Wednesday, November 23, 2005

L'Eggo my Ego, Part 1: The Virtuous Cycle

A few weeks ago my church put together a softball game. Af first we had enough players to field two teams and play ourselves, but after an hour we were down to about 12 players. Fortunately, more players had formed at the field (they were the Mexican-American Bar Association, as in attorneys, not alehouses) and were looking to play. We spent the next hour playing against these guys and making some new friends along the way.

Later that day, when I had showered and rested and began to feel the initial soreness of physical exertion, Jamie looked at me and said, with pride in her voice, "I was so glad that you were my husband today." What she meant was that I was one of the better players, and it was fun for her to look out there and know that her hubby still had some athleticism.

I won't be delusional here. This was a pickup softball game. I am 29 years old, which is young enough to still play, but old enough to know that I'm far below professional-caliber athletes. And I played baseball in college, which gave me quite the advantage in a softball game. If our church had chosen hockey or football or even basketball on that day, the story would have been far different.

Still, when she looked at me and said she was glad I was hers, I was immediately overcome with these incredible feelings of strength of self, and incredible love and warmth for Jamie. I couldn't remember the last time I felt such a strong emotion toward my wife. That's when I realized that she had done exactly what I've heard preached dozens of times... "respect your husbands." And as a natural response, I instantly and without thought "loved my wife."

Ephesians 5:22-28 is a passage known by almost all Christian couples, and it's incredible to think of the human psychology behind it all! What do men want? I mean really, deep in that place where men don't want to look, what do we want? We have driven much of the advances of our time, yet we have also started most of the wars. We are physically stronger than women, yet individually we often lament the fact that we're not the strongest of all men. Whether we're on a softball field, in a board room, or watching a football game, we are constantly sizing ourselves up against others.

This is why men need so much encouragement (some would say "coddling"). C'mon, really, do you think women's sports would have invented the idea of cheerleaders? Men created that to feed one of the key needs a man has: to impress women. And if he's not impressing a woman, then he's trying to impress another man (friend, enemy, boss, father-in-law, etc...). Men have a fundamental (dare I say God-given?) need to feel important, powerful and noticed.

God's plan is for the wife to meet this need. If she doesn't, you'd better believe that the husband will search elsewhere for a way to feel important. Maybe a job, a hobby, a social group, or even another woman. But the need remains, and he will probably look to fulfill it.

The beauty of this setup is when the wife respects her husband and meets this need, his natural response is to reach out in love to her. When he loves her, the wife naturally responds with further respect for him. Thus begins the "virtuous cycle." This may be one of the biggest challenges in 21st century American marriages -- how to address each gender's needs in an age where gender barriers continue to be blurred.

Many of the past few decades' changes have been very positive -- women breaking through glass ceilings in business, men taking responsibility for housework and child-rearing... these are exciting times of progess! Yet it can also be confusing as we deal with things like transexuality (I've already worked with one sex-change recipient) and wonder: what differences in gender should we protect?

We do ourselves a great disservice if we say that men and women need the same things from marriage -- it's just not true, and it's not biblical. Take a look at this list for men and this list for women, and see how they relate to Ephesians 5. I hope that in all of our marriages we can experience constant re-enactments of the virtuous cycle, as both spouses give and receive exactly what they need as men and women.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go to the gym to lift weights. You never know... it might just impress somebody.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A new hope?

I met with the elders of our church last night for over an hour, discussing almost all of the core issues and brainstorming on things we can do to turn things around. I went in with the intention of resigning as a deacon, and came out still a deacon, and with some hope that there is still a chance for this congregation to be healthy and growing. It's not a naive hope, and I still realize the odds may not be in our favor, but that's not bringing me down right now. It's sorta like the scene in Dumb and Dumber, when Lloyd finally declares his love for Mary:

Lloyd: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me... ending up together?
Mary: Not good.
Lloyd: You mean not good like one out of a hundred?
Mary: I'd say more like one in a million.
Lloyd: (Long pause). So you're telling me there's a chance! Yeah, I read you!

I'm Lloyd today, and one in a million sounds a whole lot better than what I was thinking 24 hours ago.

p.s. -- If any family members are reading this, and want to know what to get Samantha for Christmas, please use the link below as an example of what NOT to buy. Thanks.

Bad Gifts For Toddlers

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Perfect love

One of my (and my wife's) favorite times is our kids' bedtime. No, it's not because we finally get some peace and quiet -- I'm not talking about after they're in bed, I'm talking about the actual process of putting them down.

The whole thing is just a blast for me. I think there are several reasons for this:

1) For five days of the week, bedtime represents a large chunk of the time I spend with my kids. Between working hours and my commute, there's only about two hours a day I'm home while they're awake. Those last 30 minutes before they go to sleep are precious minutes for me to catch up on their day.

2) It's a regular routine. I'm a man. Men like routines, but some men like them more than others. My ruts run so deep that I've hung pictures on the wall, as the saying goes.

3) It's a funny time. When Samantha's in a silly mood, she likes to play word games with me while we're putting her pajamas on. If she's in a quiet, tired mood, she'll ask me to sing "Dreams". No, it's not a sweet lullaby -- she's asking for the classic 80s hit by Heart. Just because she's two years old doesn't mean she can't learn to develop a good taste in music, ha.

4) Bedtime is when moments of truth emerge. These are the moments when your child looks at you and lets you into their world, if only for a few seconds. This is when they tell you about the bully at school (we're not there yet), their bad dream from last night, or fear of the dark. In 10 years, maybe bedtime is when she'll tell me about her best friend's hurtful words, or about that cute boy who doesn't even know she exists. Whatever it will be, I see it as my job as Daddy to be listening very carefully for these moments. And to handle them with great care and love when they appear.

Samantha had one of these moments last night, and it was a purely positive one. She was pleading to hold her baby brother Jack (5 months today), which is unusual for her. So as we sat her on the bed and put Jack carefully in her lap, she stroked his head, kissed him and said, "I love you, Jack. You're my best friend."

Jamie and I could do nothing but smile and observe the moment. I hope there are many more.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I'm baaaaaack

Sorry to have such a long delay between posts... such is life sometimes. Besides the fact that I have a fairly new job and two young children, I was sick most of last week. On top of that, we've been going through quite a difficult time at our church for about... oh, the last 2 years or so. It's finally come to a crossroads for my family, so tonight I had a meeting with our elders to discuss what I feel is one of the last chances for our church to survive.

The congregation has been on a slow and steady decline since the 1960s, but 2 years ago a few crises hit and accelerated the exodus of the membership. What was once a church of 600 people 40 years ago shrunk to 400, then 300, then 250. As of now there are 169 members at the church, with no perceivable path to a renewed purpose, plan, or organization. I became a deacon a year ago, right in the middle of one of the bleakest times in the congregation's history.

One interesting thing is that my faith and relationship with God have grown to all-time highs in the past year. Unfortunately, this growth has taken place in spite of our church, rather than because of it. Hard as it may be, it's time to make a serious evaluation of my family's future at this congregation, and what other options are available.

Although I believe God's kingdom is eternal, I also realize that local churches come and go. I've poured all my energy into trying to make sure this congregation had a solid future, but it hasn't worked, and that's okay. These things have a way of working out, and as my grandmother told me a while ago, God's family is available almost anywhere (in this country, at least).

Ray Bradbury once said, "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down."

I'm not building my wings yet, but the plans and materials are in the closet.