Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas Reflection

It is an often painful fact that our lives seldom go the way we planned. How many of us have the life we pictured at age 20? A well-known quote attributed to Woody Allen says, "if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans." Most of us aren't quite that cynical yet it is true that things often don't turn out the way we'd planned.

In Luke 1 we're introduced to two women for whom things undoubtedly did not go as planned. There's Elizabeth (and her husband, Zechariah) who "had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years." Being childless in Israel was considered a disgrace. As a woman of that culture she'd have longed for a child; Luke 1:25 confirms that fact. And then there's Mary, who was legally pledged to be married to Joseph, but was not yet married to him. God sent Gabriel to tell her that she would conceive of a son by the Holy Spirit, and she would give birth to the Messiah. Two women for whom life wasn't going as planned. Elizabeth, no doubt, envisioned herself being a mother much earlier in her life. Mary, no doubt, hadn't planned on being a mother quite yet. Both were obedient to God. Elizabeth obeyed in naming her son John despite the protests of relatives. Mary made the timeless statement of obedience: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

The Son she bore was himself obedient, both to his earthly parents--"and he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them" (Luke 2:51)--and to His heavenly Father--"he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). This was the ultimate act of love and obedience.

Christmas is a beautiful story, and a wonderful time of year. We enjoy the twinkling lights, the bountiful treats, and the gifts that express the joy of relationship. We should not miss, amidst all the trappings, the opportunity, even when things have not gone as planned, to say with Mary, "let it be to me according to your word."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Startling finding regarding young men and porn

From the November 2009 issue of Psychotherapy Finances:

The problem with trying to study the effects of pornography on young men, researchers find, is that you can’t assemble a control group. Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse from the University of Montreal explains: “We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography...We couldn’t find any.” The average age at which his subjects first watched porn was 10, Lajeunesse told The Telegraph (Britain, December 2). Roughly 90% of their “porn consumption” was via the Internet...Meanwhile, according to a Nielsen survey quoted in the November/December Psychotherapy Networker, 25% of U.S. employees admit to accessing Internet porn at work. A long article about the effects of pornography titled “Out of the Shadows” is available online at www.psychotherapynetworker.com.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I feel for you, Eddie Cibrian!

I heard on the news last night that Eddie Cibrian (I guess he's an actor; I hadn't heard of him until this story) is suing Life & Style magazine for defamation for claiming in an article that he was cheating on his girlfriend, LeAnn Rimes. Tacked onto the end of the story was the news that Eddie is in the midst of a divorce from his current wife.

So hey, Eddie, I just wanted to say that I feel for you, buddy. Where do people come up with this stuff anyway? The gall, suggesting that you could be cheating on your girlfriend!

Eddie's estranged wife told Us Weekly "she was tired of Cibrian's infidelity."

So I am wondering, is that defamation lawsuit for defamation of character? Really?

http://www.usmagazine.com/celebritynews/news/cibrian-ive-had-no-sexual-relationship-with-anyone-other-than-leeann-rimes-20092011

Thursday, October 15, 2009

John Wooden

My favorite John Wooden story was when Bill Walton returned for his senior season with long hair and a beard, which was against Wooden's rules. Walton told Wooden he had the right to long hair and was going to stand by his beliefs. Wooden told him he admired a man who stood by his beliefs and then said, "we're going to miss you." Walton left and came back with short hair and no beard. Wooden could stand by his beliefs, too. Oh, and at the time UCLA was in the midst of the longest winning streak in NCAA history, 88 straight games.

I miss coaches like John Wooden and Jack Hartman. As much as I respect and admire Bill Snyder and his coaching job at K-State--and the way he sticks by his principles--Jack Hartman will always be my favorite K-State coach.

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Award for Writing

I'm so truly humbled to report that I've won the International OMIGOSH! Award for Writing for my book . . . well . . . okay, I haven't actually written the book yet. But I hope to, and if I do I hope people will read it. I hope they like it, too. In fact, maybe I'll write about hope.

