Everything listed under: Personal Growth

  • The Good Samaritan and the Better Samaritan (Who's Actually a Jew)

     

    When I think back to my early days of Sunday School, what I remember most vividly are the stories.  Each week biblical scenes came to life through flannel graph depictions and dramatic readings.  My favorites were always the ones with animals: Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale.  But for some reason, Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan has always impressed me.  Even as a young boy, there was something about it that was compelling.  It made sense to me; I knew it wasn’t right to ignore somebody who needed help and I wanted to be like the Good Samaritan—the hero!  Indeed, that was the lesson I heard as a boy: Be like the Good Samaritan.  Years later, I still want to be like the Good Samaritan.  And yet, when I read this story now as an adult and try to find myself within it, the Good Samaritan is not the character with whom I most identify.

    The entire account is found in Luke 10:25-37.  It begins with a conversation between Jesus and a lawyer, who asked what he must do to gain eternal life.  Jesus responded by quoting Scripture: Love God totally and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.  But trying to be clever and “desiring to justify himself” (v. 29), the lawyer then asked Jesus to clarify who exactly his neighbors were.  Thus, Jesus responded with the following story:

    There was a Jewish man who was attacked by robbers and left for dead by the side of the Jericho road.  A priestwent by, saw the man, but crossed to the other side of the road just to avoid him.  Later, a Levite passed by andblatantly ignored the man as well.  But then, a Samaritan in the middle of long journey, saw the man and had compassion on him.  Unlike the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan went straight to the man.  He tended to the man’s wounds, binding them up and dressing them.  Then he lifted the man up and placed him on his own animal, for he was too injured to walk.  He took the man to an inn where he continued to care for him and then settled his bill with the innkeeper, promising to cover all of the man’s expenses.

    At this point, Jesus put a question to the lawyer, asking him which man was a neighbor to the one who was attacked and left for dead.  “The one who showed him mercy,” (v. 37a) the lawyer concluded.  To which Jesus simply replied, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37b).

    As much as I wish I could say that I faithfully “Go and do likewise,” the truth is, I don’t.  I fail at this.  My love for God and neighbor is imperfect, inconsistent, and all too often swallowed up by my love of self.  Most days, I can identify more with the priest, Levite, or even the man beaten up and left for dead than the Good Samaritan.  I don’t feel like a hero.  And that, I think, is actually the point of this parable.  Neither the lawyer nor I can justify ourselves.  The only one who can justify us is the one who’s telling the story.  But I don’t think Jesus is just telling a story, I think he’s also inserted himself into it.  Remember that Jesus is sharing this parable just after he set off toward Jerusalem.  He’s on his way to the cross.  Veiled in this parable seems to be a picture of his entire redemptive work.

    Like the Good Samaritan, though he was different from us, Jesus came near to us.  Out of compassion for us, he saved our lives.  He bound up our wounds and raised us up.  At great cost to himself, he paid our debts and rescued us from enslavement.  Everything the Good Samaritan did, Jesus did better.  Jesus is the Better Samaritan (who’s actually a Jew).  And when I see that, I want to “Go, and do likewise,” not to be the hero, but to express gratitude to Jesus, the real hero of this story.

  • Dangerous Hope: The Confessions of a Man with Too Many Christmas Lights

    I own entirely too many Christmas lights for a man of my age and each November I waste about 24 man hours installing the 18,108 mini lights I own (Yes.  In 2008, I counted them).  Lest you worry that perhaps this may be too many lights for a residential home, please know that I am cautious; after blowing any given breaker, I always remove one strand from the offending line before I flip the breaker back on and then secure a new outlet for the subsequent battery of lights.  I have never started anything more than a small house fire and outside of the occasional tingle up the arm that occurs when you grab hold of a bare light filament, I have not seriously electrocuted myself more than 2 or 3 times in the last decade.  I am an artist and when working with more than 10,000 lights, I’ve learned the importance of maintaining tasteful sensibilities.  I start with a clean canvas of white lights tracing the outline of the home and I limit the use of colored lights to wreaths, bows and an occasional candy cane.  LED’s, blinkers and tracers are an offense.  In 2010 I tried to embrace the inflatable movement – adding an 8’ tall snowman, 3 little penguins and a collage of woodland creatures decorating a Christmas tree – but I found them beneath my sensibilities.  For the sake of the neighborhood children, I restrict the number of plastic Santas I mount, insuring that only one at a time can be seen from any particular vantage point.  In 2006, I suspended a sleek, plastic santa’s sleigh and three tiny reindeer from a steel cable which I ran from the upper level of the house to a tree in the nearby woods.  It was sheer genius and when viewed from the middle of my cul de sac through squinted eyes, it almost looks like the real Santa Claus is swooping in for a landing on my roof. 

