Archives For February 2011

set-back vs. relapse

Jeff Olson —  February 24, 2011 — 8 Comments

Last weekend the weather in Michigan took a turn for the worst. Prior to the weekend, the weather was dramatically improving. The sun came out, the temperatures were warming up nicely and much of the snow from a long winter melted away.  Things were headed in a good direction.

But by mid-Sunday, it all changed. The temperatures plummeted to well below the freezing mark, the winds picked up, and heavy snow started falling. By the next morning, over a half foot of wet snow and ice blanketed the ground and the roads.

Yuk! Winter had settled back in.

I know that Spring will eventually arrive, but from where I sit, the weather didn’t’ have a minor set-back. It seems like a full-blown relapse.

After a period of improvement, the difference between a set-back and a relapse is huge. This is especially the case when it comes to an addiction.

Set-backs or an occasional slip are often part of the messy process of busting loose from the grip of a compulsive behavior. While it is still inexcusable, they don”t occur with the same frequency and intensity as before. A relapse, however, is when one excuses acting out again with no serious intention of stopping. Unlike a set-back, there is no desire to keep going forward and to get well. There is no commitment to own and learn from our mistakes. Instead there is a giving up and a giving into an even greater level of indulgence (Ephesians 4:19).

Set-back versus relapse—two terms that can help us gauge where we or someone else may be at in dealing with (or not dealing with) an addiction.


Allison Stevens —  February 21, 2011 — 2 Comments

It can feel like a curse to be a perfectionist!  I know, because I’ve struggled in my life with it.  It can be debilitating because we are so preoccupied with being perfect and right that we miss out on other important and healthy things in life.

If you struggle with perfectionism, too, it’s important to realize that you, nor anyone else can be perfect. Everyday, tell yourself that you are not perfect and it’s OK.

Also, it can be very helpful to understand where your perfectionism comes from. My guess is that you had a parent that had very high standards for you. And if you didn’t meet those standards, there were negative consequences, like punishment, or cold silence, or expressed disapproval. As children, we so desperately want our parent’s approval and if we don’t get it, we can become consumed with achieving it.

If this is true of you, learning to let go of the perceived need for your parent’s (or anyone’s) approval is necessary. As a child, you needed their approval, but now as an adult, you don’t. You can survive and thrive without it. And this applies to any relationship you’re in.  You, as a mature person, will not die without the approval of others.

I wonder if decision making is difficult for you. Often, perfectionists have a difficult time making choices because they wonder if they’ll make the “wrong” decision, even if it’s as innocuous as the color of a bedspread. If this is true for you, I recommend that you begin by making small decisions that really aren’t that significant, and then living with your decision. Just live through the anxiety that it may produce. Give yourself the freedom to like your decision or not like it, to make a mistake or not.

There are irrational beliefs behind perfectionism that keep it going. For example, “I will be rejected if I don’t do everything right the first time, with no flaws, weaknesses or inconsistencies.” Oh, just writing that makes me feel exhausted with guilt, depression and low self-esteem!  I wonder if you battle those things, too.

You are not super human, just human.  You have flaws and imperfections, as I do, but the good and wonderful news is that you are 100% accepted and loved by your heavenly father.  And I hope you feel that love and acceptance from people in your life. If you don’t, please reconsider your relationships. Think about making friends with good folks who will love you in spite of your flaws. That’s real love.

When Someone You Love Is Dying

Jeff Olson —  February 17, 2011 — 5 Comments

My 21 year old nephew graduates from college today. It’s a joyous day for him and my family. We are all so proud of him, but it’s also mixed with sadness and heartache. You see, my nephew, who was born with an incurable disease (Duchenne muscular dystrophy) was originally meant to graduate later this Spring, but his doctors don’t think he will live that long. So the college he’s attending has arranged a special graduation ceremony for him so he can experience the joy of receiving a well-earned degree.

Right now, it seems as if death and dying are at every turn. Just this morning cancer took one of our co-workers. Another co-worker’s daughter is in a fight for her young life against cancer.

What do you say to someone you love who is dying? Here are a couple of ideas that I’ve been kicking around.

At one level, it’s important to treat them as normal as possible. You don’t want to deny or minimize what their facing. You certainly don’t want to do something hurtful like ignore them or say nothing.  But one of the last things people who are terminally ill need is over-sympathy. Yes, you want to let them know that you are thinking about them and praying for them. You want them to know that you are genuinely interested in how they are doing. But for the most part,  I’ve found that it is best to go on with life as normal as possible. It helps to make the time they have left more meaningful and prevents them from giving up prematurely.

If you don’t know what to say to them, be honest and say that you don’t know what to say. And remember, just simply saying, “I love you” goes a long way in touching their heart.

If you are going through a divorce, please don’t put your children in the middle of the conflict between you and the other parent.  The children didn’t cause the divorce and they can’t, nor should they be expected to, fix it.

It’s confusing enough for children when they learn that one or both parents want out of the marriage. What children often hear is that the other parent wants out of the family. That mom or dad no longer loves them. That somehow if they had been better kids, didn’t fuss and argue as much, that parent would be happier and stay.

