5 Reasons Your Dream Life Never Came True

Many of us start out with better dreams than we are currently living.

The fact is I talk to a lot of frustrated people in my work. I meet people frequently who are always chasing after something – trying to realize their dream – yet they never seem to catch what they are chasing.

Many times – and we are all prone to doing this occasionally – we make excuses better than we make progress.

I think there may be simple reasons some people never realize their dreams.

Here are 5 of the real reasons many dreams never come true:

People quit trying.

They gave up. They may have tried before and it didn’t work, so now they don’t try at all. Seldom is a dream – a worthy, God-given dream – realized on the first attempt or without a lot of effort. The greatest discoveries are seldom found along the path of least resistance. Dreams are realized with prayer, persistence and perseverance. The best dreams are usually achieved just past the point where average effort stops.

People aren’t willing to work hard enough.

I think sometimes we expect dreams “just to happen”, because we had the dream. But, dreams don’t happen by chance. Being lucky isn’t usually a required skill in achieving dreams. You might occasionally be “in the right place at the right time”, but those opportunities are rare. If you have a dream it will be difficult to achieve. Should I say it again? It will be difficult. There will likely be lots of long days, sleepless nights and sweat equity. Otherwise it’s not much of a dream.

People put too much hope in others and not enough confidence in themselves.

Others don’t put as much energy or thought into your dream as you do. Many people never realize a dream because they expected something from others they never agreed to do. If you want your dream to come true you will have to go for it even when others aren’t as supportive as you would like them to be.

I should not here – this doesn’t mean we discount the voices of others completely. For example, I don’t believe God calls a married couple to competing dreams. He may lay a dream on one heart before he does the other – and one person may be more adventurous than the other – but, in the end God will bring the two together on the same dream if it is His will for the couple. Sometimes we need others to help us discern what God is calling us to do and what he is not.

People have unrealistic dreams.

This may be where other people help us discern our dreams. Some dreams simply aren’t realistic. If the dream is for a trouble-free, perfect life – that’s probably not going to become a reality. Winning the lottery as a retirement plan – statistically speaking – may not be a realistic dream. Expecting your family to always be “drama free” – well, best wishes on that dream. Learning to navigate an excellent dream in the midst of a world full of sorrow is a key to discovering the greatest and most achievable dreams in life.

People devalue the dreams already realized.

This is a biggie. What if you are already “living the dream”? Right now you may not have all you want, but considering the fallen world around us many of us have pretty good lives comparatively. Sometimes contentment is our problem more than not achieving the next great dream. If we always live thinking the “grass is greener” with the “next big thing” we never fully appreciate the dreams God has already given us. In fact, I believe God may often wait to give us what’s next until we learn how to be satisfied (in Him) where He currently has allowed us to be.

I am a proponent of dreaming! I think it can be healthy for us personally and even for couples. I am more of a dreamer than my wife, but dreaming together has been a part of keeping our marriage strong over the years. We’ve loved dreaming ahead, watching, waiting, and working for what is next. Here’s to better dreaming in your world!

7 Simple Ideas to Strengthen Your Marriage

I’ve shared recently about ways we injure our spouse without even knowing it. You can read the husband’s post HERE and the wife’s post HERE.

A common request after those posts was I should share ways to strengthen the marriage. I should note I’m hesitant to offer what appears to be therapy by list, because a good marriage is far more than a formula. Actually, all of life is, including leadership. Any area of our life where people are involved – which is pretty much all our life – can never be reduced to 7 steps or 7 suggestions.

Plus, just being honest, it’s always easier to point out the problems than to fix them.

So, you’re naturally wondering, why I share so many lists. I’ve been called the “list king”.

Well, for one, it is the way I think. I also know, however, one reason some enjoy my blog posts is I give lists which people can easily identify with and apply to their own life. finally, lists can be effective. My theory is we can often determine the things which stimulate or encourage outcomes.

Basically, using this idea, I can’t force my marriage to be better. I also can’t change my wife. (Not that she needs changing – but for discussion purposes. I’m likely the one who needs the most changes in our marriage.) But, there are things I can do which can help my marriage improve, and often those things don’t start with my spouse – they start with me – they start with things I do or we do together.

One suggestion someone offered as a way to improve a marriage is to consider the opposite of the ways we injure our spouse. Just take the 7 points in each of the above referenced posts and do the opposite of them. That’s good, but I thought I would add some more. Another list of stimulants.

