Monday, April 11, 2011

The Story of Robert: 70 and Ready to Fight

The following is shared with the permission of Robert:

This past weekend I flew out to Newport Beach, California to help staff the Everyman's Battle Conference for New Life ministries. Once I arrived I was given the names of the 7 men that I would be leading over the next 3 days. Robert didn't stand out to me at that point, but by the end of the weekend I would never forget him.

As the men gathered in my hotel room for the first session I was a little nervous as Robert entered the room. He was obviously older than the others, and deep down inside I had bought into the lie that "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." I could already imagine him questioning me, and wondering if this 36 year old "kid" had anything to offer him.

It didn't take long to see his heart and realize that I had completely misjudged this man. He shared his story, and for the first time shed tears for a father that kept him at arms length from childhood until his death. Clearly this was a man who was eager to connect with others, and had a genuine desire to change.

The most powerful moment came midway through the second day of the conference. Sitting in a circle on the sixth floor of the Radisson Robert declared "I want to get control of my addiction before I die." Now some other men might have said those words in a joking manner. Meaning they wanted to see victory sooner rather than later. But Robert literally meant he wanted to finish the race strong. He wasn't afraid to admit that at 70 time is precious and running short. His body and the 4 funerals he had attended in the last few months were reminders that time is fleeting.

It wasn't until later that day that Robert's words caught up with me. Once they did I found myself deeply moved by a man who had decided that he was going out with his boots on! More than that he had also shared his desire to help other men his age dealing with the same issues of sexual addiction.

So at 70 years old Robert left the conference not only intent on fighting for his own heart, but also fighting for the hearts of others. I walked away marveling at what I get to see God do, and realizing that He never counts anyone out.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Every Man's Battle - Dallas

Part of the work I get to do involves staffing conferences for a counseling organization called New Life Ministries. One of the resources they offer is called the Every Man's Battle conference. This is a 3 day conference for men who struggle with sexual addiction and have had extra-martial affairs. The goal is to help these men move away from destructive ways of living, and become a man who can love his wife and family well.

Two weeks ago I staffed a conference in Dallas. I had the privilege of leading a group of 8 men for the entire weekend. In the beginning they treated each other as strangers, and by the end of the conference they were encouraging and challenging one another to a different way of living. For some this was the first time they had shared their struggles with another person.

At the end of the conference one married man (not in my group) confessed that when he first arrived in Dallas he set up a rendezvous with an old girlfriend. During the program he became so convicted about how he had been living that he called his close friends, confessed his actions, and canceled the meeting. He went home with a renewed desire to repair his marriage.

Another victory!

New Focus

Blogging has always been difficult for me. I've never had a real interest at this stage in life to wax eloquent about different topics. That's probably why I have rarely blogged in the past. With that in mind I have decided to change the focus of my blog. Instead of commentary on life, I want to share what I am seeing God do everyday. Being a counselor often feels like being a battlefield medic. I enter into many messy situations, and see a great deal of pain. I also get to see God come through in some amazing ways, and I want others to know about it!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Powerlessness and Anger

Just some quick thoughts about powerlessness and anger. Today was one of those days when nothing went right. Phone died, clients canceling because of bad weather, and so on, and so on. Only for a few moments today did I feel like I had any control over my day. today was also a day that I found my self struggling with intense anger. Why is it that when we feel powerless we get angry. I think the main reason is that it's scary when we are faced with the fact that we don't have as much control over our lives as we thought. This is especially true when we've had experiences early on in life where we felt out of control, or trapped in a situation. Though we might feel fear, anger is a much safer place. There is no sense of vulnerability in being angry.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Portrait of Leadership

I am sitting here in my office at home grieving over a man I never knew. His name is Dick Winters, and he was the commander of Easy Company. They were the WWII paratroopers of the 101st airborne made famous by the series Band of Brothers. He died last week in central Pennsylvania at the age of 92.

Watching the Band of Brothers series and its companion documentary it was clear that Dick Winters was a MAN deserving of all caps. While all of this was fresh I wanted to capture just a few of the characteristics that I admired about him.

First, he cared deeply for those in his charge. He was always concerned with their needs and well being before his own. He never saw those in his command as a means to make himself look good. Rather, he saw them as something valuable that was entrusted to him. He SERVED his men.

Second, he was a cunning warrior with a heart. His steady hand in battle and patience won the day on more than a few occasions. Yet, when you watch the documentary interview with him about the end of the war he weeps. He weeps for those who were lost, for the pain of war, and for the men that stood beside him in the trenches.

Finally, he was flat out brave. In one scene from Band of Brothers he hears a whistle and charges so far in front of his men that he is essentially alone on the battlefield. He also made hard decisions because they were right, not because they felt good or were popular.

So, I am still sitting here with that pit in my stomach. Not because I will miss him...I never knew him. But when a man like that passes you feel the depth of the space he leaves in his absence.

My God what a man.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bitter Pill of Self Denial

Let me start by saying I hate denying myself. Part of me would rather eat the entire sleeve of Oreos. It's the same part of me that sees a new gadget or Blu-ray at Best Buy and justifies slapping down the money. Still, self-denial is probably one of the healthiest things we can do as people. It develops our character, protects our health, and guards us from the hazardous effects of self-centeredness.

As I was thinking more about this it seemed that theta were three categories of self-denial. Self-denial that is commanded by God, self-denial that is not commanded but benefits us, and self-denial that benefits others. These don't stand alone. In fact they intertwine quite a bit.