Some parents lose their good judgment and add to their children’s pain and confusion by putting them in the middle of mom and dad. They force them to take sides. They put their children in the role of “message-bearer.” Or they use the children as emotional confidants telling them how painful this divorce is for them and how much they miss their spouse. 

Children need to be relieved of this kind of pressure and responsibility. They need to hear each parent say, “I love you and I will always be here for you.”  They need to know that while this is a painful time,  mom and dad will be OK.  They need to hear both parents explain that the divorce is because of adult problems, but that won’t change how much they love their children. And one of the best ways to love your children is not put them in the middle of the conflict.

The Desire for Vengeance

Jeff Olson —  February 10, 2011 — 4 Comments

I once spoke with a man whose son had been brutally murdered by a close family friend. In the years to follow, the man talked of his burning desire for revenge. He said he wanted to turn this tremendous burden over to Jesus. He knew that bitterness had overtaken his heart and crowded out everything else that was good. But it seemed like no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t let go of the desire for vengeance.

One of the things God put on my heart to say this man shocked him at first, but it also freed him up to see he had other options. I told him that his desire for revenge was not completely off-base or ungodly. I went on to explain that the apostle Paul, when writing to Christians, said, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

Paul’s statement is a promise to believers for revenge. In other words, Paul was encouraging his readers to be patient because the day will come when vengeance will be theirs and God’s. A time is coming where they will have the opportunity to make the one, Satan, (who is indirectly and ultimately responsible for all of the tragedies in life), pay under their feet.

So part of the desire to take revenge is godly, as long as it’s not misplaced and done in God’s timing. In the meantime, God calls us to conquer evil by “doing good” to those people who harm us (Romans 12:21). In other words, the Christian way is not to be overcome by evil by doing evil back to those who harm us, but to overcome and defeat evil by doing good.

Some may understand the idea of “doing good” as a call to become passive and pleasant, and to pretend nothing ever happened. But that’s not the case. Yes, sometimes “doing good” is blessing others with unexpected acts of kindness or civility. But doing good to those who hurt us also involves intentionally drawing strong lines and giving some serious consequences that force them to own and deal with their sinful and harmful choices. It often says to those who’ve hurt us, “While there is still some unfinished business for us to resolve before we can move forward, I’m not going to relate to you solely on the basis of the hurt you’ve caused me. The hurt is still there for me, but I’m going to relate to you on the basis of something more. As I wrestle with the hurt you’ve done to me, I want to relate to you in ways that can conquer evil in your life and prevent the evil of bitterness from overtaking mine.”

None of us are fully at this place. But as I suggested to the man whose son had been murdered, with the help of the One who was brutally beaten and murdered Himself, we can all move closer to the place where we can start to genuinely consider all that’s involved in “doing good” to those who have deeply hurt us.

Digging out

Tim Jackson —  February 9, 2011 — 2 Comments

We got blasted with a whopper of a snow storm this past week. 16″ of gorgeous fresh snow! Beautiful! We hunkered down at home and stayed out of the way of the road warriors so they could attack the 2-3′ drifts with their plow trucks.

After almost 18 hours of winter blitz, it was time to dig out. Fired up the old Montgomery Ward snow blower and went at it. It took several hours of non-stop blowing and shoveling to unbury 3 cars in the driveway and clear it to the road.

Our normally frisky golden retriever quickly bottomed out on the 20-24″ drifts around the house. The look on her face was both pathetic and priceless!

Digging out from under a winder storm is tough. But digging out from under the storms  in my life
that catch me by surprise can feel, well, overwhelming. How about you?

So, where do you start?

While we can’t avert the storms in our life, we can prepare for them (knowing that they’ll come at some point) and then when they arrive,  dig in.

Prepare ahead. I had moved the snow blower from the backyard shed to the garage to have easier access to it. I’d purchased extra gas and changed the spark plug to insure a more reliable start when I pulled the starter rope. I checked the 5 gal. bucket of snow melt salt to make sure I had sufficient to deal with the ice build ups that we get in the upper Midwest. All the snow shovels were present and accounted for. The boyscout moto: be prepared, is a good one.

We can gear up before we get hit by a “life storm” by preparing our hearts and minds for the obstacles and challenges that come our way. Having an emergency fund saved up can avert a financial crisis when a unexpected expense threatens our financial stability.

Regular physical exercise and healthy diet can avert a health crisis that threatens our health and well-being. Guarding our hearts emotionally, relationally, and spiritually  (Prov. 4:23) can strengthen our hearts (Psalm 31:24) and our ability to trust God in times of fear and uncertainty (Psalm 56:3). Then, we know where to turn.

Ride it out. Once the storm hits, don’t panic. Ride it out. No sense going out in the middle of the storm and starting to blow or shovel when 15 minutes later it would look like you’ve done nothing. Be patient. Let the snow (or the dust) settle before you jump in and start clearing the path for normal life to resume.