Who'd a thunk it? Me and the President getting an award on the same day. Wow!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Does Starbucks instant coffee taste good?

I walked into a Starbucks last evening and there were signs posted everywhere about their new instant coffee, Via. I told them at the counter I was very skeptical of the claim by their CEO that most people would not be able to taste the difference between Via and their in-store, brewed coffee. They enthusiastically gave me a packet to take home and try.

This morning I carefully measured the 8 oz. of water they specified and heated it in the microwave and then added the coffee grounds. Unfortunately, I only got about 5 sips before a coffee-drinking moth dove into my cup to absorb the full effect. Quite a sacrifice! I'm addicted to coffee but not to the point of giving my life for it. Well . . . I don't think so.

Anyway, those 5 sips were enough to tell me what I suspected. Starbucks instant coffee is not as good as their brewed coffee. But it is very, very good, far better than brewed coffee I've found anywhere other than Starbucks. It's good enough that my mind is racing with the possibilities, like keeping a few packets in my work bag for emergency situations, such as counseling CEU classes, where the coffee is almost always bad.

So congratulations, Starbucks. You did good.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Community

I'm not much of a TV watcher. The only show I've regularly watched for several years now is The Biggest Loser. I don't even sit to watch an entire sporting event anymore, which has to be a real shocker to my father and siblings (and incidentally, that was true even BEFORE we were blessed with Linnea). Last night, however, I saw a show that has a chance to become a regular. I'd seen a preview for the new NBC show, Community, so we taped it and watched it. Hilarious! You have to see it. Hey, Chevy Chase is in it, so you can't go wrong. At one point we were laughing so hard that Dolly, our lovable bassett came over and sat in front of us with a great look of concern on her face. I think you can watch the whole show at NBC.com. Very funny!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Great K-State running backs

Seeing the article posted on Facebook by my friend Michael Mills (he with the ku degree) about famous Syracuse running backs made me think of all the famous K-State running backs. Hmmmm . . . well, there's about four that I can think of: Veryl Switzer, Larry Brown, Mack Herron, and Darren Sproles. A lot of newbie Wildcat fans--not the long-suffering ones like me who faithfully cheered the football team for 16-17 years before Bill Snyder's arrival--fondly remember Darren Sproles and his time at K-State. I do, too, especially when I see him running the way he did for San Diego Monday night. Many of us respect Darren for doing so much while being so small for a football player, and some fans probably think he's the smallest running back ever to star at K-State. Ah, but they're forgetting Mack Herron, who was slightly smaller. Actually, I can't remember Sproles height and weight when he played at Kansas State, but San Diego lists him as 5-6 and 185. Herron was 5-5 1/2 and 170 pounds. Granted, he didn't have quite as distinuished a career at K-State or in the pros, but he did do some good things in the CFL and NFL.

Memories of past greatness . . . which I'm afraid is all us Wildcat fans will have this fall.

Anger with God

Good article titled Shaking Our Fists: Acknowledging Our Anger With God
http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/spiritualgrowth/shakingourfists.html

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Liberal, Kansas

Follow the link to read an excellent article by Rodney Clapp in The Christian Century: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=7406

Monday, July 20, 2009

Great quote from James Houston . . .

"The desire that really gives life is to know God. This desire is never satisfied, for it is one that grows with its fulfilment; and our relationship with God changes and leads to a constant deepening of our desires."

James M. Houston, The Heart's Desire, p.26

I first read this book 10 years ago, but it is one that I keep pulling off the shelves about once a year to read parts or the whole thing again.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Warning, Warning!!!

“Are we stopping here?” Susanne asked, stirring from her sleep as I slowed down for the approaching gas station.

“What’s going on?” she asked, as I just as quickly sped back up, leaving the station behind.

“We’ll have to go on to Fayetteville. That place is closed.”

I had just fallen victim to something that I want to warn you about today. As a conscientious and concerned citizen I feel it is my duty to call your attention to a grave concern of mine. I just don’t want anyone to get hurt. You see, gas stations around the country are going out of business and leaving behind the signs advertising their price as of the date they closed.

