Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The "3 Year Glitch" Replaces the "7 Year Itch"

This week is very exciting for my wife and me. No, we haven't won the lottery or bought a million dollar house, but something even more exciting than those things have happened for us. While those things would be nice, they are tangible things that regardless of upkeep will eventually fade away. Money is spent, houses eventually require repair and are even subject to destruction by nature. Regardless, Jennifer and I are still winners in our own rights. The thing we won is not subject to any other destructive force except ourselves. Allow me to explain.

This Friday marks our 5 year marriage anniversary, and we are excited. Not only because it's an exciting time, but because we've survived through the tough times. British researchers recently studied the relationships of over 2,000 couples who were in marriages or long-term relationships and the results surprised them. What they found was that the traditional "7 Year Itch" that Jennifer had been warned about the days leading up to our marriage by those who were older and wiser than us had in fact been replaced by what is now termed the "3 Year Glitch". The researchers found that todays couples, who suffer from the lowered attention span, shorter tempers, and a social comfortability with divorce that was absent before are now more likely to leave one another over their minor annoyances rather than work through them. 

The Passion Killers
(Courtesy of Men's Health)
The replacement of the "7 Year Itch" with the "3 Year Glitch" isn't necessarily a bad thing. While the reasons for the switch are not good, it doesn't automatically spell doom for a couple who is determined to work their way through the problems causing the 'glitch'. That is because the reasons the researchers found responsible for the 'troubles in paradise' were minor problems. Things such as weight gain (which was the #1 reported problem), snoring, lack of romance and antisocial working hours were responsible. However, there is commonality in every one of these reasons: They're completely fixable! 

Should we seriously believe that your spouses' lapsed fashion, or their stray fingernail cuttings is a logical reason to divorce someone? First, thinking about this from a strictly secular point of view, do you realize how much time and effort is involved in a divorce? A lawyer costs thousands of dollars, and the price only goes up from there if it is a contested divorce! Then we come to the issue of time. Many states have laws that require a period of time to pass (Tennessee for example requires 3 months after filing) before a divorce can be finalized. Through all of this, you're paying. In time, money, and emotional baggage, you're paying. Isn't it cheaper, and easier to just ask them to clip their nails over the trash and move on with your comparatively hassle-free life? I understand that for the most part, this is trivializing some people's reasons for divorce, but the data speaks for itself. 

But then we come to the religious aspect of the divorce problem. In Matthew 19:9, Jesus says that these reasons listed above simply are not good enough. The only reason that is allowed for a divorce is an act of fornication. Not the way they cut their fingernails, the fact that they've put on weight since you met, and no, not even the fact that he refuses to give up that ratty college sweatshirt that is holding on by a thread (though this one has been debated as valid grounds). 

So how can a couple who is currently going through the dreaded "3 Year Glitch" overcome it to move on to a healthy relationship? The answer is surprisingly simple.

Compliments and physical touch.

That's right, compliment each other every day. It has been proven that if a couple compliments each other regularly, this creates a more accepting atmosphere toward each other. It is a fact that irritation and tension cannot co-exist in the same dynamic as understanding and appreciation. If you appreciate someone, you are less apt to feel tension toward them, and if you understand where they are coming from, then you are (usually) less irritated by their actions. And understanding and appreciation are most conspicuously expressed verbally, through compliments. In a house where arguments, insults, and put-downs are the norm, a compliment can serve as the necessary shock to jump start the hearts to beating again. 

But what about touch? It is equally as important to the dynamic of a relationship as compliments. That is because just a few instances of skin to skin contact per day releases what is known as 'oxytocin' into the blood stream. Oxytocin is a natural stress reliever and makes the brain feel connected to that which caused the release. You need to be that cause! 

Realistically, divorce should not be an option for a vast majority of the cases that end up in family courts across the nation. A more strict adherence to Matthew 19:9, and a healthy practice of these principles can save a marriage that seems to be on the brink of doom. Couples should be allowed to lean on one another in troubling times, not be afraid of each other. There's enough stress to deal with out in the world without having to deal with fighting at home. Compliments, patience, understanding, and appreciation can conquer all things. Before you pull the trigger on frustration, pull the trigger on appreciation

After all, Mark 10:9 says, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.", not "What therefore God hath joined together, let toe nail clippings put asunder."