    The night after Thanksgiving, I throw the switch, walk out into that cul de sac with my family and turn around to enjoy the lights.  As I scan the scene, my eyes widen and against all reasonability I cannot help myself.  I’m transformed by the same 18,108 lights that moved me the year before.  I’m 8 years old again and filled with wonder and hope.  My heart skips a beat and for a moment I can’t help but think – perhaps believe - that Santa Claus is real.  In the morning I’ll awake to discover that not only is he real, but that he came to my house…. that everything I hoped for – that 5-speed Schwinn with the banana seat and sissy bar, that Red Ryder BB Gun, the Hot Wheels, the Rock-Em-Sock-Em Robots – are all under the Christmas tree for me. 

    Headlights from the neighbor’s car sweep across my feet and as he passes by he smiles.  “Nice work Clark Griswold!”  As I turn to wave, I see that the light in the plastic Santa atop my chimney has just blinked off.  I feel the door closing on that 8 year old’s Christmas heart and I am pulled back into the tangible realities before me.  But in the split second before the door closes on that child-like hope, I catch a glimpse of something unexpected.  I see the face of Christ and it takes my breath away.  It seems ridiculous… I thought this was about childhood, Santa Claus and a profundity of Christmas lights.  Was that Jesus I saw?  Is that why these silly Christmas lights move me so?  Is my silly Christmas heart really longing for Him?  Is it, perhaps, true that there is a God whose love for me is so wild and unbounded that He would take on human flesh to reach me? Do I dare hope that some day I will look into those eyes and feel that embrace? That some day I will see things set right - hearts, minds and bodies healed?  Relationships restored and justice established?  Is it possible that this 50 year old heart could believe – could hope - that these things will be?  Barely, but yes.

    As my heart opens, I am reminded of how dangerous this is.  Though the hope of Christmas is, of course, for something eternal, such hope often spills into the temporal.  A willingness to place faith in such a wild and unpredictable God opens the possibility that he could create a hope for something more in this life as well.  Romans 4 tells us that God promised Abraham a son and against all reasonability, Abraham put his faith in this God.  He hoped that a barren wife would produce him a son.  Genesis recounts the story and the implication cannot be denied; for 30 years, this man made love to his wife in the hope that this would be the time that she became pregnant.  And each month, for almost 30 years, he confronted the disappointment of her infertility.  Were you never crushed by this disappointment Abraham?  Did you never curse God for his seeming cruelty and close your heart off to this hope? 

    Hope is a dangerous and powerful force.  It compels us to risk and reach for things beyond our grasp.  Seeing that which is not yet real, it allows us to persevere in the face of obstacles and setbacks.  But hope also sets us up for disappointment and pain.  And the more disappointment we suffer, the more our hearts close off to protect us from further heartache.  In this Christmas season, do you dare to listen to your heart’s longings and consider the possibility that some of that for which you long may be a reflection of God’s heart within you?  Would you dare allow your heart to hope for more?  Restored relationships in your family?  Healing and deepened intimacy in your marriage?  Passion and fulfillment in  your vocation?  Meaningful friendships?  Freedom from fear, depression, addiction?   Let the Christmas lights do their work.  And if there aren’t enough in your neighborhood, come take a drive through mine. 

