Category Archives: Family

How a word of support might change someone’s life, including your own

“I’m pretty disappointed I didn’t get into this certain program at college,” my daughter Bethany told me last night.

“I’m proud of you for getting into one of the programs the college offered, and this isn’t done yet,” I affirmed. “I’d reach out to the people in charge of the other programs and let them know you’re still interested. It’s all about people, and if you keep showing interest something might open up.”

And I kissed my daughter, told her I loved her, and let her know I’d help her in any way I could. And then I said good night.

A fairly common occurrence around our house, whether it’s my wife Julia talking to one of the kids, or me coming alongside them, or the two of us working together to help them through some issue or difficulty. Nothing very exotic or out of the ordinary.

And then, after the aforementioned discussion with Bethany, the revelation occurred. “And that’s exactly the kind of conversation missing from the lives of many of my students,” I shared with Julia.

I teach at a community college. There is a wide array of students seeking associate’s degrees or just trying to knock out some general education credits on their way to a four-year college. There’s the fresh-out-of-high-school student, the been-working-a-few-years-and-ready-to-get-going student, the single-mom-rebooting-her-life student, the starting-a-second-career student. Different ages, backgrounds, abilities, and support systems.

Quite a few of them, maybe more than I realize, have no support system.

When an opportunity disappears, they lose a job, a relationship ends, or they get a bad grade, they don’t have someone to step in and say, “Listen, I know what you’re made of; you can do better if you just get some help. And here are some places to get help, and I’ll go with you to back you up.” They have to back themselves up, and frankly, that gets pretty exhausting after awhile.

Buttressing themselves against disappointment and loss takes a lot out of them. I see it in some of their faces when I hand them a paper with a less than stellar grade. That’s why I try to say genuinely encouraging words to my students. I’m not perfect at it, and I don’t always think to do it, but on occasion I believe God has allowed me to say something that lets a student know they don’t have to go it alone.

I told one student recently that one of the best qualities she possessed was a teachable heart. She looked at me like she had just won the lottery. “Thanks Mr. Boyd,” she responded. “I really needed to hear that today.”

Words matter. What we say to people matters.

As I consider the theme of this blog, this is one of the most easily available ways for us to respond to the question, “What does God want me to do?”

He wants you to be a light. He wants you to point people to the Light. He wants you to do that through words and caring. He wants you to show compassion and affirm the God-given value of each person, bestowed at birth and confirmed by the Cross.

In some way, even if it’s to our kids for the thousandth time, or to a stranger who we may never see again, may we find the words by the Spirit’s direction that will help people know they aren’t meant to walk through their strife alone. They don’t have to do that.

And the biggest strife they’ll ever face has been resolved: the strife between themselves and a loving Father who has reconciled them through His Son. God give us the courage to let them know that:

“When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2-3a)

Or, in other words, God has your back.

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Learning to find contentment when change seems to be taking a long time

Part of spiritual growth is learning to be OK with unfinished business. That can be a tough lesson for a guy who use to work in a newsroom. I prided myself on digging up a story, getting the interviews done, and the story written by our noon deadline. I was Mr. Deadline. I thrived on that. From start to finish in a couple hours. My editor liked it too. He even made a business card for me that said, “Chief Writer.” He knew I was the go-to guy when he needed to turn a story around fast.

As I’ve gone on in life and in Christ, the more I’ve discovered that very little runs like that. Hours turn into days, days into weeks . . . you know it. Whether its work projects, home projects, character growth, a friend coming to know Jesus personally, spiritual maturity, marriage communication — things seem to take time.

Not that I’m advocating passivity, but I continue to press on with what Jesus shows me today about my faith, my family, my friends, my marriage, knowing that whatever I do, I may not turn any big corners today. Or this week, month or year. Thanks to God for the times where I do see progress. That’s a blessing and a source of motivation.

I’ve gotten better at letting things sit in incomplete mode and I see that as a type of progress in my character. I had a client whose book went through 3 iterations before we got around to finally getting it into print. Stop and go, stop and go. Hurry up and wait. Get some input, wait. Get some interest, wait. Scrap the whole thing, wait. Start all over again, wait. Finally, in the spring of 2013 the book came out. I met my client in 2008 and we started work on it then.

With people and church work it’s the same. Lots of waiting while God moves in people to change them, call on them, using circumstances and human beings, including me, to love, share truth and hang in there with them. And of course it’s like that for God in my life too. Movement forward. Wait. Movement backward. Wait. Movement side to side. Wait.

I’ve learned to shake hands with unfinished business. I won’t say embrace, because that means somehow I’ve become buddies with it. No, I won’t go that far. Shaking hands is growth for me. It’s my way of saying to work-in-progress — whether it’s a character issue in my life, a book project, or what God is doing in someone around me — “Hey, I get it, this process has a life all its own and I need to be ready to go when the Lord is ready to go. I just need to keep alert to what He’s doing, because He’s the one who really runs this show.”