Maybe you don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Well I’m telling you, it is a safety concern. I first noticed it a while back when my wife and daughter and I were returning from a trip to Branson, Missouri. We were winding our way along an unfamiliar two-lane highway in Arkansas. We needed to fill up, but I was intent on making it to Fayetteville, where I was sure we would find the cheapest gas in the area. We were on this little highway approaching a small town, really just a wide spot in the road, as we used to say about my Kansas hometown. There, about a half mile ahead was one of those tall gas station signs, and glory halleluiah, the price was at least sixty cents cheaper than any place we’d found on our trip.

Boy was I excited! I was slowing down and getting ready to pull in, jubilant about the price I was going to brag about later to my family and friends. And then I noticed it. There were no other cars around taking advantage of this amazing price. There were no lights on in the building. The place had gone belly up. It took awhile to get the ol’ ticker settled back down to its normal pace after all the excitement I’d felt.

And several weeks later it happened to me again, this time in McKinney. I was heading north on McDonald when I noticed cheap gas advertised and nearly broke my neck jerking my head around to recheck the sign. Again, a closed business. No cheap gas.

None of this would have happened, I suppose, if I was driving a SMART car. But I will get to that later.

This brings me to my proposal: we need a law requiring gas station proprietors to take the numbers down when they close their business. Violators should be subject to a hefty fine. You see, someone is going to get hurt one of these days. A few heart palpitations or a sore neck, like I experienced is no big deal. But someone is going to stare in disbelief at a sign and get so focused on it that they stop paying attention to their driving, and then, big problems. Someone else might do one of those cross-three-lanes-in-fifty-feet maneuvers Dallas drivers seem to specialize in trying to get into the station and wind up hitting someone.

We cannot stand idly by and let this happen. Now is the time to act before it is too late. Especially now. Gas prices were down for a while but they’re creeping up again. As they climb higher there will be stations that go out of business. We should act now to make them take down their signs when they close. It may save a life.

But as I said, I suppose none of this would be a problem if everyone drove the SMART car. You’ve seen one, right? The itty bitty car that looks like someone wrapped a grocery cart with metal and added a motor. I’m not sure how handy they are for a road trip because I can’t see any place to put luggage, although I suppose I could tow it in the child carrier I usually cart my daughter in behind my bicycle.

The point is, though, that a car this small is bound to get such great gas mileage that their owners aren’t prone to things like old gas station price signs. For a trip to the grocery store the SMART car is probably just the thing. And the really cool thing is, most grocery stores will let the SMART cars drive right on into the store, not that there’s room in it for much more than a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.

But at least no one’s getting hurt.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pray for Will Franklin Chapman

Read this for an update from Mary Beth Chapman. It was one year ago that a tragic accident took the life of their young daughter. Please pray for Will Franklin.

I really appreciate her rawness and honesty. Here it is: http://chapmanchannel.typepad.com/marybeth/2009/05/a-mothers-heart-for-two-very-brave-chapman-children.html

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Math, YUK!

Yesterday I had an email exchange with my sister Ruth about her daughter’s geometry final today, and then a conversation with a colleague this morning about algebra and trignometry. Both were a reminder of how helpless I am when it comes to these subjects.

I can still recall the total confusion I experienced as a freshman in high school algebra class. (Well, it’s not that difficult to recall because I’m just as confused today). Here I am in this class, having done okay with basic math, and all of a sudden the teacher is writing a bunch of letters on the board with plus signs and minus signs and multiplication signs and division signs in between. We’re adding letters! Well, at least my classmates are. I never actually did. It was the weirdest thing sitting there in class and, I swear, the teacher wrote a bunch of letters on the board and asked, “What’s the answer?” and someone called out a number, and guess what, THEY WERE RIGHT. How’d they get that?