     - Jeff

  • Of Sheep and Wolfs

        Katherine Wolf, a sheep at heart, trusts her Shepherd. At 31, she recently shared on her website, www.hopeheals.com, that she is facing her 11th surgery since her AVM rupture in April of 2008. She says this second aneurism hiding in the recesses of her brain, feels like a ticking time bomb. We all walk around with a ticking time bomb when you think about it. It’s called mortality. We can’t escape it, like death and taxes, we will all experience it. However, for some of us, like Katherine, that ticking sounds nearer and more imminently threatening than for others. It can have names like Depression, Cancer, and Divorce, among others, that threaten to terminate our lives or relationships and quench our hope for the future.

        In my husband’s battle with melanoma, we were told, at one juncture, that we had exhausted all of our options, and basically, he had about three more months to live. A death sentence. Larry’s life song became a Dallas Holmes version of Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, I will trust Him”. Thus began what I would call his birthing process; six months of becoming more and more conformed to Christ’s image. It was 2Corinthinians 1:8-11 and 4:16-17… lived out courageously. Though heart-stoppingly frightening at times, we found joy in those days. Gone were the little irritations of life as we became thankful for the gift of each new day. We appreciated the little minute, mundane miracles embedded in each day; a sunrise, a sunset, a country sky full of stars, a picnic in a sundrenched meadow, and the sound of laughter ringing through our home as we had found humor in the otherwise ridiculous rituals of each day just managing the disease. At the end, resting in his Shepherd’s arms, and literally with his dying breath, he told me “This is the time to trust Him …”And in the twinkling of an eye, he was wonderfully, completely and gloriously healed… on the other side of Heaven’s gates… He trusted his shepherd and found him to be trustworthy.

        It is said that the first time a sheep is sheared, it fights, struggles and resists its shepherd. When shearing time comes again, the sheep is not afraid, and willingly allows itself to be held by its shepherd. Katherine, having gone under the knife before, trusts her Shepherd because she has experienced his faithfulness. And when those most frightening moments come again, she goes running into his arms, where she finds safety. 

        Not so with a certain little New Zealand sheep who had an entirely different mode of operation. When shearing time came he ran and hid out in caves… For six years, he managed to avoid discovery. Meanwhile the consequences of his avoidance grew. The burden of that refusal to face the shearing became heavier and heavier till his wool obscured his vision and the weight of the wool alone grew to an unwieldy sixty pounds. It was fear that drove him from the comfort of the flock and the comfort of the shepherd. Alone in the caves, he remained isolated and detached. Once he was found, the shearing and removal of all of that wool, took a mere twenty minutes. Can you even imagine how free, light and brand new that poor sheep felt!

        So it is with us. When we allow our fears, shame, and despair to drive us into isolation from the very relationships that would be the healing and love that we so desire, our cognitive distortions and shameful burdens grow to obscure our vision and cloud our insight as well. The weight of our shame seems too much to bear. The love of God and the love of others await our return. In fact Jesus, as our ultimate Shepherd, while we were yet sinners, died for us on our behalf. He likens himself to the shepherd that left the ninety nine to go in search of the lost one. Remember our God is the God of the comeback, as my pastor says. If at first you ran away, remember it’s never too late to make the turn and run back to his waiting arms…There you will find the lasting safety, love and acceptance you so desire…

    - Bev Elliott

  • A Sadness That Speaks of Something More

    The waves of the Salish Sea caress the side of the kayak as my wife and I watch the sun drift across and below the horizon.  The snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountain range preside over the landscape.  Like gods, they expose my frail and transient existence, calling me to lose myself.  The brilliant blue that had previously owned the sky, slowly yields to the deeper hues of orange, red and purple.  The beauty of the moment fills and expands my soul.  I am awed and broken by it.  Yet, as the light seeps from the sky, I am aware of a familiar ache pressing into the center of my chest.  It informs me that such beauty is only a transient guest in my life – one that cannot be compelled to stay longer.  Aware that it is passing, I loosen my grip on the moment and acknowledge the sadness that presses in. 

