everyone does this! When our motivation is good and our technique is loving, there is nothing to be ashamed of here. Our actions towards others always result in some sort of reaction - thus the wiser and more noble the attempts to influence them the better. We need to plan and think carefully about our actions so as to preserve and protect our most important relationships. Those who think they are not trying to manipulate their loved ones are believing a deception. Of course there is bad manipulation (with bad motives, not respecting people's autonomy) and good motivation (good motives, with respect to people's right to choose their destiny). Here are few ways that one person can effect radical change on a relationship:

1. Cheerleading. Ask yourself this question: are you more complimentary or critical? Most people will say they are more critical. Often our greatest criticism is reserved for those closest to us. Research shows that the single most effective way to modify someones behavior is to positively reward that person when they behave in way that you want them to. Simple. In marriage we often lose sight of the fact that our spouse does many things we like - and we take it for granted. Punishment and criticism rarely work to change someone (although we get stuck trying it again and again). Many marriages have been saved by one partner choosing to thank and compliment their partner for the things that they appreciate - instead of focusing and criticizing them for everything they do wrong. Sometimes all a relationship needs to get it back on track is one partner sincerely complimenting and honoring something the other partner has done. The partner feels appreciated and reciprocates - it works.

2. Focus on the problem free times. Most couples who come into therapy are deep in the midst of big problems. They've fought, argued, and feel hopeless that thing will change. One way to find a solution to current problems is focus on the problem free times. "When are things better?" "When was a time that you weren't fighting?" "What was different then?" Many couples will say that they were weren't fighting when the wife wasn't nagging, the husband listened to her, when they spent regular time together, etc. Many, many times the answer on how to fix things is simply to return to what you did when times were better. What's changed? What was different then? Can you start doing those things again?

3. Act as if. There is a famous story in counseling. A woman came in saying that she hated her ignorant husband and wanted to get a divorce. The counselor asked her if she really wanted to "get him good" beforehand. She was intrigued. He told her that to really get him back for all the terrible things he'd done to her she should spend the next six months acting as if she truly loved him. Then when she surprised him with the divorce he'd be destroyed. The woman agreed: she would do everything in her power to act like she loved and adored her husband and then in six months - wham! The counselor encouraged her but told her it would only work if she would devote herself completely to the ruse. Six months later the woman came back in. The counselor asked if she wanted a divorce. She was shocked. Divorce him? Never! As she began to pretend that she loved him, her feelings towards him started to reflect her actions. Not only that, but her husband noticed the change and began to act more lovingly towards her as well! Sometimes as well when we approach our spouse we have a negative assumption about how things will turn out. Fight this assumption, instead act as if it will go very well. Our attitudes and assumptions change our interactions. Try it.

4. Do something different. It is fascinating how humans will keep on doing the same thing in a relationship even though it never works. This could include shouting, criticizing, withdrawing, ignoring, nagging, pursuing, etc. Cathy was someone who every time her husband was upset, assumed he was angry or upset with her. She would frequently ask "What's wrong?" He would respond with "Nothing." She'd then say "I know something is wrong, what is it?" He would say, "Nothing, please stop asking me that." She would insist that her perception was right and eventually he would explode in anger. One day she decided to do something different. In the car she noticed her husband was sullen. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Nothing," he responded. Instead of pursuing him she tried something new by turning on the radio and singing to a song. Within a few minutes he said "Hon, do you mind if I turn down the radio, there's something I'd like to discuss with you." He proceeded to share his feelings about something that happened that day. It was the first time in their entire marriage that he opened up to her voluntarily. She changed, he changed! Another story. A man who wanted to change things told his wife that from now on if they were going to fight, they were going to do so without their clothes on. Since this would obviously eliminate a lot of public place for fighting in, they agreed to it. Inevitably one day they started to argue and the man began angrily shedding his clothes. His wife couldn't believe he was serious and started laughing. Soon they were both laughing! By changing their behavior the couple managed to change the way they interacted. Arguments became less common and were over faster. Couples get into behavior cycles together. When one person chooses to do something different they choose to break that cycle. Breaking the cycle is the first step to better solutions and better marriages. . .

These techniques are not guaranteed to solve the big, difficult issues in a marriage. Instead they are useful in helping two people get to a place where they are not captive to old ways of doing their relationship that just won't work. Tomorrow I'll share two last techniques that are slightly more controversial . . . and powerful.

May Light increase!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

It Takes One To Tango: Part 1

The conventional thinking is that if you want to effect change in a marriage, then you need to meet with both people. I have always agreed with but now I'm reading a book that is challenging that opinion. It's called "The Divorce Remedy" by Michele Weiner Davis.

Davis believes that you can improve a marriage by just one person taking action on it. Using a solution-focused approach she explains it this way: not everyone partner is willing to go to counseling. This doesn't mean that they don't care about the relationship or that the relationship is doomed (or even that the hesitant partner is "obstinate"). It just means they won't accept "counseling" as a remedy for the marriage.

Weiner has something to say to everyone who is stuck in a relationship in which nothing they seem to do has affected the other partner (attempts at changing them): is there something you could do that would effect a change and get your partner very angry with you? Most of us can easily think of small things we could do to get our partners very upset! If we have the power to make them angry, we have the power to make them happier. We just haven't figured out how to do it, instead we are trapped in a cycle of doing the same unhelpful things over and over.