It was the same thing the following year with the same teacher in geometry. The only thing that saved me in that class is that the teacher gave the test in 2 parts. One day we’d have to write out the theorems. I had a good memory so I would ace that part of the test. The next day we’d have the second part of the test, putting those theorems to work in equations. He’d ask us to “prove” a variety of shapes: triangles, rectangles, etc. And I’d be thinking, “What do you mean, prove? What is there to prove? SOMEBODY DREW THAT SHAPE ON THE PAPER, IT’S AS PLAIN AS DAY. WHY DO I NEED TO PROVE IT?

My teacher was one of those who was such a natural at math that he couldn’t explain it to kids like me who didn’t get it. He could never “get” why we didn’t “get it,” so the explanations he offered missed the point entirely. “I’m still back in last year’s Algebra trying to figure out how you added letters. I’m not ready for this geometry stuff.”

When I was in grad school I had to take the dreaded Statistics course, which I actually passed with an A, for no apparent reason. Once we were working on an equation in class and I was having trouble figuring it out. Daniel, who was the youngest in the class (I was one of the older ones in the class) said, “Chuck, it’s just your basic Algebra.” I did some quick math and replied, “Daniel, the last time I had Algebra was the year you were born, and I didn’t get it then, either.” Of course, I was also the kid who never understood what they were teaching in science about the atom until Venus Flytrap explained it on an episode of WKRP in Cinncinnati.

Who was it who said, “as long as there are math tests there will be prayer in public schools”? I am sure Kirsten was praying today, and I hope her geometry final gets a good grade.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage

As a marriage counselor, I highly recommend the new book from NavPress titled Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage by Michael and Chuck Misja. This book offers real hope to everyone who is married. In fact, while it is a good title, I am afraid some people will say, “My marriage isn’t difficult, so this isn’t the book for me.” And that would be a shame, because this book has a lot to say to every married person. In a sense, every married person is in a difficult marriage. I say that as a man who is happily married and would never choose anyone else as my wife. But if both parties to the marriage are truly alive, fully engaged with their intellects, emotions, and wills, there will be difficulty. You’re going to clash. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed, you have a bad marriage, it’s just the reality of relationships. It can add richness to your marriage, in fact, if you see differences as a blessing. To paraphrase Ruth Graham, if we both agree on everything one of us is unnecessary.

What I appreciate so much about Thriving Despite is that it keeps the focus where it should be, on me and my own sinful heart in the context of my marriage. Most Christian marriage books are focused on “how do I manipulate my partner into the behavior I want so that all my needs are met and I feel happy and fulfilled.” Of course, they’re not so blatant about it, but when you boil it down, that’s really what they’re saying.

The Misja brothers define the problem of difficult marriages like this:

“Simply put:

  • Your spouse does not offer what you long to receive.
  • He or she does not ask of you what you desire to give.
  • Consequently, you suffer the pain of disappointment.

    Your basic problem is:
  • You have difficulty keeping your heart alive and good in the face of ongoing, painful disappointment.”

    Now you might read what I’ve written so far and think, “They sound pretty uncaring. It doesn’t sound like they offer any hope at all.” The truth is that they come across in the book as very caring, and the effect of what they say is to offer the only true hope we really have (or need): no matter what happens to me in this life, including in my marriage, God will be with me and he offers personal change, deep joy, and a richness of life even in the midst of my pain.

    Of course, there are very tragic things that happen in marriages, including affairs and abuse, and the Misja brothers deal very thoughtfully and carefully with this.

    Here is a thought-provoking excerpt from the last page of Chapter One:

    “What If:

    You believed God was less concerned with whether or not your needs were being met and more concerned with the state of your heart?

    You were able to give up all efforts to become happy by trying to
    change your spouse?

    You no longer desired to show your spouse how poorly you are
    being loved?

    You had the capacity to accept your spouse as he or she is and have a lifestyle of forgiveness?

    You knew God’s grace in a way that freed you from guilt and shame
    so you could honestly explore the ways you don’t love well?

    You believed in God’s love for you so deeply that you were confident you could love strongly and wisely no matter what?

