Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Word to the Engaged & Soon to be Engaged

There's a phrase when it comes to weddings that we've all heard. It sounds benign and fun enough but I thinks it needs reeling in a bit. The phrase? "It's my day." Or, "It's our day."

The problem is that phrase is not the whole truth. It falls short of the bigger truer reality, which is, "It's our day--that we're inviting all our family and friends too--that we're expecting them to give a chunk of their weekend to and we also expect them to bring us gifts we specifically asked for."

Let me now say that in some warmer ways:

"It's our day, but our parents who've unselfishly sacrificed and given to us our whole lives, are also involved."

"It's our day, but it's really more like a public event seeing how we've invited hundreds of people to share it with us."

"It's our day, but we have invited all these wonderful people to an event that we're hosting."

"It's our day, but if we focus too much on just ourselves and just what we want, we will unintentionally be selfish and poor hosts to the people we most care about."

I've never met a wedding couple that was trying to be self-centered at their wedding, yet I've seen weddings that failed to take into account those statements. I think it's time to re-examine the wedding paradigm and bring more honor to it and less accidental selfishness.


Embrace the paradigm that your wedding is a group affair and simply maintain that through the planning and implementation of it.

What this means is you factor in the perspective of your parents, wedding party, and guests. This doesn't mean you give up control or give in to everyone's opinion. You simply consider them along with yourselves in the process. "This is what we want. Now how does that affect our parents/wedding party/family/guests?"

Specific example: As a bride you could pick out the bride's maid dresses you really like because this is the only wedding you're ever going to have.

Or you could consider your bride's maids. You could realize that Beth "and her girls" would be "falling out" of that strapless little number you love so much, or that Gwen's hips would look like two unruly bulldogs in a bag walking down the isle in that dress. And you could consider the price of the dress versus the financial state of your bride's maids. Considering the people wearing the clothes you pick out is honoring to your wedding party.

And even when it comes to picking out food for the reception, perhaps you don't choose your personal favorites, but rather ask yourself if your favorites would be a good fit for the hundreds of people you've invited. When hosting a party we pick the menu with our guests in mind, not us. The meal that's just for us is for the day we don't have guests, right? This is a simple way to honor your guests.

And when it comes to pictures, I can think of nothing more rude than asking your hundreds of guests to wait around an hour or so between the wedding and reception while you have a photo shoot simply because you don't want to see each other before the wedding. That puts a meaningless tradition above your guests. It's more honoring to your guests to do a first look and take the majority of photos before the service, leaving but a few photos right after the wedding.

And here's why it's so important to factor in and honor your parents, family and guests: Years down the road it's not the ruffle in the bride's maid dress that you'll remember. It's not the kiddie menu or sushi menu you chose that you'll remember.

It's the women in the dresses...
The men in the suits...
Your parents in the front row...
Your dear friends...

It's the PEOPLE you'll remember decades into the future. So why not factor them in as you and your fiance plan and implement a day that everyone shares in--and you get to be the center of. I challenge that a wedding that's more honoring will be richer and more memorable.

Click here for more thoughts on weddings including wedding party attire and First Look.

Peace and more honoring weddings ;-)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Confession of a Pastor: Counseling

Looking back on 2013 it has been a year of years. I knew it before I even looked back on it; I knew it in the middle. In May I lost a very close friend, George Roberts, and officiated his funeral. The next month I lost my friend Mike Bolinger and officiated his funeral. In November my mother passed away and I officiated her funeral.

In the midst of these events our church staff shrank by a record number of people. Translation: lots of serious things to navigate, financially, organizationally and emotionally. To boot I didn't get my usual block of vacation in the summer.

In the early fall I went to give my highly prized O- blood. Nurse, "Sir, your blood pressure is really high. If you were my brother I'd tell you to go to the doctor right away." I went, talked to the doc, reflected on stressors to-date, took some tests. The tests were ok. The list of stressors I wrote down appeared daunting.

So I decided to take the advice I'd give so many people: Why don't you go see someone, a counselor? I didn't have to sell myself on this. I could feel the enormity of feelings way closer to the surface than normal. I could feel what I dubbed soul fatigue, a lack of energy and lack of desire to go once again into the breech, of about any kind of challenge. Not like me at all.

So I made an appointment with my friend, Keith, a man whom I respect highly and refer my closest friends too.

I can tell you there is something comforting in talking with a counselor knowing their professional life would be in great peril should they share your comments with anyone. It's not that I had anything to hide, it's just that knowing that was calming, relaxing.

At this place in life, generally speaking, a lot of people lean on or look to me, which is a very honoring thing. (It's the gray hair, my age.) But it felt really good to be in a room where that wasn't going on. I could relax and look to Keith.

I've seen him a handful of times in recent months. It was weird in that there's not some plan or script we worked through; we just talked. But it has been good. He put it on me, as to when I want to see him. I made it a point to see him even if I was feeling good, because I wanted to do the work of being restored; I wanted him to make the assessment of how I was doing, not me.