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Enemies: Gotta Love 'Em!

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."-Matthew 5:43-45

Have you ever stopped and thought about the fact that work is called 'work' for a reason? I mean, it's not called, 'play' or 'fun'. It's called work because it is the place where you work! The fun place is attached to McDonald's, and is where you find children acting like children. However, the childish behavior doesn't always stay with children, or in the McDonald's play place. It can sometimes slip its way into the otherwise adult world known as the work place. And its usually smuggled in through the back door by a co-worker who never grew up and left the play place.

So how do you handle something like an immature co-worker who spends none of their time working, and all their time backstabbing others, gossiping, talking trash or doing anything else destructive? It's like this person is allergic to kindness and can't stand a day without drama, yet you have to deal with them. After all, you're too young for retirement yet but you're too far into your career to just quit now. So what can you do?

First: You must realize that the character flaw isn't yours.

This is important to understand because when we are the victim of gossip, backstabbing and the like, we often look to ourselves for blame. The thought is usually along the lines that if we can just find out what it is about ourselves that makes the other person dislike us so much, we could correct that flaw, thereby making them like us again. The problem with this is that it doesn't put the blame where it belongs. The person doing the backstabbing, or teasing is the one with the character flaw. 

They usually involve themselves in this kind of mistreatment of others because they are uncomfortable with attention falling on them. Their mindset is that if they don't point out flaws in others, people will notice the flaws they have, and that is unacceptable. What they don't realize is that by always putting others down, they put the biggest spotlight on themselves. The worst thing you can be known as is not as someone who has an annoying laugh, or messy hair, or even a bad sense of humor. No, the worst thing you can be known for is being someone others can't trust. Someone who is alone, because you've pushed everyone away. 

I want you to imagine that person who is doing the backstabbing as looking into a mirror. The mirror is representative of the rest of the world (you and others around you). However, rather than seeing other people for who you really are, what they see is the reflection of themselves in that mirror and trust me, they don't like what they see. That is why they feel they have to run others down. Because they don't like what they see in the mirror, they want others to view you like they view themselves. Doing so actually makes them feel better because for that moment people are not focusing their attention on the defects that is actually in the mirror-them!

Second: Leave the things that happen at work at work!

When I was a police officer in my rookie year, I wanted to be the very best police officer that ever walked through the door at my first agency. I went overboard and almost ruined my home life. That is because I allowed myself to never have a day off. It's funny that it's called a day off, because you're supposed to take the day off from the stresses of work, and re-charge your batteries. That is the reason why employers give them in the first place, because they understand that they are needed in order to have employees who perform at their very peek levels. However, we sometimes allow ourselves to be so wrapped up with work, that the job literally takes over our lives. I forgot that I was a husband, son and brother. I allowed the perceived needs of the department come before the actual needs of my family by working 30+ hours overtime in a pay period. 

But you know what happened when I started cutting back on the overtime? The walls of the police department stayed standing, the other officers didn't die, reports were still finished on time, and the crime rate didn't skyrocket. However, I did start sleeping better and my home life improved. Because I got my priorities in line at work, it improved my home life. I was no longer glued to the phone in case work called, and my days off were more refreshing.

I know, you don't think that it's that bad with you yet. Let me ask you, when you get home from work does your mind still worry about what happened throughout the day? Does what that person said still bother you hours after you supposedly unwind? When you're on your day off, are you always waiting by the phone in case work calls? Do you spend your down time getting caught up on projects, or planning the following week? Do you dread the next day at work because you'll have to face the backstabber? If you answered 'yes' to any of these, you may need to re-evaluate what takes priority. 

You have to remember that work is where you go to earn a living, not where you go to live. Did you catch that? You do not live at work, you go to work to support your life. There's a big difference. Being able to recognize the difference will help keep criticism from others in perspective when it happens. If work itself doesn't define you then neither will the opinions of a sarcastic backstabbing coworker.

Third: Look for opportunities to follow a perfect example.

What is the ultimate act of betrayal that you could think of? Have you ever had someone you trusted steal something from you? What about breaking their promise? Have you ever had a significant other leave you for someone else? All of these would seem like pretty serious offenses of betrayal, yet I can still think of one far worse.