Too often we can jump the gun on a situation and expend tons of energy before it’s really necessary. That’s anxiety kicking in. And it can get the best of us. It’s when we feel things getting out of control that we panic. Be patient. Unless it’s a critical life-threatening situation, we’re often better off just pausing to take a moment to watch and listen. This gives time to access the situation, to gain perspective, and then determine the best course of action that’s needed. This saves the frustration that inevitably comes whenever we act too hastily and have to redo things several times instead of just once.

This is also a time to listen to the heart of your Father . . . your Heavenly Father, who invites you to take all that swirling knot in your gut and to “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). That sounds so simplistic. It is. But it’s really hard.  To let go and trust God when we feel so helpless and vulnerable it the essence of “walking by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

Dig in. Once the eye of the storm has past, and we’ve assessed the situation and set a course of action, it’s time to tackle the hard work of digging out and getting the job done. Shoveling a path from the back door to the garage door to get the snow blower out was phase 1. Phase 2 meant firing up the snow blower to blow out behind the vehicles so that we could back them out into the cleared area and then clear the location in front of the garage where they’d been parked. Then came the rest . . .  the sidewalks, the mail box, and a path to the bird feeders. (Yes, we do make it a priority to help sustain our little feathered friends through the arctic blasts of a Michigan winter with a steady diet of seeds and such.)

So, next time an unexpected storm threatens to disrupt the normal habits and patterns of your world–be it snow, or grief, or job loss, or a health crisis–try to remember these three steps, and see if they don’t help. If this has been your experience with your storms and you’d like to share your journey with others, please feel free to post it here.

Super Bowl Commercials

Allison Stevens —  February 7, 2011 — 5 Comments

My beef this morning is the way the media portrays men as unintelligent idiots. I’m sick and tired of watching this kind of assault on manhood. 

I’m not a man, so why should I care?

Well, I have a son who I want to grow up to be a responsible, caring, moral man. I don’t want him getting the message that real men only think of sex, beer, sports, and 100 different ways he can escape life.

I have a daughter who I want to grow up expecting more than just a little boy in a man’s body.

And I have a husband who doesn’t fit the image of a man who’s one step away from a Neanderthal.

If I was a man, I’d be offended.  Help me out, guys. I know there are many of you out there who agree that you are more than what Doritos, Bud Light, and Pepsi Max say you are.

Many men can be faithful, thoughtful, intelligent, self-controlled, gentle and patient, too. Don’t get me wrong; they are also adventurous, risk-takers, fighters, and love a good challenge. Men are complicated; we can’t sum them up in a 30-second commercial for sure.  But we shouldn’t be complacent about the negative stereotypes of men that the media promulgates. Women, are we satisfied when we’re portrayed as dumb, gullible, and sex-starved?   I think not.  Let’s show our men the same level of respect.

Non-condemning Friendships

Jeff Olson —  February 3, 2011 — 1 Comment

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about two things:

Fishing and Jesus.

Honestly, I think about fishing a lot. It’s a topic that has been especially on my mind  since I’ve come down with a serious case of “cabin fever.” We’re in the heart of Winter where I live…and Spring can’t come quick enough for this angler.

And as a Christ follower, wanting to know Him and have more His life flow through me, I continue to learn about how He deals with me and different kinds of people. In most cases (there were certainly situations that called for a different approach), His first priority was to establish a non-condemning friendship. Jesus welcomed people from all different walks of life into relationship with Himself before He ever addressed a single issue in their life.

So as an avid angler, I’m often drawn back to stories about Jesus and fishing. One story in particular, has been most compelling. It’s the time Jesus, newly resurrected, appeared to His disciples along the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23). Similar to the first time they met Jesus (Luke 5:11), they had been skunked after a long and frustrating night of fishing. Then Jesus shows up. He suggests casting their nets to the other side of the boat, and the fishing goes nuts!

It’s a great fishing story about a bunch of friends who went out fishing, possibly to clear their heads from the staggering events of the past couple of weeks. And what a journey it had been for these men. The man they had given up everything to follow had been arrested, tortured and executed. Then before they know it, He’s alive and appearing to people here and there! But now what? What could possibly happen next?

One of the most compelling aspects to the story is how Jesus meets the men where they’re at without condemnation. Jesus didn’t lay into them  for wasting time fishing on the Sea of Galilee when He had clearly called them and spent 3 years grooming them to fish for people (Luke 5:10). Instead, He asks what most curious onlookers ask fishermen—“Catch anything?” (John 21:5). He then immediately offers them a fishing tip that led to their second catch of a lifetime. He even cooks up some fish for breakfast (John 21:6-9).

Jesus had some important and challenging matters to discuss with these men that morning, especially Peter, the disciple who had denied knowing Jesus three times the night before He was crucified—but first things first. The first order business was to reaffirm their friendship. In spite of all that happened, Jesus wanted to reassure Peter and the men that they were okay.

Non-condemning friendships first—that’s one of Jesus’ most enduring trademarks. Thankfully, it’s how He relates to any of us who’ve drifted off course. And whenever possible, it’s how He calls us to relate to others.