    As a younger man, I would have tightened my grip on such a moment, fighting to extend, if not capture the moment.  “Let’s stay a little longer… Let’s buy a beach house… Let’s move.” I would’ve said to my wife.  As if such beauty – such transcendence - was something to be conjured, scheduled or, even, purchased.

    More recently, I have come to see that such moments of beauty and fullness are only transient gifts in this life.  Never meant to fully satisfy, they only whet the appetite and bring clarity to that for which my heart longs.  They remind me that I am only a stranger in this world; life is not to be found here and striving to do so is futile.  Like my spiritual fathers, I am “longing for a better country – a heavenly one.”  The joy that does visit this life is inextricably bound to a groaning; to embrace the beauty of this moment, guarantees the sadness of the one that follows.   

    My eyes fill with tears as I allow the waves to turn my boat toward the now darkened landscape behind me.  Little dots of light – fires lit by those camping on the shore - mark the landing.  With each stroke of the paddle, the sadness washes over my heart, rocking it like a piece of driftwood on the shore - each wave incrementally turning my heart away from this moment, away from this world.  Surrendered to something beyond, a hope strengthens me as I paddle back into the darkness. 

    - Jeff Pipe

  • Razorback

    Photos of Schynige Platte, Bernese Oberland

    This photo of Schynige Platte is courtesy of TripAdvisor

    We were hiking a ridge with 1000 ft drop off on one side. Staggering, heart stopping views of Jungfrau, the highest mountain in Switzerland, with just one valley between us far below.

    Rewind this hike to a couple hours before when we had come to a crossroads. The signs said both trails led the same village, our destination. As we puzzled over this, a non-English-speaking couple came near. As we pointed to our map and this sign they indicated that yes, both ways led to the village – one was more direct and the other was the more scenic route. Well, here we were on vacation in the Alps –the scenic route won the day. However, what we didn’t know was that the well worn trail evaporated into a vague mountain track lost in a sea of wild flowers. Only an occasional painted rock indicated that we were (maybe) still going the right way.

    Now we were two hours into this choice and beautiful as it was, it seemed to be narrowing while the grade increased. Would this trail end on a cliff or would it, as we had though, at some point ease out into pastureland and eventually the village and bus we were trying to catch for the last leg to the valley.

    It looked like we were approaching a summit ahead. We could hear bells. If those were cow bells we were in good shape. No self-respecting cow would find itself stuck on a cliff. But no, we soon discovered we were hearing bells on mountain goats. Not a good sign.

    I sent my daughter scrambling up a shale summit to see if she could see if the grade of our trail was going to ease out anytime soon or if we should turn around and go back. Literally out of nowhere a man appeared. He was, of all things, a topographer mapping out this mountain. Talk about grace. He said that yes, the trail did eventually cross the mountain and ease into alpine meadows which would in a few more miles lead us to the village we sought.

    We all have cross road experiences: in relationships, in our careers, in our faith walk. The short cut may be the safer choice but God seems to delight at times in leading us to the scenic route. That’s where we find ourselves challenged mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As a result we build faith muscle, relationship strength, and mental and physical stamina. Sometimes these detours are a personal choice, sometimes they are not of our own making. In God’s economy, he will not waste one moment of either. Breathe in that clear air and drink in the views of his presence whether on the mountain top or in the valley, he will never leave you nor forsake you.

    -Beverly Elliott

  • Storm Stories

         

    Storm Stories. We all have them. The intensity and duration with resulting devastation and destruction or only mild disruption to our lives and days is a variable, more dependent on the circumstances of our birth, geography, race, gender, identity, history and personal resources, including financial, spiritual, relational emotional and/or psychological. Our resiliency to heal and begin again is a combination of all of those factors. Last weekend I saw a report on a benefits concert on behalf of the Moore Oklahoma EF-5 tornado that ripped across that suburb on May 20th. A young woman came to the podium to express her gratitude for all of those attending and donating their performances for the rebuilding effort. She had lost her mother in the storm. “It’s still hard,” she said, “but the 1st responders, friends and neighbors that have come alongside me and my family have made all of the difference.” Philippians 4: 5-8 says, ”The Lord is near. (therefore) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” It’s the nearness of God which gives us the courage, and conviction and hope to move forward after tragedy strikes. If we can but keep our focus on him, we can hear these events roll out sifted through the sound of his heartbeat and seen through his eternal perspective.