The first category is the self denial commanded by God. The bottom line is that there are some things that God says, "you might want to do it, but I am telling you not to." Clearest example I can think of is sex outside of marriage. Now, ultimately God says no for our benefit. Why you ask? I have counseled many couples over the years, and I have never worked with one that had sex outside of marriage (with each other or another person)that didn't carry that baggage into the relationship. I believe sex is like crazy glue for the soul. It is such a deep and wonderful thing that it literally binds your soul with the other person. Physics may say that different matter can't occupy the same space at the same time. However, emotionally speaking sex makes that happen! So, God says no because he knows how damaging it is to have sex with a person and then pull apart from them. It is like tearing flesh. That is why He wants us to enjoy it in a setting that, hopefully, is one of major commitment. In marriage we are saying, "I am with you forever," and that makes it safe to enjoy sex to the full.

The second category is self-denial that is not commanded but benefits you. Cut to the Oreos! Now I know that Oreos are not forbidden by scripture, and I am thankful for that every day. However, even though God doesn't forbid me to eat Oreos, that doesn't mean I should eat... a lot of them. So, some self-denial is not necessarily commanded, but is just wise living.

The third category is self-denial that benefit others. It is not just that God is telling you to do it, but He's telling you to do it in order to give to someone else. I think our major fear in doing this is that we don't believe that God will provide for us. Christmas is coming soon, and frankly shopping brings out the worst in people. I went once on Black Friday and swore it off forever. It's because you get this survivalist mentality out there. It is as if the world had a planet altering event, and now we are all fighting over food. Except it's not food, it's a digital camera. Anyway, the point is we have a nasty tendency to fall into the, "I gotta get mine," mentality. When God asks you to deny yourself for the benefit of others it requires us to trust that He will meet our needs as we meet an other's.

Ultimately, all self denial is good because it is the anecdote for the poison of self-centeredness. In a 2006 interview with People magazine Brad Pitt talked about how having kids was a blessing because it forced him to take his eyes off himself. Having children, he said,

"completely changes your perspective and certainly takes the focus off yourself, which I'm really grateful for...I'm so tired of thinking about myself. I'm sick of myself.",,1215033,00.html

As much as we strive to take care of #1 it ultimately leads to being deeply dissatisfied. Here is a guy who has it all, and worked hard to climb the ladder of fortune and fame. Yet, ultimately when arrived at the top he realized he had become sick of himself.

I am beginning to grasp the truth that God directs us to deny ourselves not because He gets his jollies from watching us squirm. He does it because He knows it is a preventative treatment (albeit bitter tasting)for the soul. He knows that if we focus only on ourselves and what we want, one day we will wake up and realize we aren't happy....we are miserable.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Weak Men Breed "Cougars"

There is a trend in our culture today that has been bothering me for some time. It is women becoming cougars. Now for the 3 people that don't know what that means, let me explain. A cougar is an older woman (say in her 40's) going after a much younger man (say in his early 20's). This trend has become so mainstream there is a new show on ABC called Cougar Town. It stars Courtney Cox as a divorced mom who starts chasing younger men.

Now let me go on record with something right off: I am 100% for women being empowered. In fact I think strong women have and continue to make an important impact on our world. Also, I think a strong woman is extremely attractive. Throughout our marriage my wife has become stronger and stronger. As she has gotten stronger and more willing to call me out on my crap she has become more and more attractive to me. Her strength has also helped to guide our family, and frankly kept me from making some pretty dumb decisions. So, again I believe women are to be empowered. Let me also say that I think older men pursuing significantly younger women is just as disastrous as "cougarism" (my word). But for now I just want to focus on older women and younger men.

Growing up I had two experiences with cougars. Both happened later in high school and both were women that I trusted. Most people (especially guys) would probably think this was a dream come true to have an older woman pursuing you sexually. Let me say clearly that it wasn't. It was confusing and ultimately violating. At the time as a teenager I didn't have the words or emotional categories to really grasp what was going on. Frankly, in both cases I ran like a scared rabbit.

I really believe that this growing trend toward cougars comes as a result of weak men. I believe women have their part to own as well. Still, I believe that whenever there is a problem in the world, within a marriage, etc. men should be the first ones to own up to their part.

Throughout history men have done a terrible job of empowering women. This goes for the secular world as well as the church. We have not encouraged the strength of women, nor helped to foster it. We have also become extremely passive. We don't pursue women well, and we don't engage the deeper parts of their soul. This has left a great deal of women feeling both rejected and demeaned. This all boils down to fear. The fear is that if a woman is strong then it will call us to more as men. It is intimidating when my wife is not afraid to ask for what she needs from me. Because when she does I am forced to look at where I am being selfish or neglectful. Who wants to do that, right? Yet, it is what I need most as a man. I need a woman who can stand toe to toe and shoulder to shoulder. Because it doesn't allow me to sit on my butt and be passive.

Now the backlash to weak men has been a false model of feminine strength. Cougarism is a glaring example of this idea. Rather than being equal with a man cougarism is the desire to be more powerful than a man. And that is easy to do when you find one who is less mature. Maturity equals power. If I am older and more mature than you, I will be more powerful than you.

Cougarism pretends to provide two things for a woman. The first is that it means she never has to be in a place of weakness. She has all the power in the relationship because she is more mature. Second, she never has to risk rejection. As the more mature pursuer she doesn't have to wait on the man to seek out her heart. This is attractive because most women have waited and hoped for a man to pursue their hearts only to be left feeling forgotten.

To wrap up this trend of cougars worries me. Not because I am against women empowered, but because I believe it is damaging to both women and young men. Women need and deserve a man at their level who will pursue them, love them, and call them to more. Young men are not a challenge emotionally and that is what makes them attractive to a woman wounded by a misogynistic culture. And young men are frankly not mature enough to handle the emotional needs of an older woman.

More thoughts to come on this I'm sure. In the meantime I've put a link here to the latest episode of Cougar Town. What shook me to the core was the sequence near the end when two cougars talk about the smell of "wounded boy." I encourage you to watch for the themes I've been talking about.