God is all about the undone. 2 Peter 3:9 affirms it — a thousand years is like a day with him and a day like a thousand years. While Christians may look at the world and say, “God, when are you going to wrap this up?” God looks and says, “I’m patient with the world because I don’t want anyone to perish. So I’m waiting just a bit longer.”

Now, on the flip side, I’m mighty grateful that God doesn’t rush to judge. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a). He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Well, this isn’t a blog about anger, but I just find that impatience and anger are close relatives in my life.

So God has been trying to teach me it’s OK to have things in a state of incompleteness. I suppose if he’s trying to make me like Jesus, this is one of those things that is very much like Jesus. Hanging with those twelve guys for 3 years. Plenty of unfinished business there. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6). We’re all unfinished business, aren’t we?

A friend of mine worked on his house for years. It always seemed to be “getting done,” but not quite done. His wife had at least made peace with that situation, having confidence I suppose that her husband would finish someday. She knew he had the drive, but not always the time or resources. She was confident in the builder.

I suppose that’s what God is trying to teach me. And I wonder sometimes if my desire to just “get things done” is an expression of unbelief in my Builder. I suppose the construction of my faith is a bit of unfinished business too. Thank God for that.

 

Three signs that jealousy may be ruining a relationship

Beware the green-eyed menace

Beware the green-eyed menace

Jealousy is such a horrible sin. It drives me crazy and humbles me all at the same time. I find myself  driven by jealousy in the way I read other people’s Facebook posts, evaluate how someone’s weekend went and compare how another’s work life is going versus how mine is doing. Jealousy is really ugly. And it can ruin relationships.

 

Mostly, jealousy shows up in how we choose to respond to people. Do I find myself getting judgmental toward another? One reason may very well be that I envy them. But if I admit that, then I’m admitting I’m not as great (foolish thought, yes), or my life isn’t as great. Always comparing – that’s the jealous way. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,” Paul urges in Romans 12:3, “but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Jealousy can definitely show up in outward, destructive ways. Think Joseph’s brothers in the Old Testament. However, it seems in “good Christian” culture jealousy can tend to seethe more than it boils. Here’s three ways I’ve seen the green-eyed beast mess with relationships:

1. It makes me very cool or non-communicative toward other people’s successes. If I were to acknowledge that someone was doing better than I, then I would somehow be diminishing my own sense of self. And even if you have trained your mind to tell someone, “Hey, that’s great,” when secretly you’re beside yourself, people can pick it up. We’ve all got pretty good radar when people are genuinely happy for us and when people are negative toward us. If I’m not experiencing true joy about someone else’s wins, I need to humbly face my jealousy and say, “What an ugly beast you are. How I wish you were gone” and ask the Lord for a heart change that allows me to genuinely applaud and enjoy the other person’s victory.  “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” right? (Romans 12:15) I also need to apologize to the Lord for making the world’s view of me more important than what He says.

2. I think “comparing” thoughts when someone tells me something great from their lives. I don’t tend to verbalize such ideas, but I sure do think them. Maybe I hear how someone is getting a chance to write a book. I begin putting them down in my mind. “Obviously, their identity is coming from their work; pretty spiritually weak.” Maybe I hear that a certain cultural perspective, that isn’t biblical, is getting more and more popular. “Well, this country is going down the tubes.” Godly disgust or jealousy that my side is losing? It’s hard for people to come close to me when I’m letting such ideas run all over my head. Even though I may not be voicing these notions, they give off a vibe. And people don’t want to be near that.

3. I find myself competing with people rather than enjoying them. It’s really hard to build a closer relationship with someone if you’re always comparing how you’re doing against how they’re doing. It’s healthier relationally and spiritually if I’m asking questions about other people’s lives, discovering how they came to experience such amazing things, how they came to serve God in such incredible ways, how they got through such difficulties to a stronger, better place in their lives. Learning, learning, learning — this is more humble and builds relationships. And I end up gaining from that person’s journey rather than observing it coolly from a distance and seeing it as a threat to my own wonderfulness.

 

 

 

5 questions to ask yourself when others (apparently) have it better than you

Some people, at least on the surface, appear to have it all. They’re good looking, smart, and athletic. They’re surrounded by loving families, and not just the immediate spouse and children, but the extended family too. There seem to be no missing pieces in their lives. Their homes are larger, backyards more spacious, and the conveniences of life more prevalent. They’re educational opportunities were greater and their children’s opportunities are just as great if not greater. This isn’t right!

