There is now Here

navigation-car-drive-road.jpghad an epiphany this morning. (I love the word epiphany – it is clearly a $5 word). I am an inherently impatient person. I’m the guy that when he plans a vacation would almost always prefer to fly – I just want to get there. I fail to enjoy or embrace the journey when I drive. That mindset carries over to other aspects of my life as well. If I sense that God is calling me to a new place I just want to be there. But this is simply not the way that He operates.

There is no final destination (“there”), at least while we’re here on Earth because God is never through with us. Unlike a vacation destination, we are never able to truly arrive to where God is leading us. As soon as we think we’re approaching our “there”, we realize that He has moved our target further down the road.

But it’s really more than just about an ever-changing destination. I can get so focused on a goal that I can be blind to God’s influence around me in the meantime. A typical conversation between God and I looks something like this.

God: Jerry I want you to leave where you are and go in this direction

Jerry: Okay God, I’m on it. Heading “there” now.

Imagine some time passing, me forging through life with my head down focused on the goal…

Jerry: Uhmm, God, am I ever going to get “there”?

God: Define “there”

Jerry: Where you told me to head, you know… “there”

God: Silly man, yesterday’s “there” is now today’s “here”. Stay faithful and keep going in the direction I told you.

The point of this dialogue is this. We may envision a “there” in our lives or in our marriages, but as long as we’re breathing, God is not done with us yet. It is important for us to not be so focused on an ultimate goal – as if we’ll meet God there. We must realize that God is present with us every step of the journey. He is bringing things into our lives that clearly shape our present and continue to direct our future. It’s easy to miss these if we’re not taking the time to encounter God along the way. Practically speaking, how many times are we looking for a specific answered prayer only to miss the variety of answers God is providing all around us?

My goal is to stop living for a future state, but to enjoy each and every day as God provides it. It doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning the vision that He has created for me, but it does mean that I will attempt to recognize His answers to me all along the journey.

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No Marriage is Perfect

 

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I work with people in various levels of marital distress. I like to think that I provide them with Godly counsel and practical advice on how to make their situation better. But the key here is the word – “better”. I didn’t say “perfect”.

I am blessed with having a great marriage. But it is not perfect. Truth be told, there are some days (week/seasons?) where it much farther from perfection than others. Over the course of time, our relationship is clearly trending “up and to the right”, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some short declines from time to time.

If you want to put your marriage to a real test (and who doesn’t – insert sarcastic, laughing emoji here), lead a marriage workshop, mentor another couple or just give advice to a friend in need. As soon as you step out to help others, you put your own marriage in the crosshairs of the enemy. I’m a firm believer that the spiritual realm surrounding us operates much in the same way as the physical realm in which live does. In physics, you learn that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction…”. When we step out in faith, when we share our own real-life examples of marriage trials and successes we often find there is an unseen, but very real push back.

NOTE: I am not implying that God and Satan are equal and opposite, God the creator is clearly superior, but that doesn’t eliminate efforts from “the dark side” to thwart us.

I distinctly remember the days in the past when Tara and I would lead a marriage workshop at our church. Inevitably, on the drive there, we would get into some type of ridiculous argument about who knows what. By the time we would arrive, we would both be so flustered and aggravated that it was all we could do to stop, pray together and go lead the sessions. We might not have argued all week, but sure enough – on that day we would fight passionately.

It should come as no surprise that as I went through the process of writing “Rules of Engagement”, we would find ourselves once again disagreeing on a number of issues. There were days when I felt like a complete hypocrite. “How can I release a book instructing couples on how to fight fair when we can’t do it ourselves?” I would ask. Several times, I questioned my own qualifications in writing it.

But I’m convinced that God doesn’t want us to focus on the little things. He wants us to keep the big picture in mind. Truth be told, our marriage is in a better place than it was when I started writing. I remain convinced that it will be better yet this time next year.

When you read my book (and I really hope you will), I want you to remember that it was not written by a person that has perfected marriage. And if we have the chance to meet, please know that I struggle from time to time in my relationship, just like you do. But do remember – this is a guy that is committed to making it better. At least over the long run…

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New Book Coming!

