Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Marbles Are Not Just For Losing

Buried Treasure
My father used to tell the story of becoming the proud owner of a bag of marbles as a young boy. How he came to possess these fascinating spheres I’m not sure, but he decided he didn’t want to share them with his eight brothers. He buried them somewhere in the farmyard for safekeeping. When he went to retrieve them, he couldn’t locate his burial spot. As far as we know, Dad’s marbles have never been found.
Though I suspect he told the story to teach us hoarding doesn’t pay, you can imagine the endless ribbing Dad took about losing his marbles. Someday, some archeologist will uncover Dad’s marbles and draw the logical conclusion that “twentieth century man treasured small glass balls, possibly used for currency.”

Hot Commodity
For a short time when my kids were young, playing marbles at recess was all the rage, much like in the 1920s and 30s. It seemed like a harmless and wholesome activity until the school realized the children were playing for keeps. Administration decreed the students must go home each day with the same marbles they brought, and the game consequently lost its appeal.

Cold, Hard Alarm
As teens, all three of our children were night owls who would rather suffer my nagging than crawl out of bed in the morning. After hundreds of frustrating mornings, I began keeping a jar of marbles in the freezer. The kid who refused to rise after a warning call received the icy marbles between their sheets. There was no escape short of getting up. As I recall, I needed to use the marble method only once. Or maybe it was once on each kid.

Object Lesson
A few years ago, our pastor used marbles for a sermon illustration. At the end of his message, he filled a special contraption with thousands of marbles, then allowed them to spill in a continuous stream onto the tiled floor while we listened. Each marble represented a life of one of our friends and neighbours who needed God’s love shown to them through us.
Unfortunately, the contraption jammed and when the pastor managed to unjam it, all the marbles came out in one mighty tsunami. His illustration was less effective than planned, but still drove home its point. Afterwards, the kids made a loot-fest of stuffing their pockets and fists. Adults were invited to gather a few marbles and keep them where they’d serve to remind us to pray for folks, maybe even allow the glass balls to roll around in our desk drawers or pockets where they’d become a bit of an irritant. I kept three this way for a while, until my grandsons discovered them. In Grandma’s house, anything resembling a ball is clearly intended for them.

Still Got Mine
Just for kicks this week, I decided to turn 55 years old. Remember when London Life came out with its classic Freedom 55 ads? A man in a suit running for a bus suddenly finds himself transported to the year he turns 55, running along a beach with his future self.
“You look pretty good,” he tells the silver-haired, trim man in trainers. When informed that retirement agrees with him, he wonders amid the palm trees how he can afford all that. The answer is Freedom 55.
If my 30-year old self could visit me today, she’d find me in snowy Portage la Prairie, exercising my freedom to go to work. But she’d be pleased to see I still possess most of my marbles.
At least, I think I do.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Golden Opportunities

Do you remember 2002, when they brought the Golden Boy down from the top of the Manitoba Legislative Building for refurbishing? Citizens were given the chance to see the magnificent statue up close and personal. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

I missed it.

I didn’t intend to miss it. It seemed like a great thing to do, but somehow other things filled our days and before we knew it, the Boy was back on top of the dome where he will stay until long after I shuffle off this mortal coil. It left me asking, “Why on earth didn’t I go?”

In the screenplay for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eric Roth wrote, “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.” 

While missing a close-up of the Golden Boy may not define my life, I’m sure you can relate to the sentiment. Technically, every choice we make means an opportunity missed. Perhaps you missed an opportunity to go to university because you started a family instead. Perhaps it was the other way around.

Maybe you said ‘no’ to a job offer or business proposal and have since wondered how your life might have turned out if you’d said ‘yes.’ 

You can’t take every opportunity that comes your way. Saying ‘yes’ to one generally eliminates a host of other, equal opportunities. But too often those choices look like this:

I could take the opportunity to exercise but miss the chance to veg on the couch, growing another layer of fat around my middle.

I could take the opportunity to attend church and receive encouragement for my heart, but miss the opportunity to read the depressing headlines about gang crime waves.

I could take the opportunity to meet a friend for coffee but miss the chance to spend two hours on Facebook, “connecting” with a multitude of friends.

I could take the opportunity to shovel my driveway tonight but miss the chance to arrive late for work in the morning.

You get the picture. When our choices are no-brainers like these, I hope we can engage our brains and not live with regret for chances missed. Life’s too short for that.

And speaking of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I want to invite you to the Local Author Showcase this Saturday, February 22, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Portage la Prairie Regional Library, 40 Royal Road North. The showcase provides a unique chance to meet our local authors, hear their stories, ask questions, maybe even buy a book or win a prize! Refreshments will be provided and everyone is welcome.

As of this writing, confirmed authors include Rusty Rutherford, Bill Shirriff, Alison Lehman, Les Green, Edgar & Suzanne Desjarlais, Sharron Arksey, Stu Phillips, Susan Ostapowich, Ted Meseyton, Linda Ducharme, Tess Achtemichuk, and Moi. Chances are, this exact grouping of people will never occur again (which could be said about most things, but humour me.)

I’ve still got a few copies of some of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books featuring my stories. For this event only, you can take home a signed copy for ten dollars.

Hope you can make it. I’d sure hate to miss the opportunity to meet you.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A New Twist on Date Night

(Last in a 3-part series on marriage.)