As I reflect on my own life, I recognize that I’ve gotten a pretty good deal. I had a 15-minute walk to school, which I enjoyed. I mostly liked my teachers. I did well in school and got good marks. I had a group of friends to hang out with at lunchtime and during recess. I had one best friend, Scott, and we played sports, board games, hung out, and did school projects together. My dad was committed to one vacation every year, and we usually spent that week in Daytona Beach, FL. My whole family got together on major holidays. I went to amusement parks. I was decent if not outstanding at sports. I have not-so-great memories but also a bunch of great memories too. Some would say I hit the lottery.

There were problems too. My dad had a drinking problem and my mom’s health wasn’t that great, but that’s the life I knew. It was a good life in many ways. The kids I went to school with had pretty similar upbringings and family situations. I thought it was a rich life —— not wealthy “rich,” but full and satisfying.

High school was comparable. There were hard times, but good times too. I had a high level of stress some days but I survived and graduated and went on to college.

Some of my college friends were from similar backgrounds to mine. In particular, my best friend in those days, John, came from a middle class suburb in Cleveland. He had two brothers and a sister; his dad was an English teacher at the high school John attended, and his mom was a friendly, doting, funny homemaker.

I had other college friends, some of whom lived in suburbs of Dayton, OH, where I grew up. That’s when I began to notice my rich life was not as rich as I had supposed. Their homes were larger, their backyards more spacious, the conveniences of life were more prevalent and educational opportunities were greater!

For the last 20+ years of my life I’ve been a suburb dweller too. My kids have grown up in this environment. My wife, whose family began in Dayton, moved to a suburb called Kettering. Her parents carved out a simple and good life there. And we’ve been able to provide a decent place to live in a comfortable, safe community with really nice schools.

Since I’ve lived here 20 years, I’ve encountered neighbors and friends who have always lived in this sociological equivalent of a quilted comforter. And that started bugging me a little.

I began to wonder why God set me in a family where I was destined to attend an inner city public school system. Granted, the inner city school system of my era was not the same as today, but it was still inner city. Why are they living in a city where they know everyone from generations back and my classmates from high school are scattered all over the place and not as well connected? Why did their life incubator provide them so much love, support, and material blessing?

OK, so before I indulge any further in this self-absorbed judge-fest, I will acknowledge that just being born in the United States, even if I’m poor by American standards, makes me one of these over-blessed people. “According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the poverty line for an individual in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., was $10,830 in 2010,” says Courtney Blair at PolicyMic.com. “Someone at the poverty line in the United States is in the top 14% of the global income distribution.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Enough hard facts about how great I’ve got it, back to me-absorbed bellyaching.

I’m not the first to wrestle with these blessing disparities. David verbalized it in Psalm 73:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. (v.2-6, NIV)

Of course, I can’t really say the people I envied were evil nor did I ever see them clothe themselves with violence. They seemed clothed in niceness and decentness. Actually, they might even be godly. But they were still blessed more than me. Argh!

So this is the part of the blog where I’m supposed to offer several tightly-edited life nuggets gathered from this journey of self-discovery. But really, I’m led to five questions that won’t tie this down neatly but just provoke more questioning:

1) Can I learn to deal with this? That’s really the question. God has given more to some than to others. The starting point is different but the ending point for Christians is the same. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1, NIV). We each have a race to run. Will we run our race, our way, with Him as the coach? How much ability to run, or how difficult the course, neither is in question in this verse. But will we run to the same finish line? That’s it.

2) Do I really believe God is fair? There’s something to the whole “to whom much is given” warning. Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” God is a blesser. He’s also fair. His scales are accurate. That should be sobering for me, especially as I consider what I have compared to lots of other people in the world.

3) He’s either able to fulfill Romans 8:28 or he’s not — what will I believe? Familiar passage here: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT). Some people have been given a rough start in life. They were beaten, abandoned, and abused from day one. They don’t know one or more parents. They’ve been shipped around to other people’s homes all their lives. Without minimizing the pain of all that, I must still ask myself: can he make good on Romans 8:28 or not?

4) Do I sincerely believe this life is just a warm-up for eternity when all these differences in gifting, etc. won’t matter anymore? The only question that will matter then will be, “Was I faithful with what I had?” If I can’t get past the apparent disparities of today then my hope is really probably that this life is the end-all and be-all.

5) Can I still be grateful for all He’s done for me that I clearly don’t deserve? I should be thankful, but will I, by faith, choose to be thankful?

Narrow way or awkward way?

A1c“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NASB, Matthew 7:14)

I suppose I’ve always sensed, at least since I really got into my faith about 1985 or so, that I needed to be there as much as possible for my wife, children, parents, friends and anyone else Jesus wanted me to hang with.