                    In the Moore coverage meteorologists described that EF-5 tornado as a “monster storm that slowed, then sat still and ground out its destruction at a devastating level.” We at Tapestry often see clients with monster emotional and relational storms, circumstances and trauma that, in some cases threaten to pull them into their terrible vortexes and destroy them, physically, emotionally and relationally. We see our calling to be a safe room where clients can both come to seek shelter as well as to begin the process of healing.  Psalm 46 says “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” We are here to be a refreshing respite from the storms, and the starting path of rebuilding new relationships, habits, strategies and hope for the future. Come join us in this journey…

    - Beverly

  • I Don’t Think I Should Still Be This Insecure

    Last week was a tough week.  I had an awkward conversation with some friends and said some things that I ruminated over for days afterward. I had to confront a difficult issue with someone who was out-of-control and made them angry.  Although I had no regrets over the confrontation, I was troubled by the interaction and couldn’t put it out of my head.  While relaxing with my wife later that evening, I perceived her to be distant and distracted; it seemed like she wanted to be anywhere other than with me.  But when I called her out on it she gave me that look – the one that says that I have most certainly lost my mind.  So I did what any reasonable adult male would do, I got up, left the room and pouted. After only a few minutes I found myself thinking, “Dear God.  I’m acting like an 8 year old girl.”  But because I wasn’t done pouting yet, that awareness just made me mad… and a little embarrassed.  I wanted to work up a good lather of anger and go smash something or shoot something or at least lift something heavy… anything that would make me feel less weak.  But the shooting range was closed and there was nothing handy to smash and it was getting late, so I did the dishes instead.

     It was just me, the dirty dishes and an inescapable feeling of insecurity.  It was embarrassing.  I’m 49 years old and I’m a man and I’m a PSYCHOLOGIST and I claim to love Jesus. I don’t think that I should still be this insecure at this point in my life. It’s like I’m back in the 7th Grade again and Leesa Haynes just told me that I have skinny feet and I’m pretty sure that everyone is looking at me and thinking, “Wow.  Pipe has skinny feet.  That’s really strange.”  I feel like a moron and I’m certain that no one likes me; I’ve got nothing to offer the world.  When my wife figures out who I am she’s going to leave me and then I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.  That’s the way it feels. 

     This insecurity seeps into my heart like an incoming tide, slowly and irresistibly.  It diminishes me, eroding my sense of worth, poisoning my standing with others and draining my passion.  I know that it’s irrational.  It is embarrassing and its my thorn in the flesh.  I hate it, but I can’t block it from invading my world.  At the same time, I can’t deny that it’s been a valuable teacher to me.  Its presence has shown me facets of myself that I would not have otherwise seen.  And when I am willing to let it teach me, it enriches my life. 

     My insecurity teaches me to remember the past.  It reminds me of those times when I’ve felt this way before and with a moment of reflection those periods and events marked by insecurity return to me:  the 7th Grade, the 8th Grade, the 9th Grade, my first semester of college, that time I lit my hair on fire, every time I was asked a question I couldn’t answer in grad school, that time I showed up at the office with my fly down, whenever I tried to be funny and it didn’t work, when I sent my 5 year old daughter to school sick, every time I’ve walked into a room full of strangers, every time I’ve walked into a room full of friends, when our water got cut off because I forgot to pay the bill, the hours preceding a presentation, the hours following a presentation and the hours after I post a blog.  I remember that I felt this same insecurity all of these times and more.  I remember that I came out the other side of these events without losing my friends or my wife or all that much of my dignity.  My insecurity reminds that sometimes when I’ve felt the most insecure, I have discovered that I was most deeply valued and loved.  I remember that I have felt this way before and that this emotion cannot be fully trusted. 

