I recently attended a workshop on church growth and the speaker spent considerable time describing the proper use of the glance and the gaze. Now obviously a "glance" is when we take a quick look; we notice certain key things and then move on. A "gaze" occurs when something has truly caught our attention. When we gaze at something we behold it, analyze it, study it. Unfortunately, he told us, many church's get stuck because they gaze at all of their problems and only take an occasional glance at their dreams, hopes, and vision for the future. The result is a problem focused church with little or no awareness of a future plan.
This same principle holds true in our personal life. As Michelle Weiner-Davis has said, "We become experts on what's wrong with us" but have very limited understanding of what it really is that we want for our life; let alone what that life would look like. What we need to do is to develop the discipline of taking an occasional glance at our problems, struggles, and short-comings, but learn to gaze at our vision (what some would call our preferred future).
It's necessary, at times, to consider our failings. Inviting the Lord to guide us as we examine our heart so that we might know what sins to confess or behaviors to abandon is a discipline that brings us healing and wholeness. But to look at our life (our marriage, or job) as through a microscope is truly a strategy for defeat.
What are your Best Hopes? What are your dreams? What does this preferred future really look like? This is where our gaze should be fixed. So I invite you to set the microscope aside and pick up the binoculars. Look into the future and catch a vision of where God really wants to take you. This is where your gaze should be. It is the direction in which our gaze is fixed that our life, most likely, will head.
I'm impressed when I hear my friend David talk about his golf game. Years ago he and I used to play together regularly but more recently my outings have dropped off while his have increased. He plays every week, takes lessons, and is now shooting in the low 80's and high 70's! This is a marked improvement from when we used to play together. I've asked him how he has made such improvement and he told me that and in addition to regular practice and lessons, "if my swing just isn't working I try something different." That makes perfect sense. Why would one continue with the same old swing when the result is not what is wanted?
It is amazing, however, how often we get stuck in a rut and keep trying the same old thing, obviously getting the same old result. Parents often times employ the same old parenting strategy even though their child's attitudes and behavior are unacceptable. Couples often proceed with communication styles that never bring them closer to resolving conflict. Individuals try to come to grips with personal problems using techniques that failed through previous attempts. For each of these the wisdom of my friend make sense: Do Something Different! It is usually when we are willing to experiment and change that we eventually find the solution for the problem we are facing. Are you "stuck in a rut?" My Solution Focused advice for you is to do something different. You might just find your score and your life are getting better.
Life is filled with losses and anytime there is loss there is grief. Losses can include the loss of relationships, the loss of things, the loss of opportunities, the loss of innocence; the list can go on and on. Whatever the loss, grief can (and most likely will) be found. I have recently been reminded of this in powerful way.
Six years ago an orange and white kitten strolled by our house and stopped for a visit. He didn't stay long, but in the days that followed he returned, and returned, and returned. You guessed it; he soon became our cat. My wife named our new friend Crybaby because he meowed so much. But as time went on he really became my cat and I realized that I should have named him Cuddles because he became the most affectionate cat I have ever seen. Crybaby and I became buddies. When I watched TV or tried to read my Bible, he was in my lap. He would come into the bath room in the morning to watch me shave. When I went to sleep he wanted to rest on my tummy. He was my constant companion and very dear friend.
Then one night, while sitting on the couch, I looked over and saw him lying beside a chair. He wasn't moving. Though I called him he didn't come. When I went to find out why I discovered he was dead! What an incredible shock. I took him immediately to the Vet and it was determined that he died of cardiomyopathy - in short, heart failure. I was crushed.
Now obviously the loss of a cat is not the same thing as the loss of human being. But for several days my mind didn't really resonate with that truth. My heart was broken. I cried on and off for several days. It took over a week before I begin to feel "not sick" and even though he's been gone for weeks I still miss him deeply. How can we "heal" from the loss of such a good friend?
I know no magic formula for overcoming grief but I have found several things to be helpful: First, I've tried to be honest with God. In my times of prayer I've told God how much I miss Crybaby and how hurt and confused I've been following his sudden loss. Second, I've had many visits with my wife and close friends. They have listened and with kind words have encouraged and comforted me. Third, to the best of my ability as the days have moved on I've tried to "entrust" my friend to God's care and give thanks for the time we've shared together. I really don't know what happens to animals after they die. I do know that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge and care of our loving Heavenly Father. I believe I can place Crybaby into God's hands.
Sometimes I wish that life was easier. Sometimes I wish that we didn't experience heart ache or pain. But in this life trials, troubles, and heart ache are real. God may not keep us from life hurt, but He is with us in it; and by His grace, He can see us through.
Sometimes the unthinkable happens. We hear sirens; see fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars all heading towards the local school. Tragedy has surely struck! This was the scene witnessed by many in the town of Stillwater Oklahoma last week as a young women walked into one of the elementary schools carrying a backpack, and exclaimed, "I'm here to take all the children to heaven." Obviously, the school went into crisis mode! Office staff were able to quick subdue the intruder; still the extent of what they were dealing with was unknown. Authorities were called and an evacuation of the school was begun. Children were escorted out of the building to a "safe place" while police and fire teams secured the building. Fortunately no explosives were found. The event ended up not to be an act of terrorism but rather the acting out of mentally unstable woman. Still, the children had witnessed an alarming scene. Though the teachers did their best at maintaining order and calm, many of the children knew that something was terribly wrong. "What do we tell the children?", one mother asked. My recommendation is to comfort them with the truth.
Some see the glass half empty; others see the glass half full. For those who know Christ, however, it's difficult to comprehend how we can see our cup as anything but "overflowing."
Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all things, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (TNIV). This is a spiritual principle to be sure. But it is also a great mental health principle as well. When our mind and heart are focused on the many reasons we have for thanksgiving, the impetus for complaining, criticizing, and dwelling on our troubles disappears.
Today, as I launch this web-site, and the Living Hope Family Therapy and Counseling practice, I would like to begin by saying "Thank you" to a number who have encouraged and assisted me in this journey:
First, I would like to express my thanks to my therapist colleagues: Dr. David Croninger, Dr. Mary Ventonis, and therapist Marie Anderson who have encouraged me and given me hours of advice and feedback regarding the practical matters of private practice.
Second, I would like to thank my Administrative Assistant, Michelle Fells, whose technical expertise in computer systems and web-site design have made the production of this site a reality.
Third, I would like to say a word of thanks to the pioneers of marriage and family therapy in Oklahoma. People like Dr. Dale Doty who were practicing and teaching family therapy in Oklahoma before many even knew what it was.
Fourth, I would express my deep thanks for my family: my wife, Kristi, my daughter Beth, my son John, my mother and father, Jean and Owen, and my daughter-in-law and grandchildren - Alicia, Andy, and Sam. These loved ones, by their love, commitment, forgiveness, and grace, have reminded me daily what a family is all about.
Most of all, I thank God for the living hope He has given me through the person of Jesus Christ. I pray I will always have the wisdom to abide in His amazing grace.