Do you want to strengthen your marriage? No, there’s not a formula. But, maybe some of these ideas can help.

Here are 7 simple things you can do to strengthen your marriage:

Share calendars

This one certainly seems simple, but it gives Cheryl great comfort to be able to follow my schedule throughout the day. I know many spouses, probably especially some men I know, reject this idea as too intrusive, but for us, it has strengthened our relationship. Cheryl knows who I’m meeting with, what the key stresses of my day are, and usually what time I should be home so we can eat together. (Or if we have dinner plans.)

The bottom line here is Cheryl loves living life with me. For most wives, they go through their day thinking about the people they love. (Not that men don’t, but it’s different for most of us. We tend to think only about the thing we are concentrating on at the time, whether work, our hobby or our family.)

By sharing a calendar there are fewer surprises for Cheryl (and me). Sure, everyday is full of things we didn’t plan, and we can spend the evening talking about those, but it helps us feel a part of each other’s day when we have a general idea of what we are doing.

Want an action step? Spend 30 minutes this weekend sharing each other’s calendars for the next month. This is a seamless process for us now. With Google calendars when I add to my calendar or the person who keeps my work calendar does, it instantly updates for Cheryl to see.

Plan frequent escapes together

Periodically we place an escape on the calendar for a few weeks or a couple months from today. We both live stressful lives and our best times are often when we purposely get away from everything and everyone. It could be for a day trip or a couple days, but we need to know the “catch up” time is coming. The more stressful the season the more this is needed.

One action step here is to look a couple months out and plan an escape. Put it on the calendar you now share. Do it today!

Have a date a week – or as often as possible

Once a week is preferable, but I realize this is difficult during certain seasons of life. But, Cheryl and I need time for just us – often. Even as empty-nesters we’ve learned how critical this is for our marriage. We have a tendency to fill our schedules with lots of activities and we need some time to slow down. This goes on our calendar. Every week if possible.

I realize this can get expensive for young couples with children. This is a great place to build relationships in the church with people in a similar place in life. Offer to trade babysitting for babysitting, so both couples can more affordably invest in their marriage.

Here’s an action step – Find one night (or one day) and put it on your calendar for the next couple months as close to once a week as you can – until it becomes a habit. Then keep it there.

Increase communication

Cheryl and I can usually tell when we haven’t been communicating enough. We start to miss details about each other’s lives. We have to repeat ourselves to each other. It’s usually when one or both of us has the heaviest agendas and we are running at full speed. It’s easy to get into routines and have surface conversations. In times like this, we will often discipline ourselves to take a walk together, go for a drive, or even go to the mall together. It takes us away from the routines, phones and television and forces us to simply be together and talk. Communication is the fuel of a healthy marriage.

Again, I hear young couples all the time say they can’t make this work. For Cheryl and I when we were in this stage of life it was usually the last minutes of the day before we turned out the lights, but we were intentional to unpack the day together. If you find time to update Facebook and surf the web – or keep up with your favorite televisions program – you have time to talk. It takes an intentional effort.

Want an action step? Tonight – put your phones down, close the laptop, cut off the television, and for at least 30 minutes, talk. Bonus health points to take a walk together. (If you’re old enough – like us – you can even power walk the mall. 🙂 )

Communicate better

It’s not enough to spend time talking. We’ve got to learn to communicate more effectively. We all need to practice our listening skills and the gestures and body language we use. Often these are heard louder than our words. If you become as conscious of how you are saying something as much as what you say, you’ll find yourself injuring the other person less and causing fewer conflicts. It’s important to ask each other questions which spur deeper discussion and get to the heart of an issue rather than surface talk.

An action step here is to come up with a series of open-ended questions, 3 to 5 total, of things you’re curious about your spouse. (Such as: What’s your favorite memory of our first few dates together? Be creative here. Act like you’re getting to know each other all over again.)

Spend time dreaming together

Dreaming stretches the heart and mind and there’s no one we should dream with more than our spouse. As couples settle into routines, sometimes we stop doing this the way we once did. Dreaming together aligns the couple around shared values and goals.

Here’s an action you can do. Make a dream grid for each of you and for the couple. It can be one grid combined if you prefer. For each spouse and for the marriage, list 2 or 3 dreams you have. If there were no limitations, what would you like to do? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet? Place this somewhere in your house you’ll see often and discuss them on your date night.