     I have learned to lean into my insecurity rather than run from it.  I tend to manage my insecurity like a game of “hot and cold”.  The closer I get to the situation or person I fear, the stronger the emotional cry, “Warm, hot, hotter, boiling hot!”  Historically, I’ve played the game in reverse, actively directing myself away from the heat and toward “colder” ground whenever possible. If I could avoid that roomful of strangers, I would be glad to stay home and watch another episode of Gator Boys.  But what a lifetime of battling this insecurity has shown me is that the more I avoid those things I fear, the worse the insecurity gets.  The more intense the insecurity, the more clear it is that I need to confront it.  Whether its confronting a difficult person, exposing a failure on my part, engaging with a confusing situation or walking into a room full of strangers, the longer I put it off, the worse it gets.  However, when I confront that which provokes my insecurity, leaning into the “heat” I’m almost always surprised by how well things go.

    My insecurity shows me how desperately I need others.  My intuition drives me to isolate – to retreat from the messy people and relationships that provoke my insecurity.  And I often fantasize of a secluded mountain home where I can live my remaining years in peace.  But my insecurity has taught me that my intuition is wrong.  I need people.  I cannot manage this on my own.  For decades I tried to do my life independently and I simply could not do it.  I need trustworthy people around me for whom I can reach when these waves of insecurity wash over me.  After I was done pouting the other night, I apologized to my wife and told her I was tired from a hard week.  I told her that I was feeling insecure.  And, in spite of my bad behavior, she held me and reminded me who I am; she told me that I’m loved and valued.  The next day I called my friend Henry and he reminded me who I am.  And he told me that if God could use Balaam’s ass then he could surely use me.  Then I touched base with a few more friends and, just because they’re willing to hang out with me and listen to me I start to believe that I’m not all that worthless. 

    Finally, my insecurity teaches me not to anchor too much hope in this life.  In this way, my insecurity is a reminder of the truth of this life:  I am a broken person living in a fallen world.  Groaning is normal; pain is evidence of life (Romans 8:22).  My hope cannot be anchored in my ability to reach some level of emotional, personal or spiritual maturity.  My hope must be anchored in the promises I’ve found in the Scriptures and in the work of Christ.  My hope is that some day I will see Jesus face-to-face and, in so doing, I will experience a love that not only evaporates my insecurity, but rewires my soul and makes me whole.  In the meantime, my insecurity is a marker that I’ve misplaced an anchor – set it in temporal, rather than eternal soil.  It compels me to loosen my grip on this world a little more and shift my reach toward the next (Hebrews 11:16).  It reminds me that only there and only then will I find the freedom and security for which my heart longs. 

    - Jeff Pipe

  • Are you listening?

    The only thing I find more disappointing than bumping into a slow driver in the left lane on I-75, is trying to share something important with someone who doesn't listen well.  They'll both take the wind right out of your sails and deflate an otherwise exhilarating opportunity.  So, because I have no idea what to do with those who insist on holding tight at 65 in that left lane, I will offer the following tips to those in need of a listening tune-up.

     #1 Check your agenda at the door.  Most people don’t listen well because they enter a conversation clouded by their personal agendas and assumptions.  Good listening requires that you set aside the personal feelings, opinions and assumptions you hold about your friend or the topic of conversation at hand.  While you may not necessarily agree with your friend’s position, if you maintain an open mind you can come to understand it.   

    #2  Attend closely.  Because your mind’s ability to process language and information greatly exceeds the rate of speech at which most persons talk, its easy to start thinking about other things while you’re listening.  However, good listening demands that all of your attention be directed at the friend or spouse to whom you’re listening. 

    #3 Keep eye contact.  I recently read a study suggesting that only 7% of meaning is communicated through words; the other 93% is derived through the interpretation of nonverbal information.  A good listener keeps the eye of the speaker because it allows them to better take in the subtle nonverbal cues that tell you not only what another person is saying, but the deeper emotional content and meaning inherent in what they are sharing.

    #4 Reflect back what you hear.  When your friend or spouse gets to the end of a thought or idea, reflect the key points back to them to make sure that you’re hearing them correctly.  You’ll be surprised by how often you’re getting it wrong. 