I met Keith right before our Christmas services at Oakbrook. I can't say that some clear catharsis happened, but something felt like it broke loose. He in a subtle way pronounced me "ok." Maybe a bit wounded or tired, but ok. I felt a sense that that was perhaps my last visit, but time will tell.

Sometimes as much as we need someone to point the way or plot a course of recovery, we need someone we trust to tell us we're ok. Sometimes that's just enough to instill the hope we need to focus on the future instead of being preoccupied with our wounds. Feeling ok and being affirmed that we're ok, firmly instills hope in our soul, at least for me anyhow.

One of my learnings has simply been to embrace what I've told others so often:
When things in life are challenging beyond your normal; when events in life seem beyond your known ways of coping or solving things, it's probably wise to see someone--to see a counselor.

One of my favorite sayings is the Amish proverb: "Praying doesn't plow the field." So I pray that God will restore my soul and I'm plowing the field by going to see Keith. And I've honestly dialogued about how I'm doing with my lovely wife Sandra and trusted friends, Mark, Greg and Sean.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Confession of a Pastor: Quit Telling me What Xmas is Really About

We are all so well-intentioned, really we are. We're trying to help cut through the din of December freneticism by helping everyone know what Christmas is really about. We're tweeting it and Facebooking it like it's our job. I bet I've done it.

Christmas is really about:
a manger
Jesus coming to earth
a King
a new way to save the world
God with us
what else?

Christmas is about (see, here I go--I'm doing it too) everything. Christmas is about everything. I especially want you to know it's about everything if you wouldn't call yourself a Christ follower. Here's what I mean:

I think it's really great when someone who isn't into Jesus intentionally acts nicer in December just because it's Christmastime.

I think it's great that someone who doesn't know anything about Jesus intentionally interacts with her boss or employees in a more honoring way just because it's Christmastime.

I love it when people give up a great parking space on Dec. 23rd just to bless someone they don't know even though they may not believe that the Kid in the food trough would grow up to die for mankind's sin.

I love all these benign little things that a lot of us Christ followers would label as "missing the point." I love these simple to profound acts of kindness and good cheer because it's a heck of a great place to start. Most of us worked our way to Jesus. We didn't jump in with great theology. We clumsily came to know Jesus seemingly one (sometimes unknowing) step at a time. We loved "A Christmas Carol" even though Jesus wasn't in the credits, and we missed the parallelism of grace and redemption.

The truth is, people are nicer at Christmastime even if they don't know the perfect theological "why" behind their actions. People being more gracious at Christmastime is a testament to the Child that this holiday revolves around--even if the 33 year old version of the kid in the manger isn't on people's mind.

I didn't grow up in this faith. I didn't grow up knowing how this Kid in the nativity scene changed the world, or how He would later change mine.

But I tried to be better at Christmastime. Tried to be nice. Tried to be less selfish. I knew something magical was in the air even though I didn't know who the Holy Spirit was. I sang the carols and sometimes teared up knowing none of the biblical references or the "bad theology" of some of them.

And here's the really big thing: Jesus, the Kid, the Savior, the King, God with Us--He's working in and through everything. So even though I was clueless, when I was moving toward Christ-like behavior at Christmastime--the Holy Spirit watched and perhaps maybe even nudged my spirit in an affirming way--because He's in everything.

I do not believe that God only began to notice me once I got more serious about Him. I'm quite confident that I noticed Him because He was first noticing me--even though I was blindly unaware. He probably noticed that I was captivated with the Spirit of Christmas, even though to me, it was because it simply felt good, and warm. I didn't yet know that I was captivated by the Spirit of a God I couldn't see.

Why isn't the Bible a pamphlet? Why is it 66 books from very clear to very hard to understand? Because Jesus is moving in and through everything.

So what's Christmas really about? Everything ;-) Merry Christmas, friends.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why We Should Write the Spouse

When I was the program director at Oakbrook Church, the run for our department was pretty crazy from Thanksgiving through the Christmas services.(It still is.) At that time the two guys who put in the most hours and shouldered a lot of the heavy lifting (yes, sometimes physically) were Monty and Jeremy.

I always took a few minutes in the week or so ramping into our Christmas services to write a letter to each of their spouses. This is the bare bones gist of the letter:

I appreciate how hard your husband is working (all the time. but esp. now)
He's making a huge impact for our mission in the world.
I know this is taking away from family time at home.
Thank you for supporting him--that means so much to him, to me & to God.

Great leadership isn't just considering what your team does on the job; it's leading them holistically, taking into account that sometimes what we're asking them to do here, affects life at home. A letter to a spouse:

  • is a great way to catch people doing things right
  • encourages spouses to continue their support
  • helps the spouse see you and the department/organization as healthy and credible
  • makes the employee feel valued

Who needs you to take 5 minutes today and write a simple yet profound note to their spouse?