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 1.47.50 PM             After writing this blog for 10+ years, I finally decided to write a book. The Shocking Marriage Series will include books that contain many of the life lessons provided in this blog over the years. The first book “Rules of Engagement” provides a structured way to be proactive in a marriage by anticipating and planning for issues before they arise. While the notion for this concept originated in marital conflict, the book provides readers with suggested approaches to topics such as communication, intimacy, grief, dealing with outside influences and parenting. Life has taught me that the “heat of the moment” is not the ideal time to figure out how to act or know what to say or do. Taking the time to create some guidelines for your relationship in a “calm” time is an essential step in creating a Shocking Marriage that continues to get better over the years.

Using scripture and God’s design for marriage as a backdrop, this book will enable couples to incorporate tactical agreements in their marriage that can help them get through rough times and ensure that great times remain plentiful.

The book should be available in bookstores and on Amazon.com starting in May 2018.

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #5

shutterstock_342885284Step 5 – Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto is – Be Prepared. As an Eagle Scout myself, incorporating that motto has helped me across a variety of scenarios in my life. In a nutshell, this motto suggests that you look ahead and anticipate the possible issues that could arise in a given situation. For something like camping, that means looking at the weather forecast and packing foul weather gear. In terms of emergency preparedness, it might include having a first aid kit, smoke alarms and a family escape plan from your house. In most instances it pays to look ahead and plan for contingencies. It is much better to be prepared for a situation when it arises as opposed to having to scramble to improvise a solution in the heat of the moment.

This is every bit as true for marriage as it is in other aspects of life. Let’s look at one issue that every couple goes through from time to time: conflict. Disagreements within a marriage are inevitable. When two distinct personalities come together there are going to be times when they don’t see eye to eye. In the heat of an argument, our natural tendency is to try to convince our spouse that our perspective is superior and our thoughts should be pursued. When a conflicting line of thought is raised, it needs to be “shot down” as it must be inferior. Tensions raise, the volume increases and judgment ensues. Sometimes these issues get heated. In these times, words may be said that cause damage to the relationship. While apologies may follow later, the damage has already been done.

How often have you been in a situation like this with your spouse only to look back later and wonder how things escalated so quickly? Sometimes you wonder what you were even fighting about. It started out as one thing and quickly morphed into another. In reality, this situation is really no different than being in a smoke-filled home and wondering how to get out. Without a plan, everyone is running in a different direction. It’s tough to make good decisions in the heat of the moment when emotions are running high. That’s where preparation comes in.

So, how do you prepare for an argument? What if in a calm time you and your spouse were to sit down and openly discuss conflict? Talking about it in a calm time would allow each of you to express your opinions of how arguments unfold, and where they often derail. You may also discover that you each have a distinctive style of confrontation, which on the surface may be incompatible.

An example of this would be when one partner wants to get things off their chest as soon as they arise and the other is more contemplative. When they hear something new, they need time to process it before they can react. In this case, the first partner tries to force the issue to quick resolution before the second has really considered all the options. This can lead to an argument, even if the latter partner might ultimately agree if just given the time to process. Suddenly the argument is not really about the topic initially raised at all…

Imagine discussing this scenario in a relaxed manner. When both of these perspectives are raised (when no issue is at hand) the couple can realize and agree to fight differently. The spouse can still raise issues, but now understands they need to give their partner time to process and think before they begin serious discussion. This could become a “rule” that is followed in the marriage.

Other proactive guidelines can be established as well and followed by the couple. Examples could include things like:

  • Never threaten divorce
  • Avoid words like “always” and “never”
  • Focus on the issue not the person

There are many more that you might create within your marriage. Having these in place will change the way you argue forever.

Proactivity need not stop at conflict however. What if you developed guidelines to guide you through parental issues before you face them (e.g. discipline, curfews, allowances, etc.). Imagine how much better your marriage will be if you are in agreement on these items before you’re approached by your child needing an immediate answer. Other areas could be covered as well, from financial management, to communication, even to intimacy!

Being prepared for a situation before it arises puts you a great step ahead and, when combined with the previous four steps, will help you to create a shocking marriage.