How about one of your closest, most trusted friends literally selling you out to people who want nothing more than to kill you? Not only does he give you up for money, but he leads them directly to you so that they can kidnap you? And during your trial, the friend who said he would defend you to the death denies knowing you not once, not twice, but three times. Wouldn't that be a serious betrayal? The people I'm referring to is obviously Jesus and his apostles, Judas and Peter. Jesus was betrayed by two of his closest friends, to be kidnapped and ultimately put to death all alone. I can think of no worse act of betrayal or backstabbing than that done by the apostles to Jesus. However, being perfect as Jesus was, He found opportunity even in these repugnant acts.

The fact is, Jesus was able to turn acts of betrayal into acts that ultimately served Gods purpose. Judas, though he betrayed Jesus, served Gods purpose by initiating the act that shed perfect blood. It is this blood that now makes atonement for our acts of betrayal against God in our many sins. Through Peter's denial, which Jesus predicted beforehand, taught Peter to fully trust in Gods word. Like many lessons in life, it was learned the hard way. Yet it was a lesson that Peter was able to utilize to be the leader of early Christians that God needed him to be. 

So what about you? Are you able to find some positive aspect in an act of betrayal? I suppose it would depend purely on the individual circumstance, however, we know of at least one positive aspect of every troubling time- it builds patience. James 1:2-4 says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Do you find pleasure in the fact that you are going through a hard time at work? No, that would be ridiculous, and that's not what James is saying. What he is saying is turn those hard times into something positive that you can learn and gain from. Doing so will grow your patience. Don't hold on to hard feelings, whether they be directed toward other people, or at situations themselves. Doing so does nothing to change the person, or the event. It only changes you because it makes you bitter. 

Hurt feelings only make you bitter, never better. Think about it, God, who is far wiser than us doesn't hold on to hurt feelings. He forgives our shortcomings time and time again (1 John 1:9), and He wants us to forgive others also. In fact, we cannot expect forgiveness of our sins if we cannot forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:15). When we realize the motivating factor behind someone's negative actions is usually to cover their own personality flaws, suddenly the sting of emotions is not as severe. Remember to keep your priorities in perspective. You work to live, not live to work. Jesus set the example for us in dealing with all things, including dealing with hurt caused by others. Look for a positive in all negative, but be warned: it may take you a minute to find it. So while you look for it, go ahead and offer the other cheek (Matthew 5:39). 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perception Is Reality: Managing Stress

How do you keep a guy like the Apostle Paul down? Think about it for a minute. If you leave him alone, he'll convert the whole world. If you put him in jail, he converts the jailer. If you put him in prison for years, he writes over half the New Testament. If you threaten him with execution, he tells you you're doing him a favor! You can't keep a guy like that down, and it is all because of one reason.

Attitude.

In my conversations with people about stress, one thing continues to stick out to me. Life depends on our attitudes. It doesn't matter what our circumstances are. What matters is our attitudes to these circumstances. The old adage is, "perception is reality." While I'm not 100% sold on this concept for every situation, I do believe that our perception can alter our reality.

I understand that this is easier said than done. Trust me, I know. When the bank account depletes and the bills grow, it is hard to find a reason to have a good attitude about that. Or what about being a mother-to-be, who is going through a divorce? Where's the silver lining in that thundercloud? It's easy to believe that it doesn't exist. After all, to a person who doesn't worry about altering their perception, a broke check book will never be full enough, and a broken heart will never mend. But notice that both of these problems are found in their perception of the events. Sure, you can work harder or longer hours at work to fill the bank, but again, "more money, more problems." If your perception or attitude about problems is not drastically changed, you're doomed to suffer the same debilitating fate.

Stress is a crusher. There is no doubt about it. In a 10 year study by cardiologists of men aged 35-59, it was found that people who do not properly manage their stress (Type-A personalities) more than double their risk for coronary heart disease. I know this to be true from personal experience. When I worked as a Corrections Officer for the State of Tennessee, I was stressed to the max. In fact, I was 21 years old and taking blood pressure medicine. The fact was, I was not managing my stress. I was allowing my stress manage me.

But let's focus back on Paul. How did Paul manage his stress? If you read any of his letters to the early church, one thing stands out above the rest. Paul did not worry about himself, and if he did, he certainly didn't complain about it. In fact, overwhelmingly, his letters dealt with uplifting, encouraging, and correcting others in their spiritual walk (Phil 4:8). He instructs others to avoid those who would cause stress (Romans 16:17), and rebuked those who created turmoil, regardless of their position in the church (Galatians 2:11). Paul was on the track of living a stress free life.