Pray for one another

Did I really have to list this one? But, would you be honest enough to admit almost all of us are weak in the area of prayer at times? And, who more important to pray for than the one with whom we are to be becoming one?

An action step you can do today – Buy a notebook of some kind and make it a prayer booklet. List new prayer requests for your spouse and update old ones at least weekly. Spend a few minutes each day praying for the love of your life.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. No doubt you’ve got your own ideas. Of course, none of these are fool proof. There’s no secret formula to a good marriage. It takes commitment, intentionality and hard work – and two willing people. But, two people working together can take actions which can spur a healthier marriage.

What tips to you have to strengthen a marriage?

Read the comments on THIS POST for some cheap date ideas.

10 Prayers Every Wife Should Pray for Her Husband

Dear Lord,

Please help him to learn and manage healthy balance – between work, family, and play.

Allow him to know his full potential and how much his family believes in him.

Give him confidence in his God-given abilities.

Soften his heart to appreciate and enjoy the things which please you most.

Remove guilt from his life and let him rest in the sufficiency of your grace extended to him.

Give him meaningful friendships with other men who will challenge, encourage, and hold him accountable.

Grant him wisdom to know Your will so he may lead his family and life well.

Supply him with God-given courage to face the challenges which come our way with strength and boldness.

Help him to slow down, enjoy life, and appreciate the little things, which are often proven someday to be the big things.

Grow his love for You and his family daily. Keep him as the apple of your eye.

In Jesus name,

Amen

7 Suggestions When a Good Marriage Isn’t Working

All marriages go through periods where things just aren’t as they should be. It’s a natural occurrence in any relationship involving people. (I suppose this would include most marriages). The stress and pace of life causes tension in the best marriages. Even good marriages suffer at times.

Cheryl and I have had several of those times, usually due to external pressures we did not cause or invite. It could be my work – or hers – or family situations. Outside stress causes tension in the relationship. Things aren’t falling apart. We aren’t questioning our commitment to each other, but we both know things aren’t working as well as they should be. We are having more miscommunication, we are more tense in our reaction to each other, or we may just feel we are passing each other through our days, not connecting as well as we usually do. Thankfully, we’ve always been intentional during those times.

Those times are usually seasonal and they happen in most every marriage. This appears especially true in the earlier years of the marriage, but we shouldn’t be surprised if they happen later in a marriage either. When major changes in the marriage or in life occur, such as children moving out of the house, loss of job, or other serious trauma, marriages can struggle for a time. That’s normal.

Those periods can last a week, a few weeks, or a month or more. It isn’t that the couple doesn’t love each other, or even that they want out of the marriage, but that they just aren’t on the same page as much as they should be. The key in those times isn’t to panic, but to intentionally work to restore total health to the marriage.

Has your marriage ever been there?

During these times the way a couple responds is critically important to the long-term strength of the marriage. Ignoring these times – or pretending they don’t exist – could have disastrous consequences.

Here are 7 suggestions for those seasons of marriage:

Communicate

It is especially important during stressful seasons you keep talking, to each other and to God. Even when it’s awkward to do so keep the lines of communication open. Admit where you are in the marriage. Again, this may hurt for a time, but it’s better to be honest now than to allow the marriage to fall apart or slip further from health later. You may need to schedule times to talk – timing is important – but don’t neglect this one.

Stay close

Keep doing things together. Sleep in the same bed. Find times to do special activities. Have regular date nights. Talk. This will help protect your heart from wandering. You must not let the tension of the times become a wedge between you. This includes letting other people – friends, coworkers, in-laws, parents, even children – should not intefere in the closeness you share with your spouse. Protect the integrity of your relationship. At one time you would have probably considered yourselves best friends. Rekindle those days.

Discipline yourself

There will be times when you are tempted to say the wrong things or treat your spouse unkindly. It will require discipline to do the right thing, and say the right thing, but it will help protect the marriage. Here’s where you may have to use the Spirit of God’s strength working in you. Before you start to say something you may regret – whisper a prayer asking for God’s help.

I always suggest this question. Would you let other people talk to your spouse the way you are talking to them?

Get help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – and, don’t wait until things are beyond repair to do so. Even the best marriages need some at times. This may be counseling, meeting with Christian friends you trust, or doing a Bible study together, but it is important you invite someone to speak into your life. This is an investment in your marriage which may help you get to a new level of trust and intimacy you’ve never experienced – or haven’t experienced in a while.

