Life as a Jigsaw Puzzle

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I like jigsaw puzzles. But I have to admit, I am very dependent on seeing the image on the box. For every piece I pick up, I look to the box to see where it might fit. Once I know about where it goes, I look to the puzzle in process to see where the shape and specific color of that piece might fit in. This is quite different from the way my parents worked on puzzles when I was younger. They would stare intently at the puzzle then search for a specific piece that would either match an unusual shape, or continue with a color pattern that was already forming from the pieces in place.

My wife pointed out recently that my approach to working puzzles is very similar to my approach to life in general. I like to see the big picture and constantly know what I am working toward. As long as I know where I’m headed, I can connect the pieces to get there. I’m not a detail oriented person; to an outside observer my approach may seem chaotic as I jump from task to task. In spite of the lack of structure, every step I take is taking me toward the vision of exactly where I want or need to be.

God doesn’t necessarily work the way that I prefer. It’s as if He hands me one piece of the puzzle at a time and waits for me to connect it with where I’ve been. While I may know the general theme of the puzzle, I certainly cannot tell exactly where it is heading as it slowly comes together. I would love to see the picture on the box that He has me working toward, but instead I have to determine where each piece fits with what is already in place. That’s where faith comes in to play.

I truly believe God has a purpose and a vision for my life and my ministry. As Steven Covey suggests in his books, I would love to work with the end in mind. Instead, I’ve learned to trust that God’s got this, and trust each piece He gives me will move me forward in the right direction.

I have seen puzzles on store shelves and think to myself, “I would never attempt that”. It could have too much of the same color, or be so abstract that it would intimidate me. In my mind, I simply dismiss it as too challenging and never even begin it. It could be that it was no different for the plan for my life. if I saw the big picture, I might panic, give up or never even begin the effort. It may not be this way for everyone, but God seems to know the best way to keep me moving forward – one piece at a time.

I’ve heard it said that if the vision God has given you for your life doesn’t scare you, then you’re probably not truly seeing His vision. You are instead relying on your own limited thoughts and plans. As much as I long to see the big picture for my life, I need to be patient and accept His leading in His timing and in the manner in which He wants to dole it out to me.

Just as God has a plan for our lives, He has a plan for our marriages. We need to be open to hearing His voice and direction. However He chooses to lay that our for us, our call is to be obedient and trust that His ways are better than our ways. We need to know and trust that He has the best intentions for our relationships, so it is critical that we follow His guidance. Whether He chooses to show you the picture on the box, or expects you to put one piece in at a time, He will guide you. Just be willing to move forward with Him.

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Grow Together in Your marriage

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Appreciation is Key in Marriage

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Appreciation is something we see too little of in marriages. It seems over time we come to accept our spouse for who they are and take their special gifts and contributions for granted.

I appreciate that my wife is not just like me. I’ll admit, sometimes it frustrates me when she doesn’t come to the same logical conclusion that I do when faced with an important situation. I can’t fathom why she doesn’t see the obvious way forward that I do. But oddly, she feels the exact same way about me. Ideally, we would seek to truly understand the other’s perspective so that we can compare it to our own. If we can stay objective, we might come to see that there is an alternative we’d not first considered. Realistically, one or the other of us tires of the debate and simply gives in.

I appreciate that my wife has different skills than I do, though sometimes that can drive me nuts. I’m a big picture person, your proverbial dreamer. She is far more structured and practical in her thinking. I think of a time when we decided to clean out an extra bedroom that had turned into long term storage. When we walked in to begin the task, I was immediately overwhelmed with the breadth and the depth of the work in front of us. Truth be told, if on my own, I would have quickly closed the door and sought out a project in another part of the house. But not my wife. With sheer determination, she climbed over and through the piles and boxes and went straight for the closet. In no time at all, she was taking every item out of the closet, sorting, tossing and reorganizing the space. From my perspective, this was near lunacy. With the entire room in the state it was in, why would she focus on such an insignificant area? After an hour of work, that closet was perfect. So we climbed back over the boxes and piles and left the room for another day.

She will quickly point out that my proclivities can drive her mad as well. We decided that we needed to repaint the trim (baseboards, door frames, etc) around the house. Most of them had become scuffed or bare over the twenty years that we’d lived in our home. I went to the store, bought the paint (and a cool little plastic paint bucket that came with disposable liners) and came home to tackle this project. I couldn’t decide where to start. At the front door and work inward? In the upstairs and work down? Maybe in the corner of the hall and work clockwise. After walking through the house multiple times debating where to begin, I finally started painting. The basement window sills – that is the perfect place. I finished there, but decided the light was bad that time of day, so I went upstairs. I painted around the front door (since the light was better). I considered painting the baseboards, but thought my knee was too sore to bend down that much. So I ventured to the mud room where I painted one of the three door frames before I decided to break for dinner.