But how is that possible for a guy who spent almost 4 1/2 years locked up in some form of jail? He recognized the things that were worth his time and effort to change, and the things that weren't. He knew the difference. This was Paul's way of managing stress, and it apparently worked well for him.

So what about you? Do you know the difference? Can you recognize the things you can change, and those you cannot? Are you managing stress, or is stress managing you? When it comes to managing stress, each person is different in what works for them. But each person must find that 'thing'. What are you doing to affect your perception toward your reality? 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chris Vest, Guns and Amazing Grace


Chris and his fiancĂ©e, Krystl Miller

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;"-Matthew 5:44

How do you define grace? How would you explain it to someone who has no concept of the word? The number of different answers to this question may very well be dependent only on the number of different people you ask. However, like anything else, the concept of grace is perhaps best understood when an example is first given.

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines Grace as "a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency". While other definitions are given, this is perhaps the most understood concept of the word. Grace can be a hard thing to learn. Often times we expect grace for ourselves from others, yet we're not so quick to give it. We tend to wait a very long time before it is given to others, if we even give it at all.

However, that wasn't the case for Chris Vest the night of March 17th, 2011. You may know Chris best as the drummer for one of my favorite bands Framing Hanley. Recently, Chris and his fellow band mates played a show in Poughkeepsie, New York as part of the American leg of their tour promoting their new album. They had just wrapped up the show and Chris went to grab some takeout from a restaurant near the venue when the unthinkable happened. Chris found himself, along with his tour manager, being chased by a man who tried to rob them.

Remember when I said that Chris displayed grace during the incident? What happened during this understandably terrifying event was when Chris' grace kicked in. He was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about this incident.

(KEY: MS-Mike Swims, CV-Chris Vest)



MS: "Whether the threat of violence was real or not, you were recently a victim of a crime where violence was threatened against you. How did this go down?"

CV: "I went to get some food after playing a show. The place was a block or two away from the venue in Poughkeepsie,NY. When I walked into the restaurant I started getting hasseled by a guy to give him money. Not like your typical street lurker though, very forceful and telling me to give him money. I knew that I was going to be hassled as soon as I left. I got on the phone with the my tour manager (Amir) as I left so I could call for help if it was needed. As I walked out I gave the guy the rest of my change and as I put it in his hand he tried to grab my food out of my hand. I let my tour manager know what was going on and he came running to help. The guy let go knowing that help was on the way and I walked away as quick as possible. I kept checking back to make sure that he wasn't following me. My tour manager caught up with me and we walked back to the venue as I was telling him what happened. As I was talking to him the same guy rides by on a bike and tries to snatch my food out of my hand again. Amir kicked his bike as he went by and the guy stopped in the middle of the road and acted like he was reaching for a gun. We both immediately ran for cover and Amir called the cops. The guy continued to chase after us while reaching for a gun. Once we got into a crowded area with more people around he took off. The cops showed up shortly after and began a search for him. They found him within a few minutes but after searching him he had no weapon on him. He may have been bluffing the entire time or he may have gotten rid of what he had. Either way, because he had nothing on him at the time there was nothing that the cops could really hold him on."


MS: "Many people believe that God allows us challenges to overcome in order to better prepare us for difficult times we will face in the future. You had a similar incident happen before. Do you believe that the first incident was used to prepare you to recognize this potentially deadly situation, and help you react appropriately?"

CV: "Yes, In some ways I do. The incident I went through before was much more severe. I actually had a gun put to the back of my head and trapped in a place where no one could see me or come for help. I didn't have quite as strong of a faith then as I do now. The first time all that went through my head was "I'm about to die" and how much it was going to hurt my family. There is no doubt that God was watching over me and protecting me. Without him I certainly wouldn't be alive right now. This time I instantly felt something wrong and began praying to God for His protection. I knew that he was the only thing I needed to get through the situation and he delivered me from it."


MS: "Wow! Your first robbery made the second seem like day camp! What was the first thing that went through your mind when it actually happened?"