Of course, the greatest help you can get is from the Creator of marriage. Now is a time to grow your relationship with God individually and as a couple.

Learn

There are always principles to strengthen your marriage that can be learned during these times. Cheryl and I have learned, for example, that during especially stressful periods we have to be more intentional with our marriage. You may need to learn how to communicate better, how to handle conflict, or how to dream together again. This is a great season to do some of those things. It’s also a good idea to surround yourself with people in stronger marriages – maybe even find an older, mature couple to mentor you in marriage. (This is usually not parents. You need more objective voices.)

Be Patient

When you are in a “season” you’ll want change immediately, but relationships don’t work that way. Chances are it will take longer than you expect or want it to take to get through this period. Be patient. A good marriage is worth it.

Hang on

This may be the most important. Don’t give up! Renew your commitment to the marriage and each other. These seasons won’t last forever if you continue to work on your marriage. Be committed enough to your marriage to stick with it until this season passes. Every marriage can be restored and improved with two parties working together – especially if you are intentional and do something before things get desperate.

Keep in mind, I’m not talking about times of abuse, neglect, affairs, or severe marriage issues. I’m speaking of times when the marriage just isn’t as much fun anymore. This is also when both spouses still want the marriage to work and are willing to work at making the marriage better. If any of those more serious issues are occurring, get serious help immediately.

You might also read my post “Making Marriage Fun Again“.

Again, have you been there?

Help others out. How did your marriage survive through a stressful time in marriage?

4 Ways to Keep Your Marriage from being Injured During the Holidays

The Christmas season can be hard on relationships. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a couple after the holidays because of problems developed – or were exaggerated – between Thanksgiving and New Years.

How can you protect your marriage this Christmas? Sounds like a good goal, right?

Here are 4 suggestions to keep your marriage from being injured during the Christmas season?

Plan a budget together.

Agree upon how much you are going to spend – and, stick to it. This may require compromise. There will often be one spender and one saver in a relationship. Or two spenders. A good principle is don’t spend in December what you’re going to regret in January. Be wise on the front end.

Protect your family first.

Even if it means saying no to some extended family events or time with friends, put your immediate family needs ahead of other obligations. Have time together as a family. (For years we did this wrong and we regretted it later. It wasn’t until our boys were in high school and they could voice that they wanted more time with just us that we started to scale back our schedule.) As a couple, agree on where you’ll spend your time before you spend your time anywhere this holiday season. You may have to support each other with the other spouse’s families. (Wives speak to their families. Husbands speak to their families.) This doesn’t mean your decision will be popular or that it won’t be challenged, but your children will only be children for a few short years.

Build traditions which help build the family.

We often get distracted by things which matter less. Find a way to celebrate the reason for the season together. It could be reading the Christmas story or serving at a homeless shelter or annually letting Linus from Charlie Brown’s Christmas remind you of the true meaning of Christmas as you watch it together. The baby, who is a Savior, has been born – He is Christ the Lord. Lead your family to celebrate Christmas – the real Christmas – and you’ll enjoy it even more.

When tension is outside don’t let it reign inside.

The Christmas season can be so busy. It’s hard to be everywhere we are expected to be. It seems emotions run abnormally high this time of year. People who don’t see each other often are in close quarters with one another. It can lead to tense relations. There’s often tension in the stores and on the streets and in someone’s kitchen. Decide now nothing will distract you from the closeness you have as a couple and as a family. Make this a celebration season which grows your heart stronger as a couple and a home.

Just a few suggestions. Any you have?

9 Suggestions for Winning Back The Heart Of Your Wife

In working with marriages in distress I’ve discovered most men have injured the women in their life emotionally, at least at some level. To understand how this can happen one needs to first understand one of the ways men and women are usually different. Most men are predominantly thinking beings – they receive and process experiences in life in a predominately rational and logical way. If someone says something which offends a man he will accept or dismiss it based on whether it is true.

Most women are different. Women are usually more in tune with their emotions. They are often more relationally aware. When life happens to them their dominant reaction is often to respond emotionally first. When someone hurts a woman’s feelings, for example, even though the information they receive may be false, it takes them longer to work through the feelings associated with the emotional injury. 