Note: Jerry McColgin’s first book in his Shocking Marriage Series – “Rules of Engagement” will be released this spring. In it, he details out a proactive approach to creating the types of rules and guidelines described in this post. Watch for it on on his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/shockingmarriage or on Amazon.com

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #4

shutterstock_742358413Step #4 – Set Goals

A shocking marriage is one that improves over time. As we’ve already discussed, this doesn’t happen naturally, it takes prioritization and intentionality. Without a concerted effort to improve, marriages simply degrade over time. Anyone who has been in any type of corporate or non-profit setting has experienced the act of setting goals. Typically this is done once per year and your performance is based upon how well you achieved the goals that were set. In some cases your annual increase or bonus is determined based upon this rating. Marital goals are not about performance evaluation and reward. However, they are still critical for ongoing improvement.

Every year my wife and I go out for dinner on our anniversary. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year. We typically go to a nice restaurant that is quiet and romantic – the kind of place that is conducive to intimate conversation. We’re in no hurry on these evenings and let the wait staff know that upon our arrival. As we enjoy our meal, we’ll talk about a variety of things, but one of the key topics is a look back at the past year. We’ll talk about the goals that we set a year ago and openly discuss how we progressed toward them. What went well? What did not go so well? Where have we grown as a couple? Where have we digressed? It’s not like we have a flip chart at our table and are capturing each topic in bullet point form – it’s merely a conversation. But it’s always illuminating. Inevitably, there will be an area that I was blind to that impacted her in a negative way. Again, I’m not talking about earth-shattering discovery here… Typically it’s something far more subtle like “You don’t call me from work everyday like you used to. I miss that.” From my perspective those words told me two things. First, she appreciated when I would call (sometimes I felt like I was bothering her or interrupting her day). Secondly, without realizing it, I had fallen out of the habit of calling. That’s an easy fix!

In addition to sharing “concerns” (that feels like too strong a word for the situation), we celebrate growth and success from the year. As an example I might say, “We went through a rough couple of months financially, but we really pulled together and made it through”. Bringing attention to accomplishments is a great way to increase the bond between spouses.  Sometimes it’s only when you look back that you can appreciate what you really did and how you benefited from it. Acknowledging those victories is critical to moving a marriage forward in a positive way.

Once we’ve  finished looking backward, we begin to look forward to the coming year. We know much of what we will be facing (e.g. a child going to college, or an aging parent that needs care) and we acknowledge that there is much that we don’t know. We discuss plans for the known. But in addition, we focus on areas that we collectively feel we could improve upon. Some years it’s specific items (e.g. we need to pay off the car loan) and other years it’s more of a theme (e.g let’s focus on keeping the spark in our relationship alive). In either case, by agreeing on a direction, we both tend to focus on the same thing in the coming months. Trust me, it feels great the following year when you can look back and say “Wow! We did it”. That typically leads to the realization that we’ve just completed our best year of marriage yet, only to be surpassed by the coming year.

Let me recap. You want a Shocking Marriage? Understand that if you do nothing, it will erode. Be intentional, make your spouse a priority in your life and set some collective goals that the two of you can focus on to take things to another level.

 

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #3

shutterstock_319287863Step #3 – Set Priorities

We saw in the first two steps that (1.) if you do nothing, your marriage will deteriorate and (2.) you need to be intentional in terms of focusing on your relationship to keep it strong. In this step we talk about the need to make your marriage a top priority.

For most couples, marriage starts out as a top priority. Look at any newlywed couple and you’ll see them spending as much time together as physically possible and extending every effort to meet the needs of their partner. This is beautiful and natural, but it doesn’t last forever. In time,  couples begin to take their eyes off of each other and put their attentions toward other people and other life issues. It could be a career that begins to take prominence or it could be the addition of children to the family.

Situations like these need attention and it’s natural for them to consume much of our time. The problem is when the pendulum swings too far and we go from being  spouse-obsessed to barely acknowledging them. Putting our spouse second in our life (first after God) should not be a passing phase, but rather a way of life. Genesis 2:24 says That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. This one flesh concept is unlike any other relationship mentioned in scripture, therefore it is unique.

I have seen many devout Christians who spend daily time in the word and in prayer. They also spend considerable time each day with their kids, helping them with homework, school projects and transporting to and from a variety of events. But when it comes to their spouse, it seems like they get only the passing moments between other commitments.