CV: "I went through a bunch of emotional swings that completely wrecked me at the time. At first I was scared, then shocked, then angry, then I was thankful. I just couldn't really get my emotions under control. I kept switching back and forth from one feeling to another after it happened. It brought up a lot of my feelings from the last incident and really made me do a lot of thinking."


MS: "You’re engaged to get married, and she was shopping for her wedding dress the day you were mugged. How did you break the news to her about what happened? It seems there is no good way to make that call."

CV: "No, there was absolutely no good way to break that to her. We were just beginning to date when the first occurrence happened and it was already hard on her then so I knew it was going to be extremely hard this time. She knows me better than anyone in the world and she could instantly tell that something was wrong when I initially got on the phone with her. I was already having a hard time keeping it together but when I heard her tears I completely broke down. At that point I was not only feeling the pain from what I was dealing with but what she was going through as well. She had actually been sending me text messages with different wedding ideas as the event was taking place. I just couldn't imagine someone having to call her and tell her that I would be coming home to her in a casket. Just the thought of that ripped my heart out. She is an incredibly strong woman though and she was able to eventually shake it off and even help me pull out of it. I really don't know what I would do without her love and strength. It was yet again more proof as to why I am marrying her."


MS: "That sounds like a great girl. You're a lucky man. The fact that you immediately prayed to God for His protection speaks volumes for your faith. Where did you get faith like that? Is it something you gained on your own, or like the disciple Timothy, gained through a faithful family?"

CV: "I can't really say that it is something that I have gained on my own but more like something that God has instilled in me. I haven't always been so strong in the past but God has really taken my faith to all new places. Sometimes it seems like your faith grows stronger each time it is tested. My faith has been tested quite a bit over the past year and every time that God's word holds strong and true my faith is only magnified. My [preacher] has repeated Proverbs 18:10 time and time again. As I stood in the restaurant I instantly heard in my head "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." I began praying for God's protection and as always he delivered."


MS: "The Lord works in mysterious ways (Romans 11:33,34). How has this affected your spiritual life? Has there been any impact?"

CV: "It has only made my faith stronger. Day after day I ask God for His will to be done and for Him to provide me with a way of magnifying His name. As scary as this situation was I know that there was a purpose for it. Maybe it was for me to be reassured that His word will always remain true or maybe it was so my events could inspire someone that is in a bad place in their life right now and need some help. There has been countless times in my life when I don't understand what God is trying to do but He eventually shows you. It may be days later or it may be years later but I truly believe that God has a plan for every single one of us and His will is good."


MS: "You said in your story that you pray to God that He help the man who mugged you. How do you possibly pray for a guy who just tried to hurt you?"

CV: "It was very hard to contain my emotions in the beginning. At first I was very angry and just wanted the guy to get what he deserved. Then it hit me that this is not what God wants for us. If Jesus forgave the same men that beat him and left him to die on the cross then I can surly forgive someone who tried to rob me over a few pieces of chicken. My fiance's father was also a very big motivator for me. He was shot several times a few years ago and he was hanging on to life by a thread. After he fully recovered he forgave the man who had shot him. He not only forgave him but began working in a prisoner ministry program at the exact same prison that the man who shot him was in. His courage, strength, and faith have always been such and inspiration to me, especially through these times."

Chris' example has not been lost on me, and it is the reason I wanted to share it with you. All too often grace and forgiveness is the one thing we lack, not for ourselves, but for others. Often we expect it immediately on our behalf for our faults, but we're not so quick to reciprocate to those who would ask of it from us. Chris was put in a most precarious situation, one that would cause me personally to understand if he had carried a resentment for his attacker. Yet, because of someone else's example, Chris found the wisdom to rise above simple human emotion, and give the thing God Himself gives: 

Grace.

Wonderfully powerful,  amazing... Grace (Romans 3:22-24).

However, the example didn't start with Krystl's dad. Like everything else, there's a much bigger story behind all of this, and it starts 2,000 years ago with Jesus, who was nailed to the cross. As he hung there, he used His dying breath to pray for those who put Him there (Luke 23:34). Again, God's grace prevailed for those who were undeserving. Still, I wonder what the parents of yesteryear, the ones who said rock and roll was the devil's music, would think of Chris Vest and the example he gives to so many? I'd imagine that regardless of their opinion, it wouldn't matter. Chris would probably pray for them, too. 

After all, that's what Christ asks of us (Matt. 5:44).