(Of course both of these two paragraphs are general statements, but they ring true for most men and women.) I would contend though – every woman’s heart is injured to a certain extent. (And, fairly, probably every man’s.) Sometimes this injury occurs gradually over time. Sometimes it comes suddenly through serious breaches in the marriage trust.

The heart, speaking in terms of the seat of our emotions, was created much like other parts of the body. When a finger is broken the body is designed to instantly start to heal and protect itself from further injury. When a person takes a swing at you your natural reaction is to put your hands up in defense.

The same is true of the heart. When a person’s heart is injured, it goes into a self-protective mode to keep it from further injury. Over time, after years of injury, the heart becomes almost calloused, refusing to allow anyone to injure the heart again. A woman who has had years of emotional injury doesn’t have much heart left to give to anyone, but especially to the one who has done the injury. She has closed off her heart to keep from being hurt anymore.

Most men enjoy trying to “fix” problems, but men cannot fix their wife’s emotions. Emotions are not repaired as easily as one could fix a leaking faucet or program a computer. So what is a man to do if he feels his wife’s heart is injured? How do you heal a broken heart? 

Of course, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He can come in, erase all the pain, and make the heart brand new. Most of the time, however, at least in my experience, He lets us wrestle with life’s heartache while we learn to better love one another.

The following steps are designed for a man to help heal his wife’s heart. This post developed when a pastor came to me with a horrible story of his wife’s sexual abuse as a child. Even today she struggles to trust any man, including her husband. I gave him this advice.

Here are 9 suggestions for winning back the heart of your wife:

Seek God

Whatever draws you closer to God is a good thing — and will make you a better man, regardless of what happens with your marriage. When you are attempting to rekindle your wife’s love, use this time to develop and strengthen your relationship with God. It starts, as all relationships with God begin, through a recognition of who Christ is and your belief in Him. Start there and grow.

Practice patience.

The first thing men need to do is to recognize restoring a broken heart will not happen overnight. Emotions heal very slowly. Steps should begin to restore an injured heart or to rebuild the marriage, but men should not expect too much too soon.

Love your wife

This is by far their greatest need. Most wives have their love need unmet. The standard for our love is perfection, since a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the church. As imperfect men we will actually never love our wife enough. The wife knows, however, when the husband’s attention is somewhere else. Many men sacrifice their marriage for their careers or other interests. A wife’s love need is new every day. A wife needs to know that she is second only to God in her husband’s affections. 

I have found for my love for my Cheryl to grow I need Christ’s help. I pray for this often.

Romance her

Every woman has a certain need for romance. Many wives had a fairy tale idea of marriage when they were growing up. They realize early in marriage this isn’t reality, but their need for occasional romance remains. Most men rarely know how to do this. A man should be genuine, but should recognize and value the uniqueness of his wife and find ways to give her romance. 

I gave my wife a “romantic” trip to New York City for Christmas one year. We were going to dance, walk through Central Park, and just enjoy each other. It didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned it, but I earned huge points in the romance category with my wife.

Value words

When a man comes home and says “This house is a mess”, being a mostly factual being, that’s probably all he meant. He looked around, made a physical observation, and stated a factual conclusion. The wife, however, probably did not receive the information that way. The wife most likely heard lots of negative information, such as, “You have done nothing all day”, or maybe even, “I don’t like you.” This sounds impossible to most guy’s rational minds, but with emotions receiving information anything could be heard, whether it was the intended response or not. Men need to learn how to be gentle with their wives and the words they use.  

One question I ask men, “Would you let another man talk to your wife the way you talk to her?”

Communicate on her terms

Many women communicate best heart to heart – not head to head.  A man should allow his wife to see his heart. He should be willing to be vulnerable with her. Men may need to ask their wives to help them learn how to say things to her. Men cannot talk to their wives as they would their guy friends. Women require understanding, compassion, openness and honesty in communication.

Give constant assurance

Trust is an important need for a woman in relationships. The wife needs to know that her husband is going to be faithful. Men should not take offense, for example, when their wife asks details about their schedule or the activities of their day. The wife desires to be a partner in her husband’s life and these details help her provide trust and security in the relationship. A man should also tell his wife frequently he loves her and is committed to her. She needs this consistent assurance.

Learn to Live by Truth

Ultimately life cannot be lived strictly by emotions. We need truth. Emotions are often unreliable. A woman who feels unloved may be very much loved by her family, but she fails to feel that truth because of years of emotional abuse. Men should gently, but consistently speak truth in love, reminding his wife of her worth, her beauty, and her place in his life. Over time – truth, when given with love, can help heal damaged emotions.