When she walked by to check on my progress, she noticed a few drips running down the grooves of the frames, and determined that she was better qualified to take on the job from there. The next day as she began, she found herself in a constant state of shaking her head wondering what my logic had been in terms of what I painted and where.

In spite of our collective quirkiness, our marriage works. There are days we drive each other crazy, and there are days we laugh until we cry. I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world. She says she might try to trade me in, but fears there’d be no offers. Part of the fun of marriage is having fun and even poking (good natured) fun at one another. I love her quirks, and she loves mine. God brought us together for a reason – even if it might have been to spare two other fine people!.

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Laughter, Fun & Perspective

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Couples in great marriages laugh a lot. They laugh together and they laugh individually. It is apparent in watching them that they are truly enjoying life and their relationship. Laughter is associated with fun. Nobody laughs when they’re miserable or bored. It is a symptom of a deeper feeling. So why is it so easy for some couples to laugh regularly, and others seem so terminally serious?

It’s all about perspective. It’s how we choose to react or feel in a given situation. I’m not talking about something dire like an emergency, sickness or death, but simply day to day situations. You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to enjoy the moment and laugh.

My wife and I have been on several cruises. It’s a form of vacation that we really enjoy. Granted some of these trips have been better than others, but we have enjoyed each one of them. When we return, I typically go on line to leave a (positive) review, thinking that others might benefit from things that we discovered and loved. I’m always amazed when I read other’s reviews regarding the same trip. They complain about the food, the service, the filth in their rooms, the horrific attitude of the staff, etc. It’s hard to believe that I was actually on the same ship with them. That’s a great example of perspective. Did everything go exactly as we had planned it to go? Probably not. Was every meal worthy of a five-star review? No. Was every show the greatest we’d ever seen? Of course not. But where was our focus? Overall, we had a great time. The good always outweighed the less than perfect (notice I didn’t say bad). It was a week that we got to spend together, away from work and our routines. I always feel bad for people who go on these trips and “choose” to have such a miserable experience.

Sometimes things can be rough. We took a long road trip out West a couple of summers ago with our teens (son and daughter). Exhausted after driving all day, we needed to find a place to spend the night. We weren’t near any major cities (nearest one was going to be another two hours ahead), so we stopped at a motel in a smaller, Colorado town. This place looked like it was right out of an I Love Lucy episode from the 1950s. Two twin beds (and a cot for our daughter) were crammed into a dark, paneled room with a low ceiling. A 16″ flat screen television adorned the wall. There was no restaurant on site, no ice machine, none of the typical amenities that modern hotels offer. We were told there was a bait and tackle store across the street that served meals when they weren’t out fishing. Our teens were ready to leave at that moment. There was nothing about this place that made them want to stay.

But Tara and I saw this as a great adventure (perspective). We began laughing and making it out to be the greatest place imaginable. We even lucked out and found the bait store was serving dinner! In the middle of the night a long train went roaring by (it seemed within feet) the back of the motel literally shaking our beds. The teens woke up and groused, but Tara and I spoke of the additional ambiance that you just couldn’t get anywhere else.

Would I want to spend a week at a motel like that? Absolutely not. But it was one night, and it was far more memorable than staying at any of the chain hotels we were used to. The bottom line is, we chose to enjoy it. We knew it would make a memory and we laughed and laughed. Now, even the teens look back at it with humor.

We recently met with a couple that is working through some issues. We encouraged them to have a date night between our sessions. When we met with them again, they told us the date didn’t go very well. It turns out that he planned the evening. He asked her which of two types of live events she wanted to go to. He had one he really wanted to see (an NBA game), but offered up a second choice that he knew she liked a play at the community theater. She chose to go to the basketball game. From the moment she walked in she made it clear that this was not an experience she would enjoy. The atmosphere, the noise and the crowd were all aspects she disapproved of. As a result, his hope for a fun evening dissipated. When we met the next time and they recalled this story, we encouraged them to consider their perspective. If this was an event she knew in advance she wouldn’t like, she should have chosen the other option. But once she agreed to go, she should have tried to make the most of it. The purpose of date night wasn’t just to see an event (they could watch that at home on tv). It was to spend time together and experience something different. She got so focused on the “what”, she completely missed the “why”. Sometimes just looking at the “why” can help you to adjust your attitude.

Laughter is an indicator of happiness, which is in turn an indicator of a great (shocking) marriage. Make fun and laughter a priority in your marriage!

NOTE: If Laughter and fun are important to you, that should be a part of the Vision for your marriage. If you’ve not created a Vision, consider crafting one in our free course. It will walk you through the process of creating and living out a vision that can guide your relationship into the future!

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Valentine’s Day – Pleasure or Pressure?

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Valentine’s Day fascinates me. No so much the day itself, but rather how people respond to it. Years ago when I was in High School, they used to sell carnations leading up to the day. They had different colors to represent different feelings. Red was for love, green was for friendship, etc. The thing I remember most about that was the day the flowers were delivered. It clearly put people (especially girls) into one of two camps: those that got a flower(s) and those that did not. There were a lot of tears shed when highly coveted and anticipated flowers were never delivered.