    #5 Express your understanding.  When you think that you’ve come to understand your friend or spouse’s perspective, let them know. This usually occurs when you either understand their flow of logic or find yourself connecting the dots between the current conversation and other facets of your friend’s personality or experience.  It also happens when you find yourself recalling a situation where you experienced something similar.  When this happens, let your spouse know; but also be careful not to say so much as to direct the attention away from your friend or spouse and toward yourself.  

    #6 Express your empathy.  Once you’ve come to genuinely understand what your spouse or friend is sharing with you, it’s very likely that you’re also feeling empathy for them as well.  Empathy is the emotional experience that parallels that of the listener’s.  It is feeling something with or for someone as opposed to feeling something toward or at them.  While the latter emotional reaction may be important later on in a dialogue, an accurate empathy is the marker for good listening.  

    Give a gift.  If you've camped your Prius in that left lane and there's a line of cars behind you, give it up.  And the next time you find that someone you care about is trying to share something important with you, slow down and listen.  Give them a gift.  Feeling heard, understood and cared for by another person is a powerful and healing experience.  In a good friendship or in a good marriage, its the glue that solidifies a bond and deepens intimacy.  

    - Jeff Pipe

  • The Rule of Complementarity

    Some would say that opposites attract, but I would argue that opposites form.  There is a certain rule – let’s call it the rule of complementarity – that influences marital relationships.  As relationships evolve, people tend to move toward opposite poles to maintain balance in a relationship; where one spouse takes a more conservative stance, the other becomes more liberal.  This tendency to gravitate toward some form of equilibrium in a relationship can happen with any number of traits or values such as spending (vs. saving); planning (vs. spontaneity); emotional reserve (vs. emotional expression); maintaining harmony (vs. dealing with disagreement/conflict); humor (vs. seriousness).  Unfortunately, we tend to think that shifting one’s spouse’s opinion is like winning a tug-of-war; the harder you pull on your end of the rope, the more likely you are to get your spouse over to your side.  In most instances, this doesn’t work and, in all likelihood, it will compel your spouse to dig their heels in even further.  Rather than understanding this tendency through the tug-of-war metaphor, I’d suggest that a see-saw metaphor provides a more accurate picture.  The Rule of Complementarity suggests that on any given trait, spouses tend to balance each other out like two people standing on the ends of a see-saw; when one person steps out away from the center – toward a more extreme position - the other person is compelled to take an equal step in the opposite direction in order to maintain balance.

    Within the first year that my wife and I married, we took a personality test that, among other things, measured the trait of spontaneity vs. discipline.  High scorers were very disciplined planners who carefully thought through matters before making a decision; low scorers were spontaneous action-takers who learned through trial and error.  On a scale of 0 – 100, with 0 being Spontaneous and 100 being Disciplined, I scored a 2 and my young bride scored a 98.  We were so proud that our score totaled up to a perfect 100!  But, as we were soon to discover, the joke was really on us.  And you can probably imagine what the early years of our relationship were like.  I was a fun-loving, but reckless adventurer who was up for any opportunity regardless of the cost; my wife was cautious and conservative, weighing the financial and temporal cost of any activity.  Her reticence to jump in or go with the flow frustrated me as much as my spontaneity (which she errantly mislabeled as impulsivity!) frightened her.  In fact, this was a source of substantial conflict early in our relationship.  My inclination was, of course, to attack her conservatism while pushing hard for her to join me on the latest adventure.  However, what I found was that the harder I pushed, the more she pushed back; and the more frustrated I got, the frustrated and frightened she got.  Nevertheless, across the first few years of our marriage I did a lot of growing up and learned – predominantly the hard way – the value of a little planning and discipline.  As I grew, genuinely trying to be more responsible, I was surprised to find that my wife began loosening up.  In fact, somewhere around the 7th year of our marriage, I distinctly remember realizing that she’d become almost as fun as me.  Ironically, around that same point in time we were in a situation where we could, again, take the same personality test that we’d taken in the first year of our marriage.  Much to our surprise, this time I scored a 40 (still weighted toward spontaneity!) and my wife scored a 60!  We were still a perfect 100, but we had changed substantially. 