Keep doing it!

The heart is damaged over years and years of injury. Sadly many women have deep and tragic heart wounds, but much of this injury will have been unintentionally delivered and small in terms of the magnitude of the incident. Years of emotional injury builds up in the heart until the heart becomes closed.  The erasing of the pain will happen just as it was developed – a little bit at a time. The husband cannot try this for a week and then stop. Protecting a woman’s heart must become a lifestyle.

Recently I was talking with a man whose wife is experience deep depression. As I talked with this man it became apparent that, though probably unknowingly, he had been damaging his wife’s heart for years. He cannot seem to understand why his wife is so emotional; “Everything seems to upset her”, he said. The man told me he had tried to help her through her problems and everything they had going against them he could “fix” if she would let him. I am not sure I could have ever convinced this man his attempts at “repair” were probably one of the chief causes of his wife’s broken heart.

Most men tell me they don’t know how to be who their wife needs them to be or wants them to be. I believe if we want to win back the heart of our wife we may need to learn how. It’s never too late to begin!

7 Ways for a Husband to Encourage His Wife

I’m not a perfect husband.

I’m not a perfect husband.

I’m not a perfect husband.

I would write that 100 times, but I think you get the message and I’d probably lose most of you at number 17. That’s the average number of times you’ll read the same thing. (Of course, I just made that up.)

But, I want it clear up front, I’m not a perfect husband.

I have learned a few things and I do want to be a better husband. I know, for example, part of my happiness is found in Cheryl being happy. I love my wife enough I want her to be happy. I think most husbands would agree with this statement. If not, its time to get outside help for the marriage.

Obviously, I can’t control all the things which happen in a day for her. I can’t stop people from being rude to her as she drives to work. I can’t keep the co-worker who is having a bad day from taking her bad day out on Cheryl. I can’t stop the pressures and stress Cheryl will encounter by being a pastor’s wife or by being a friend, mother, daughter or sister.

All I can control is the way I respond to Cheryl and the things I do to encourage her happiness. I do believe – as I read Scripture – just as I strategically think for my ministry, I should strategically think how to encourage my wife. It’s part of loving my wife as Christ loves the church.

Obviously a wife wants to know she’s loved, that you believe in her and respect her, and that we are committed long-term to the relationship. But, what are some practical ways to show this on a continual basis? Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

Here are a 7 ways I try to encourage Cheryl:

Send flowers – when they aren’t expected. 

This seems so trivial, but I honestly have to remind myself to do this. Flowers on a special occasion are nice, but I have found the ones she enjoys the most are sent on the days she’s not looking for flowers. This could be something besides flowers if your wife isn’t into flowers much, but I’ve also discovered many of the practical-minded women who say they don’t want flowers actually love receiving them occasionally.

Reserve a day – just for her.

I try to do this every Saturday. I let few things interrupt this day and none without consulting with Cheryl first. You may not be able to do this once a week and it may not be for a full day, but it should be consistent enough she can anticipate it. I think it’s great if these are placed on the calendar and trump other interruptions. (There are always emergencies, but as much as possible keep them. Plus, some things we claim as emergencies could actually be delegated to someone else.) During the times when life is most stressful and you are pulled in different directions, these reserved times give her something to look forward to and remind her you’ll be able to “catch up” soon.

Give a gift which keeps on giving.

This idea is brilliant, I must admit. I love to give a gift which takes a while to receive. When the boys were at home and getting away was more difficult, I would give Cheryl a trip for Christmas every year. We would take the trip in May. I would usually pick a location, request brochures, and give them to her as her “big” gift at Christmas. We had months to plan for it, which built positive emotions leading up to the trip and then anticipating the next Christmas trip. (Plus, many of these expenses were paid outside the Christmas spending frenzy, which helped our budget.) We are more flexible with our schedule since the boys have moved out, but I still try to keep something planned ahead for Cheryl to look forward to in the future. These are huge boosts on otherwise cloudy days.

Be a responsive listener.

I realize whenever Cheryl says something there is usually a deeper meaning, so I try to listen for the deeper meaning. I try to understand her thought process.(Girls, guys really do talk in simpler facts, which makes it more difficult for us to understand subtleties sometimes.) Instead of dismissing what Cheryl said, because it wasn’t clear or assuming I know what she’s saying, I ask questions for clarification when needed.