Of course our children are critical to us and we have to provide them with loving care. But let’s be honest. If we allowed them to, they would take up our every waking moment. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s natural. But we’re called to make our spouse our second priority, then our kids… not the other way around. I’ve seen couples where the wife gets so consumed with “mommy mode” that she has little time or energy for her husband. The implied message to the man becomes “You needed me to give you children, now I’m expendable”. That’s certainly not God’s plan.

I’ve heard it said that the greatest gift we can give our children is a great marriage. Is this a paradox? No! In fact, we model great marriage when we demonstrate this “pecking” order in our relationships. It provides a tremendous sense of security to our kids when they know that mom & dad are in love. This doesn’t mean that we remove focus on our kids and place it completely on our spouse. It’s a balancing act. But a child that occasionally doesn’t get to do something because of spousal plans will survive.

There are always exceptions to this rule. Newborns, sickness, failing parents are all examples where priorities will shift for awhile. the key is to make sure that when possible, your attention shifts back to where it should be. Your relationship with God should come first. When that is in good standing, your next focus should be on your spouse. Keeping things in order will not only build your marriage, but your entire family.

 

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5 Steps to a Shocking Marriage: #2

shutterstock_767098984Step 2 – Be Intentional

We saw in Step 1 that it is important to realize that marriages will erode if they are not focused on and maintained. In this step, we look at the importance of being intentional in a marriage and not letting the relationship slip into auto-pilot mode.

Take a look at your calendar. In a given week, you probably see time blocked out for Dr. appointments, business meetings, children’s sporting practice, piano lessons and volunteer commitments. In our culture, it is rare to have a day or an evening that is not fully booked several days (for some weeks) in advance. It is great to be organized, it prevents us from falling into stress-induced chaos. But our calendars ultimately show our priorities. How many items are on your calendar are specific to your spouse?

Many say “I couldn’t possibly reschedule the events I have this week – they are all critical”.  That could be true, but there are exceptions. My father recently passed away. Within a few days of his passing, all four of his sons and most of his grandchildren were able to travel from all over the country to attend his funeral. I’m sure that each person there had a full calendar before his demise, but they were able to shift things around to make arrangements to be present. That’s because his funeral was a higher priority than the other events they had scheduled. So it’s apparent that we do have some flexibility in terms of our schedules, it’s just a matter of what we deem critical.

Scripture tells us that our most important relationship is with God, and our second most important is with our spouse. While many of us will put church events on the calendar, it does seem that #2 gets shorted in terms of scheduling time. It’s as if we’re saying that marriage happens in the non-scheduled gaps of time. The problem is for many of us, we have few if any such gaps.

So what does it look like to be intentional? This will vary from couple to couple, but in any case it requires setting time aside to do something with your spouse. Take date night for example. You may wait until you have a Friday night with nothing else scheduled to go out. The reality is, by waiting until the last minute your baby sitter may not be available, or the restaurant you’ve been dying to go to has no reservations available that evening. Giving date night the same (or greater) importance as other events in your life will prevent that from occurring.

Spontaneity is a great thing. In my marriage the things we decide to do on the spur of the moment are often times the most fun and memorable. We take advantage of that whenever possible. But these moments should be enjoyed in addition to scheduled time, not instead of. If growing your relationship is dependent of unexpected free time, you’re in trouble.

I’ve blogged about this before, but one simple thing that we did when our kids were young was to schedule something we called “martini Mondays”. Because our weekends were often so full with family and church activities we often struggled to find time alone where we could just be together to talk, plan and dream. So we chose Mondays, a day that otherwise could be somewhat miserable, to set aside an hour once I got home from work. We would enjoy a drink together (sometimes a martini, sometimes iced tea – we were beverage agnostic) and talk for an hour. The kids were home, but they came to respect that hour as “sacred’ mommy and daddy time and knew not to disturb us unless there was a true emergency. What was otherwise a rough day of the week became our very favorite because of this intentional time. An unexpected benefit of this was that we were modeling behavior for our children that we now see in them now that they have kids of their own.

Your marriage is the most important relationship you have with another human. Be intentional. Set aside time to make sure you are growing it and not just allowing it to erode. Your spouse deserves some calendar time…

 

 

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