We all love to spend our time "cause-hunting" when it comes to problems with our relationships. According to Weiser, the problem with this is that:

1. Most of the time the cause (in your mind) will be the other person and they won't agree or appreciate your diagnosis.
2. Cause-hunting produces a cycle of blame and counterblame. Both partners become defensive and won't take to heart anything the other says.
3. Once you believe that your partner is to blame for the woes in your marriage, there is nothing you can do but sit and wait for him/her to change. That takes away all your power. In essence you're sitting in the corner saying "Until you see things my way, and change, I will just sit here in the corner and suffer." Not too flattering a picture, eh?

We can choose to sulk, complain, and get bitter about our partner's behavior, or we can choose to act on and for the marriage ourselves. Instead of looking for causes, you can look for solutions. You can't control your partner's behavior, but perhaps you can influence it much more then you think you can. Small things can make a big difference as this story from the book illustrates:

Just a few weeks ago I was ready to walk away from my marriage. My husband's attitude stank. he thought that I should everything around the house and he could relax and do nothing. We fought every day and started to not like being around each other. I have nagged and waited ten years for just a tad of help around the house. I never wanted him to be a maid and scrub toilets. Just a little hlping hand now and then. And today . . . it happened.

I came home from lunch . . . he had the day off, and the house was clean - dishes done, all the clutter picked up!!!! I almost thought I had walked into the wrong house. I about died. I am walking on air. Why the clean house? I've given this a lot of thought.

I know that I have been more patient with him and made extra efforts to be nice and not "bitchy." I've complimented him and let the small things ride. Last night I was gonna nag him and instead, I let it go.

Let me tell you, if these are the results I am going to get, I am never going to stop. I am so happy about this that I just want to burst. I am so happy/thankful . . . I had to let you know.

By changing the way in which Mary approached her husband, he changed his behavior toward her. When she decided to stop nagging and start being kinder and more loving, he felt more inspired to be more loving toward her. She decided to change something that she did. A place to start is to ask "What change could I make today that would make my partner more agreeable?" "What's not working for me that he/she really doesn't like anyway?" One small change begets another which begets more and more changes. Soon the old cycle has been replaced with a new one. . .

May Light increase!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don't Count Your Chicken's Before They Hatch

Last night at supper I got a phone call. Apparently, I won't be teaching this semester after all.

Providence has a minimum number of students that must be enrolled in a class, otherwise they cancel it. For the first time in 10 years, they had to cancel a college class at the last minute. And it was mine.


I can understand the college's side of things; it's not economical to have people teaching small classes. On the other hand it's a real blow to me. I was counting on the money from it (not that it's a lot!) to help us get through my transition into counseling. They give me a little compensation for my prep time, but it's nowhere near what I was going to get. Our budgeted income is now less then our budgeted expenses and that makes things tight.

Yikes. So now I'm doing some intense brainstorming to figure out how to make up the shortfall.
I'm sure I will still teach the class in the fall, but it's still disappointing. Of course there must be an opportunity in this - I just haven't seen it yet. It just goes to show you that you never know what's really going to happen. Even a sure thing is not always a sure thing. I'm reminded of the verses in James (4:13-16) that say:

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

May Light increase!

Monday, September 1, 2008

To Blog Or Not To Blog, That Is The Question

It's September 1st! In many ways, this is a momentous day. First, I am now done school. Last night I emailed in my last assignment and if all goes well I'll pass my last two courses and "officially" be graduated and receive my Masters in Counseling Psych. Secondly, it is my first day "on staff" at Riverbend. Thirdly, September 1st marks the start of school for me as an adjunct instructor at Providence College (teaching one small course - College Success Skills). Lastly, I have reduced my waitering schedule, the start of eventually being able to wean myself off waitering (hopefully in a month or two). Yup, big things are happening.

With taking on two public roles, as a counselor and as an instructor, I'm wondering what to do with this blog. I like blogging, quite a bit actually, but I'm not sure if I should (a) keep the blog going or (b) keep it as it is. I'm a little worried how reading my blog might affect my clients or my students (if any of them should happen to find it online). Since I share so many of my opinions (many of which are in flux) and attempt some authenticity about spiritual and relationship issues I wonder what clients/students would think reading that. Or what if they would comment, would that be awkward? Especially with clients, who tend to idealize their counselors, I wouldn't want my random thoughts or life stuff to compromise therapy or to distract from it.

On the other hand, I highly value authenticity and wish to be real and open. Maybe some clients (or students) would benefit from seeing snippets into my life and thoughts. The old model of counseling was to be an aloof professional, new models honor authenticity and interaction. So yeah, I'm not sure what I should do.

I asked my director, Gerry what he thought and so far he said it's probably OK to continue my blog as is but that I should revisit it often. But I have a few options. I could:
1. Keep the blog open and as it is.
2. Adjust the content so it is more informative, less personal.
3. Make the blog "invite only" and keep it as is.
4. Make one blog for personal stuff (maybe locked), and one for sharing my thoughts and ideas.
5. Stop blogging all together.

What do you think I should do? Somedays I wonder if this blog is really worth the time and energy I put into it and if anyone (beside myself) really gets anything out of it. I'd appreciate your feedback. Thanks and have a great Labor Day!

May Light increase!