Now that Pete and Pam have learned to connect emotionally, it’s time they enjoyed some fun together. They’ve always been told how important regular “Date Nights” are to a marriage. According to Dr. GregSmalley, vice president of Family Ministry at Focus on the Family, when a couple spends time alone each week, their levels of happiness, positive communication, and sexual satisfaction are more than three times higher than those who don’t spend that time together. That means you might be able to dramatically increase these important areas of your marriage by simply dating your spouse.

Over the years, Pete and Pam have made many attempts. But children’s extracurricular events, sickness, or lack of a babysitter would invariably preempt their plans. Rescheduling took too much effort.

Planning became a little easier when the kids no longer required babysitting, but even then, things fizzled. Pete would pick a movie hoping to please Pam, and be bored to tears himself. Or Pam might choose a restaurant she thought Pete would love, but it fell flat. Both would return home disenchanted, and soon Date Night became a bittersweet memory.

Now that the kids are grown, Pete and Pam find themselves home alone together any given night of the week. What’s the point of dating, especially when dating so often disappoints?

At the marriage seminar we attended with Dr. DougWeiss, he taught us a different twist on date night. First, Pete and Pam need to establish when their dates will happen and how often. Every other Friday? Third Saturday of the month?

Once they’ve agreed, Pete and Pam will take turns planning the entire date, from babysitter to activities to location. But here’s where the twist comes in: Pete plans a date around what HE would like to do and Pam plans one around what SHE likes.

Say what?

You heard me. Sounds kinda selfish, doesn’t it? Takes all the romance out. That’s what I thought. 

But when you consider it, it makes sense. If Pete plans a date he knows he will like, they know at least one person will enjoy it. And Pam knows her turn is coming.

The three rules are:

  • No discussing major issues or household administration on your date.
  • No errand-running on your date.
  • No shopping (unless both recognize shopping as an enjoyable activity.) 

 You may also need to agree on a budget amount. I’d like to add a rule I made just for myself: prepare for the date as you would a first date with someone new—without the downside of nervous jitters.

Dr. Weiss told us that early in his own Date Night commitment, he took his turn planning a date. His wife happened to be a little ticked with him at the time and announced she wasn’t going.

He said, “OK. I’m still going.”

With his per-person budget for the evening suddenly doubled, he took himself to a 5-Star restaurant where he enjoyed a sumptuous meal alone. 

His wife never did that again.

Pete and Pam now look forward to date nights and find they’re able to maintain the commitment. What’s more, they’re learning to laugh and have fun together again.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy dating!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Tool (even men can appreciate!) for Discovering Real Intimacy

(Part 2 in a 3-Part Series on Marriage)

Now that Pete and Pam have learned to fight fair, they’re ready to move on to emotional intimacy, that elusive certain something separating married couples into categories of roommates versus best

Dr. Doug Weiss taught us an exercise called “Three Dailies” and on the surface it may sound like a childish game at best and psychobabble at worst. But Pete and Pam are finding it surprisingly helpful to their relationship, and I challenge you to give it three months before you judge. If, as a couple, you practice this faithfully for 90 days and still find yourself in the same old rut, I promise to give you back every penny.

Part One: Feelings
Pete and Pam went online and found a list of Feelings words here but you can use Google to find others. Either randomly point to words on the list or choose them systematically. Pete and Pam decided to pick one word from the front of the list and one at the end and work their way to the middle. 

Once they’ve selected two feelings, they each think of how to complete the following sentences and take turns going first. The script looks like this:

Pete: “I feel ___ when ______” (This example should be fairly recent.)
And “I remember feeling ____ when _____.” (This example is from under the age of 18.)

Then Pam takes her turn. They repeat the process using the second feeling, and Pam starts. Don’t forget three important rules:
Rule 1: No examples ever about your spouse or the relationship during this exercise. You can easily see why breaking this rule could lead to a train wreck. Suppose the word is “embarrassed” and Pam says “I feel embarrassed when you wear your purple shirt.” Introducing conflict is not the point here.
Rule 2: Maintain eye contact.
Rule 3: No feedback when someone shares a feeling, just listen to them. (Although Pam and Pete often find themselves going further into conversation, particularly when one of them shares a childhood story the other has never heard.)

Part Two: Praises. 
Each partner thinks of two things they love, like, or appreciate about the other. When both have thought of two things to say, they ping pong their praises. Here’s a sample script:
Pete: “Pam, I really appreciate the supper you made tonight.”
Pam: “Thank you. Pete, I really love how hard you’re working on becoming a better dad.”
Pete: “Thank you. Pam, I like how you smile even when you’re stressed out.”
Pam: “Thank you. Pete, I appreciate you filling the gas tank today.”
Pete: “Thank you.”
Be sure to truly receive the praise before you respond with thanks.

Part Three: Prayer
Regardless of your beliefs or whether you’ve ever prayed aloud, you can do this. First one spouse prays and then the other. Yes, out loud. This can be as simple as Pete saying, “God bless Pam in her job interview today,” and Pam saying, “God, please help Pete when he sees the doctor this afternoon.” Bonus points if you hold hands or hug while you pray. Later, you’ll want to move on to including prayers for your kids or others.

I can guarantee the Three Dailies will feel awkward at first. But if you stick with it, you may find yourself with a new best friend right in your own home. Are 15 minutes a day too much to invest in your #1 relationship? Establish a daily time and have fun with it!