Because that’s been the big factor of my life, I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy. I wish I could say I’m always quick to tell people that. But I don’t usually say this. Am I ashamed of the life I’m confident Jesus has led me to? I don’t think so, but then sometimes I’m sucked into the manly game of “I am what I do” and I’m not sure my way of life will go down real well with certain people.

At a recent conference my default setting was “I’m a writer and editor.” That’s why I was there; a client of mine was rolling out a book I had helped her write. So it made sense. Plus I was networking, hoping to plant seeds that might bloom into future business. “I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy” just didn’t seem like the best intro for a let-me-help-you-write-your-next-book pitch.

Just the other day, as I was shopping for carpet shampoo (OK, all respect you may have had is out the window now), the shop owner asked me what I did. I said I was an English teacher at a local community college. This is also true. So sometimes my answer is just a function of who I’m with and what the goal of the conversation is.

I get funny looks from people sometimes when I do share about working part-time, or working at home. People won’t say it out loud, but I pick up from the furrowed forehead or the slightly raised eyebrow that they’re suspicious. Now, what they’re suspicious of I’m not sure. Maybe they think I play Mafia Wars or FarmVille all day.

B21d1I have to tell you, the hardest part about this odd arrangement of working, ministry and family life is the feeling that I’m a slacker. Wouldn’t a real man have a full time job and devote the majority of his productive hours at an office? I know that being a “real man” has nothing to do with holding a full-time job, but more with being a hard worker whatever I do, leading my family to know and follow the Lord, and loving those who can’t love back or won’t love back. Even still, it gets me sometimes.

And now’s the time for the “but I’m loved by Jesus” spiel. Which is absolutely true. And I’ll toss in Psalm 139 while I’m at it: yes, I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all God’s works are wonderful. That means me. And you too. All accurate and very proper to ponder. But the fact is, trying to live a life where you’re mainly available for God and the people He brings in your life can be weird. You’re constantly shaking out your work life, family life, hobbies and free time through the sifter question, “Is this a direction that will make me more available to follow Jesus or not?”

Not that I have any doubts about running major and minor life matters through the grid of that question. I’m just saying it can be odd. Other times, and really most of the time, it’s awesome because I have to dig more deeply into what God’s Word says, rather than what my feelings say or society thinks. It’s amazing that I’m a work-at-home dad and ministry guy.

The Holy Spirit will lift me too, and remind me this life is not what it’s about. This existence is prelude to the life that is really life, as Paul notes in 1 Timothy 6:19. So if I’m orienting myself today around the priorities of the next life — which has to do with Jesus and relating to other people— that will be awkward at times. It should be. And that’s OK. Better awkward now than awkward later.

 

Teaching kids how to love you in the future

Talked with a friend today about a rarity in family life that wasn’t a rarity a generation or so ago: children seeing their parents interact regularly and often with grandparents. My friend and I have had the rare privilege and challenge of being an example to our children in this area.

A few years back my own mom was living in an assisted living facility. We’d see her at least once a week and usually take the kids along. It was mildly amusing and also bittersweet the way the other residents would react to David and Bethany, as if they’d never seen anyone younger than 20 before in their lives. They weren’t interested in a creepy way, but in an affectionate and lonely way. I don’t think many of those residents saw their own children or their children’s children.

My mom came to live with us 5 years ago and I realized today that our interactions with my mom are offering my sons and daughter a blueprint for their future relationship with Julia and I. Of course, they aren’t robots who will only act in accordance with their programming. They will make their own choices about relating with us.

As I think about Paul’s comment that we should follow the example of Christ, it does make me pause. What kind of a template are we creating for the youngsters? Do  our children see us spending time with my mom, inviting her to things, listening, resolving disagreements, laughing with her or do they see us avoiding her, getting agitated, speaking poorly of her? Lord, I hope more the former and not so much the latter.

I hope, that in our own imperfect way, Julia and I (and the kids) are obeying the command of 1 Timothy 5:4,

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. (NIV)

How interesting that church members’ interactions with aging parents was at the heart of Paul’s guidance about leading the church. How important is this area to God? So important that care for widows is one of the most talked about ethical issues in the Bible, Old and New Testaments.

And it isn’t just about aging moms and dads. Paul goes on in 1 Tim 5:8,

If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Maybe you’ll visit an aging relative this Christmas, perhaps a parent, but maybe an aunt or uncle. Maybe it’s your dad’s cousin or your mom’s high school friend who became like family. Maybe you’re the last family tie this person has. Maybe, just maybe, this is a good time to reflect and pray on how the Lord may want you to bring the Christmas spirit into the rest of the year with this older person. Or maybe it’s a time to celebrate how God has helped you to love them and ask him for power and grace to stay faithful. Either way, happy Christmas to you and to all you love, both young and old.