     Across the years, I have seen couples make similar changes in fundamental traits.  Like that imaginary couple on a see-saw, when one person steps in, altering their own behavior, the spouse is eventually compelled to take their own step in order to maintain balance.  So, the next time you find yourself locked into a battle with your spouse – pulling against some trait within them that you don’t like - try taking a couple of big steps in their direction.  You may be surprised by the response you get. 

    - Jeff Pipe   

  • Self-Confidence

    I enjoyed a beautiful ride on the mountain bike the other day.  The afternoon sun heightened the color of the leaves as I biked through the wooded ridges of my favorite trail system.  It was one of those rides that made me feel strong, good about myself and good about my life.  Zipping down a rather steep ridge on a narrow trail, I was surprised – to say the least – when I became aware that I was no longer attached to my bike. In the blink of an eye, my bike came to sudden stop when it hooked a root protruding from the ridge. However, while my bike stopped, my body did not.  Unaware of what was happening, how it happened or even which direction was up, that second in the air – before gravity completed its job - felt like an eternity.  And in it’s panic, I grasped at the air for something solid with which I could re-orient myself.  But even when I found the ground – landing with a loud whumph - it offered no more stability than the air as dirt, then sky, then dirt, then sky raced across my field of vision before my tumble down the ridge came to a stop.  That moment of surprise, then panic is unforgettable, but not unique.  That blink-of-an-eye when confidence, certainty and strength vaporize as they are replaced by fear, confusion and vulnerability. 

    I am at a point in my life where I am acutely aware of those things which are too important for me to readily relinquish to God:  my daughter, my wife, my vocational success and my reputation to name a few.  I have seen how God works.  His idea of good, fair and safe are not consistent with mine.  Physical and emotional suffering, catastrophe and death are all clearly within the bounds of what He will allow.  Children suffer and die, spouses are betrayed and abandoned, children are neglected, the humble are destroyed and the proud succeed at elevating themselves.  He is not afraid to let His people suffer and I am reticent to fully entrust myself or those I love to Him.  Don’t take me wrong, I recognize how un-biblical this.  Furthermore, I recognize how illogical this is.  I am a small, weak person and I recognize how limited I am in my ability to care for myself, no less anyone else.  Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, my first impulse is to take care of things on my own for fear that God will either disappoint me or compromise the well-being of someone or something important to me for the sake of His agenda.  When those for whom I care are threatened by pain, disappointment or failure, I turn to my own resources first.  And with that move, begins a slow progression from dependence on God to dependence on self.   

    Humanly speaking, I am a reasonably intelligent and resourceful person.  And I can operate independently about as good as the guy next door if not a little better.  For extended periods of time, I may experience success and find my confidence in myself.  I have even reached points in my life where I have entertained the thought that I really don’t need God and that he has probably never been anything more than a crutch anyways.  However, as my self-confidence and independence are growing, a foundational shift is underfoot.  Freedom is exchanged for caution; internal tension quashes passion and spontaneity.  The confidence of trusting a Father whose resources and plans transcend my own is lost as a dependence on hard work, thoughtfulness and competence grows.  And then the inevitable happens:  I miss something and make a mistake, someone I care for does something stupid, a marriage collapses, someone gets sick, an unexpected bill breaks the bank – the hardness of life bursts my fragile illusion of independence.  My house of cards begins to collapse and, as it does, the foundation upon which I’ve built my identity and value is compromised. 

    Into my panic, Galatians speaks.  “Are you so foolish?  After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort (Gal 3:3).  And, then, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  (Gal 5:1) And then I return to the reality that it was never about me or my competency; that it was always about Christ – His work in me, His work in others, His providential working for the best of all who belong to him.  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”(2:20).  And there is freedom here.  Freedom to believe that God has put me where he has for a reason; that I have something to offer those for whom I care; that he uses me in my strength and in my weakness; that He is doing something good when I see something bad; that he redeems failures for success; that His plan is bigger and better than my own.   

     - Jeff Pipe