    You committed to finding purpose and passion for life that didn’t
    depend on your spouse’s response or approval?

    Your heart was no longer characterized by bitterness, despair, pride, or apathy?

    You were able to disengage from the destructiveness of your marriage while developing a desire to constructively engage in what was God-honoring?

    Sample from Thriving Despite a Difficult Marriage / ISBN 9781600062148
    Copyright © 2009 NavPress Publishing. All rights reserved.


    I hope I’ve whetted your appetite to buy and read the entire book. If I haven’t here are a couple more things to try to accomplish that:

    A link from NavPress to a PDF of the first chapter of the book: http://www.navpress.com/images/pdfs/9781600062148.pdf

    A link to their Focus on the Family interview on March 19 and 20 (scroll down the left side to Web Exclusives): http://www.focusonlinecommunities.com/community/events/misja

Monday, March 9, 2009

Daisy Chain

Mary DeMuth has done it again. I read her previous novels, Watching the Tree Limbs and Wishing on Dandelions, and fell in love with her writing. As good as those books are, and they are very good, she has surpassed them with her latest novel, Daisy Chain.

Mary states that she wrote the book “after having some significant conversations with a friend whose parent appeared like an upstanding Christian leader in public, but abused behind closed doors.” If that is your story—suffering at the hands of someone who put on a good front in public—or describes someone you know, you will want to read this book. Unfortunately, many of us know someone who appears one way in public but is very different out of the public view. Perhaps I’m jaded by my job as a counselor, but I think there are a lot of people out there who’ve suffered this way, but not all of them share their stories. As a counselor, I appreciate Mary’s willingness to tackle difficult subject matter. In Daisy Chain she does it in a way that you feel both pain and hope. There’s no saccharin here but there is redemption, and a feeling that there is more redemption yet to come.

In Daisy Chain Mary tells the story of Jed Pepper, a fourteen year-old boy whose father is a pastor and an abuser. Jed’s best friend, Daisy Chance, has disappeared, and Jed thinks it’s his fault, a notion that several, including his father, do not try to dispel. The whole thing leads to deeper confusion for Jed, leaving him wondering: Who is telling the truth? Who can I trust? Can God be trusted? Mary’s rich description of and faithfulness to her characters, along with a bone-chilling mystery, keep you turning the pages. It’s one of those put everything off so you can read, I’ll-do-the-taxes-later-the-laundry-can-wait-and-two-more-nights-of-fast-food-won’t-be-that-bad, kind of books.

I love hearing people’s stories. As a counselor I’ve found that most people minimize their stories. I’ve heard terrible things accompanied by, “it was nothing, no big deal.” I want to help people honor their stories and to grasp how their story fits into the grand story of redemption that God is telling. In Daisy Chain Mary puts a couple of good friends around Jed who glimpse the larger story. The single most breathtaking moment in the book for me was when one of Jed’s friends was talking about a mural scene another friend painted, and the scene was a winding path with deep ditches on either side. “One ditch is our full-fisted rebellion. The other, she said, is our response to someone else’s rebellion. She told me, ‘The Devil couldn’t care less which ditch we fall into, he just wants us off the road.’” That caused me to lay the book aside for a few moments and consider the ways I’ve responded to ones who have hurt me. Too many times I’ve gone into the ditch. I’m feeling challenged even as I write this to leave others in God’s hand and concentrate on what he wants to do in my own heart.

I said earlier that if your story is like Jed’s you’ll want to read this book. I must say, though, that even if your family was closer to The Waltons you should still read this book. It’s a great story, and we all have something more to learn about suffering and redemption, the confusion it all brings, and God’s role in it. I don’t know what is yet to happen for Jed (Daisy Chain is first of a trilogy) but he’s found a place in my heart and I am looking forward to learning from him.

And by the way, sometimes people can be awfully weighed down by the secrets they carry. It’s often helpful just to tell someone. Mary has created an anonymous blog for people to share painful secrets. It is at http://blog.myfamilysecrets.org.