Today, Valentine’s Day has become less about men trying to show affection to women and the responsibility is more equally shared. While the spirit of the day is to show love and affection, it’s become an obligation to do something showy. You don’t want to be the couple that did less than your friends or coworkers. Pressure from social media, retailers, florists and restaurants imply that if you love someone, you will do something very special for them on this day. If you do nothing, you must not care at all.

I am a huge fan of expressing love and affection in a relationship, especially in marriage. We should never become complacent or take our spouse for granted. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to show your feelings toward your spouse. But my question is this. Are you celebrating the day to show your true feelings, or are you caving in to social pressure because every one else is?

In our early years of dating and marriage, Valentines Day was a huge deal for me. My love language is gifts, so it was natural for me to express my feelings by buying something special or taking my wife to a nice restaurant. What is interesting, is that her love language is acts of service. She appreciated the things I would purchase, but never came to expect them. During this same timeframe, I remember being disappointed when the day would come and go and there would no reciprocal gift giving (from her to me). It honestly, just never occurred to her.

As a result, most Valentines Days come and go for us with minimal recognition. She doesn’t expect anything, and I typically don’t do much. Now, having said that, let me clarify something. Just because I don’t cave into the pressure to do something on this specific day doesn’t mean that I don’t do things. I still love to express my affection for her through the purchasing of gifts (though I also perform acts of service as well to speak her language). But what I’ve found is that in our marriage, these gifts are far more meaningful when I give them for no specific reason. If I bring her flowers in mid-March, it simply sends the message that I was thinking of her and I love her. To my wife that is more meaningful than to receive roses on Valentine’s Day where she might suspect I simply gave into peer pressure or advertising.

The key is to do what your spouse most appreciates. Not all spouses are like my wife. You may be married to someone that would be terribly disappointed if you didn’t get them something specifically on Valentine’s Day. If that’s the case, please don’t disappoint them. But I can assure you that not limiting this expression of love to one day of the year will be at least equally appreciated, probably more so.

For many, Valentine’s Day serves as a calendar reminder to show our affections. Nothing wrong with that. But I encourage you to check your motivations to ensure that you really are expressing love, not just complying to social pressures. Show your love throughout the year.

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Cast a Vision for your Marriage

Most couples go through some form of planning prior to getting married. They probably discuss things like having children (and how many), careers, and likes and dislikes. Often times, these discussions are more about revealing personal preferences rather than planning for the future. E.g. “Okay, so she wants a big family and I want a kid or two – we’ll work that out later…”

After the wedding, there’s a honeymoon period where everything is perfect and their partner can do no wrong. This is a wonderful time that needs to be experienced by all couples – but unfortunately, it doesn’t last forever. Once the honeymoon phase begins to fade, most couples go back to pursuing individual interests. It’s not an intentional thing, but something that seems to happen naturally. Ironically, most couples don’t realize this is occurring. There’s an assumption both are on the same page, living for the same goals and even working together toward achieving them.

Many couples live like this for years. It’s not an open point of contention, but there are times it causes stress and frustration. It can be maddening when your spouse does not react the way you expect them to when you make a certain decision. You love the idea, why wouldn’t they?

Most of us have a direction for our lives. This is clearer for some than for others, but most are heading toward something. If prompted, you could probably use a blank sheet of paper, and put a big X on “You are here”. You could then probably put a separate point on the paper indicating where you want to go with your life. This could be in terms of your career, your family, your hobbies, your wealth or a variety of other things. We all have dreams and pursue them to some degree.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If you were to do this exercise, and your spouse were to do it independently, how well would your paths line up? Many couples would discover they were heading in different directions. It might be gradual at first, but over time the couple would feel the stress and tension that comes from this disparity. The individual that continually compromises their personal goals to follow their spouse may grow disappointed or even bitter. Over time, these negative feelings can emerge in other, unrelated areas, causing further discord in the relationship.

It doesn’t have to be that way. I encourage all married couples to take the effort to cast a vision for their marriage. Determine where (as a couple) you want to head and what you want to achieve. Put some milestones in place to gauge your progress along the way. Set annual goals to challenge and encourage yourselves. Reflect back periodically to see how you’ve done.

To help you toward this goal, I have created a free online course called “Cast a Vision for Your Marriage”. This provides you with a great process that you can work on together to create your own marital vision.

I’d love for you to complete this course and provide me feedback as to how it impacted your marriage. In the near future, I’ll be adding additional courses that I think will benefit marriages.

Don’t assume you’re both on the same page in terms of long-term goals and objectives for your marriage. Take the course today and make sure you are aligned!

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What I’d Tell my Newlywed Self

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Marriage Tips from an Expert – Sally Livingston

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Wifeology – Interview with the Author

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5 Tips to Improve Communication in your Marriage – Tip 1

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