Give her details.

Okay, I know, this one can hurt – and, I’m not the best at it. Again, I’m not the perfect husband here. (Do I need to write that again?) I try allowing Cheryl to ask me questions and I try to tell her when I’ve told her everything I know. I realize details are more important to her than to me. (This may be opposite for you and your spouse.) Cheryl is very accommodating here – knowing I don’t like details. We plan times together where she knows I’m more likely to talk – such as our morning or evening walks. I have to remember though – just because details aren’t important to me doesn’t mean they aren’t to her.

Listen without fixing.

This is my toughest, but just in the last couple week I did this. I hope she caught it. She had a list of things on her mind she was struggling with and I didn’t say a word until she got through all of them. And, it was hard. I am a fixer. I fix problems everyday. Give me a problem and I’ll be quick to race to a solution. I realize many times, however, Cheryl simply wants my ear and not my expert insight.

Brag to others about her.

Let your wife hear you bragging about her to other people. She’s wonderful, right? Let her know you recognize it. Of course, this should be genuine, but I know Cheryl appreciates hearing me affirm her to others. And Cheryl is wonderful. You heard it here first. It’s funny sometimes, because people who haven’t picked Cheryl out in the crowd on Sunday or met her yet, will ask – “Are you ‘the Cheryl’?” They’ve heard me talk about her enough they want to know who she is.

Guys, your list will be different from mine, because your wife is different. Some of them will be the same. The point of this post is to encourage you to think strategically about how you can encourage your wife.

Ladies, feel free to help us men. Most of us really do want you to feel encouraged. So, anything you would add to my list which would encourage you?

7 Tips for Healthier Marriage Communication

Healthy marriages are built on communication. Almost without exception – if you improve communication you improve the marriage. A couple with poor communication will have a difficult time building a successful marriage.

By the way, every marriage could stand to improve in this area.

Here are 7 tips for better communication in marriage:

Be a good listener

You can never expect to grow in your communication until you learn to truly hear one another. Ask yourself – have you been listening lately – really listening? Good listening takes time and effort – and usually a muted television.

Timing is important

Don’t try to address major issues when the other party is distracted. Set aside time to address important topics. Know when to speak and when to listen. A good question here – do you need to be silent more often? Maybe you need to not try to solve the problem today and schedule a time next week to really talk about things which matter.

Never criticize the person

You can address actions, but when you attack the person, defenses rise and communication fails. Every time. Again, ask yourself, are you being critical of the one you are supposed to be building up? Does your spouse feel valued by you?

Be willing to give each other credit for differences

And, there are so many.

Men, you can’t talk to your wives as you talk to your guy friends. She is more tender hearted – understand there is almost always a deeper meaning attached to what they are saying.

Women, if you want your husband to understand something you must say it in a language he understands – which is usually simple – straight-forward. Men don’t as easily read subtleties or between the lines.

Keep emotions under control when trying to communicate

When the female starts shedding tears or the males anger rises, even though both can be natural responses for either person, communication is hindered. Wait until the intense emotions calm, then address the issue. But, definitely address the issue.

Work for prompt resolutions

Don’t let issues linger too long. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. The longer an issue lingers, the harder it is to address. Do you have some issues you need to address now which you’ve been building in your heart as angst against your spouse? The enemy loves to use these as a wedge between couples.

Be willing to humble yourself and forgive

Marriage is hard – people make mistakes. Marriage must be free flowing with continual grace and truth. Are you holding a grudge you need to release? This is not an excuse for bad behavior and we should always strive to do better, but at some point for the marriage to move forward there may need to be forgiveness.

What tips can you share? What has improved the communication in your marriage?

For more help for your marriage, click HERE.

5 Steps to Discern a Change in Ministry Assignment

How do you know when God is closing one door in ministry and opening another?

I get this question a lot and have previously addressed it, but recently I have received it more frequently so I decided to update this post.

Several times in my ministry, first as a layperson and since then in vocational ministry, God has called me to leave one ministry and begin another. It can be a scary place to face the unknown, yet know that God is up to something new in your life. As with most posts I wrote, I share out of my own life experience. It’s the best framework of understanding I have.

I think it is important, however, to realize God uses unequaled experiences in each of our lives. Your experience will likely be different from mine. There was only one burning bush experience we know about in Scripture. At the same time, there are some common patterns I think each of us may experience, while the details remain unique.

This has been the process that I have experienced as God has led me to something new.

Here are 5 steps in discerning a change in ministry assignment:

Wonderful sweet success

Each time the door of a new opportunity opened it began opening (looking back) when things were going well in my current ministry. In fact, people who don’t understand the nature of a call (and some who do) have usually wondered why I would be open to something new.

Inner personal struggle

I usually have not been able to understand what God is up to, but there is something in me (and usually in my wife at the same time) where I know God is doing something new. While I do not know what it is, and not even if it involves a change in my place of ministry, I know God is doing a new work in my heart about something. Almost like the king in Daniel 4 who needed an interpretation, I know there’s something out there but at the time I can’t discern it. (I’m glad I have the Holy Spirit though to help me.)

Closeness to Christ

Brennan Manning calls it a Dangerous love of Christ. During the times leading up to a change of ministry assignment I will be growing in my relationship with Christ, usually in new depths of trust and abandonment. Again, looking back and I can see this clearly, but at the time I usually am just enjoying the ride and the closeness to Christ. Many times God is giving wisdom to share with others and (looking back) I can see that some of it was actually meant for me.

Opportunity presents itself

The opportunity often seems to come from nowhere, but with multiple experiences now I can see the pattern that has occurred each time. It is only after these first three experiences where God brings a new opportunity my way. This is probably because my spirit must be totally aligned with His Spirit in order for me to trust the new work He calls me to, because, again, it usually comes as a surprise. I have yet to be completely “ready” for the next step in my journey with Christ, because it always involves a leap of faith on my part, but this process prepares me to be ready to say “Yes Lord – Here am I – send me.”

I surrendered to God’s call

After I receive confirmation in my spirit, review the journey God has had us on, and Cheryl and I agree on where God is leading, I have yet to refuse the next assignment. I have certainly delayedy response, wrestled through the difficulty and comsulted many advisors, but never refused. That does not mean it is easy to leave my current ministry, but it has always been most rewarding to know we are in the center of God’s will for our life.

A special word to the spouse:

Cheryl has never been “ready” to leave friends in our current ministry, but she has always lined with me in knowing God was calling us to a new work in our life. I wrote about that tension from the spouse’s perspective HERE.

Have you shared these experiences?

What other experiences have you had that have led you to step out by faith into a new adventure with Christ?

4 Expectations Which Can Injure a Marriage

Is your marriage struggling?

I do not at all mean to oversimplify your problems – there is always more to it than what is immediately visible – but, sometimes, in my experience, there may be a problem with expectations.

Expectations are critical for the success of any good relationship – especially in a marriage.

If you have false expectations you will have trouble in your marriage – and, in every relationship of your life.

Here are 4 expectations which can injure a marriage:

Unspoken expectations.

When the couple never lays out their expectations in the marriage one spouse or the other will be disappointed at some point. A lot of couples assume they are on the same page until a problem arises where they find out otherwise.

I have found this especially true with upcoming life ventures. Parenting, as an example. Couples naturally assume they will discipline the same way. They don’t.

The more you can communicate your expectations the better prepared you will be to face life as it comes to you – or as you are living it.

Unclear expectations.

When the couple thinks they’ve communicated expectations, but they didn’t use language the other one could understands there will be problems in the relationship. Everyone communicates differently. Expectations must be clear. And, many times they have to be tested before we understand them.

I have sat with couples who thought they made things clear – or thought the other spouse surely “read their mind”. It’s important to ask questions, such as, “What I hear you saying is _____. Did I understand correctly?”

Unmet expectations.

When the couple had clear expectations – everyone understood them – they’ve even been tested – but, one spouse isn’t holding up their end of the deal – there will be trouble in what was once paradise.

I borrowed from a cliche, because marriage isn’t necessarily always paradise. It certainly should be, however, a relationship where trust is unquestioned. Commitments made in a marriage should be kept at the highest level possible.

Unrealistic expectations.

Some couples have expectations which are impossible for the other spouse to meet. Our spouse is not our savior. They are not perfect. They can’t read our minds. They will make mistakes.

Great marriages major on grace and forgiveness, because we all need lots of it.

How are you doing with setting and keeping expectations in your marriage?

By the way, these 4 are true in other relationships also.