The Most Daring Thing You’ll Ever Do

They say the first two years of your marriage are called the “honeymoon” years. These are the years where everything is supposed to be total bliss. Everything is awesome as both of you reside on cloud nine—you are unceasingly happy as you are in each other’s continual presence, you never have any major disagreements, you make passionate love all the time—marriage is just…easy! And then reality slowly settles in after that. Well, if you’re like me and Elly, we seemingly skipped the honeymoon years. Sure we had some good times, but marriage was hard from the get-go!

On December 29th, Elly and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary. Over the last few days, I’ve been reflecting on all the things I’ve learned throughout our marriage. Despite the hard times, I think I can say that we’re both happier in our marriage than we’ve previously been and are happy with the direction that our marriage is heading. We’re still on the journey and I don’t claim that our marriage is perfect or that we perfectly apply the lessons I discuss below, but I am certain that we’ve improved in all the areas below and it has taken a lot of time for us to learn these lessons. One thing we both have in common is that we don’t want to be satisfied with a mediocre marriage. We want to have a thriving relationship. We’ve read a lot of books and attended several marriage conferences, and still, we don’t have it all down; but by the grace of God, we’ll keep getting better little by little. Pursuing a healthy marriage is probably the most daring thing you’ll ever do. It’s by far been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But it is also extremely rewarding! My prayer is that as you read, you’ll find something that resonates with you that you’ll be able to apply to your marriage. (These are in no particular order.)

1. God will use your marriage to show you how selfish you really are.

This is something I pretty much realized right away. When I was single, I only had to worry about myself and I could do whatever I wanted—I could eat what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted; I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted; I could buy whatever I wanted. I was the only person I needed to consult to make most of my decisions. That all changed when I married Elly. My time no longer belonged just to me, nor did my money. To have to consider this other person—my wife—was a totally new experience and God used it to show me just how selfish I really am. Marriage puts you in a position where you are forced to practice putting the needs of others before your own. We’re going through a book in our Sunday school class called Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. His whole premise is that God’s purpose in marriage is not make us happy—it’s to make us holy! The older I get, the more I believe that God’s entire purpose for all the events in our life is to draw us to Himself, and if we’re Christian, to make us like Christ (see Philippians 2). I think marriage is one of the greatest tools He uses to accomplish this.

2. Depend on God for your happiness, not your spouse.

You must learn that your spouse is not the source of your happiness and to not depend on your spouse to make you happy. This was hard for me and Elly, because (like many young couples, I’m sure) we had unrealistic expectations coming into marriage—unrealistic expectations about how much time we’d get to spend together, how we’d communicate, how we’d resolve conflict, what our roles around the house would be, how much sex we would have, etc. And I think to some degree we all come into marriage with these expectations and assume that our spouse will meet these expectations and we’ll be happy. But Elly and I both found out quickly that neither of us are perfect and eventually one of us will let the other down. So to base our happiness on how well our spouse meets our expectations, or even our “needs,” is a trap. Practically speaking, what we’ve found is that if we focus on being obedient to God—treating our spouse as God would have us—its much easier to remain happy when personal expectations or needs aren’t met because you’re focusing on serving your spouse instead of focusing on yourself. And if you’re in this position, pray that God will help you to find joy in the midst of serving your spouse even when your needs go unmet. It probably won’t happen over night, but God will be faithful.

We’ve both struggled with this during our marriage. From my perspective, when it felt like Elly was relying on me to make her happy, it put a lot of pressure on me because I felt like there wasn’t any room for error. If I did the slightest thing wrong, it seemed to have a major effect on Elly’s attitude and thus our marriage.

I remember one point in our marriage where I had built up quite a bit of resentment towards Elly because I felt like she wasn’t meeting my needs. At that point, I honestly didn’t know if our marriage was ever going to get better. For sure, I was being selfish and had become wrapped up in my own needs. And while Elly knew we were struggling, I’m not sure she realized just how much resentment I had built up. I felt like she was so focused on herself and how unhappy she was that she couldn’t see how much my needs weren’t being met! (Seriously, how conceited is that!!!)

I know that she spent a lot of time praying about this and working on it and I will tell you that it was very noticeable once she finally stopped relying on me to make her happy. It seemed like a switch had magically been flipped. Around the same time, I made reservations for us to attend a Family Life marriage conference called Weekend to Remember. Elly’s mom came to town to watch the kids for a weekend while we headed down to Dallas for a weekend getaway. We had been to one of these before, but I naively thought we didn’t really need it. This time was different and I realized there was some major repair needed to our marriage. It ended up being just what we needed to set us on the path to healing.

Lest you think I’m blaming our marriage struggles on Elly, I’m not. There were plenty of areas where I was failing her, but let me tell you that when Elly began relying more on God for her happiness, it freed me to change. It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and inspired me to change as well. So in this way, I give her the credit for the fact that our marriage is much better than it used to be. She reached that point of change before I did.

3. Don’t expect physical intimacy in the bedroom if there hasn’t been emotional intimacy outside the bedroom.

This one is mainly for the guys. As men, we are much more visually stimulated than women and it is much easier for us to compartmentalize emotion. We can have a big fight with our wife and be ready to have sex 15 minutes later (maybe not even that long!). But it’s taken me a long time to realize that women don’t work the same way. As Elly says, she can’t just “flip a switch.” She needs to feel an emotional connection before she’s ever ready to connect physically. So I’ve had to learn that if we haven’t spent any quality time together or had any quality conversation lately, the odds of her being in the mood for physical intimacy are pretty much zero, zilch, nada! So plan ahead and make time to connect with your wife. She has a need for emotional intimacy just like we have a need for physical intimacy. So to ask her to fill your need without being willing to fill hers is unfair and will not produce long term happiness in the bedroom.

Now for the ladies, let me add this—don’t assume your husband is sitting down and having a conversation with you just because he wants to make love to you. Also, communicate your need for conversation and emotional connection. Men don’t have the same need as you do and we get busy and sometimes forget to make this a priority. So don’t get mad at your husband and expect him to be able to read your mind. If it’s been a while, let him know when you’re feeling in need for a date or for emotional intimacy. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the reminder and be happy to spend time with you.

4. Don’t take everything so personally.

When one of us hurts the other’s feelings, it’s amazing how we can subconsciously assume he or she did it on purpose. This took us yeeeaaarrrss to learn (emphasis on the years!). Remember that the enemy is not interested in us having a healthy marriage. He’s going to do whatever he can to create enmity between us. The vast majority of the time when Elly hurts my feelings or when I hurt her feelings, its by accident. Nowadays, we’ve learned to tell when something is wrong with the other and one of our first questions besides “are you okay?,” is generally, “did I do something to hurt your feelings?,” or “are you mad at me?” Sometimes its something I did and sometimes it isn’t, but one of the keys to quicker conflict resolution is learning to assume that my wife does not do anything intentionally to hurt my feelings. Again, it has taken years to get to the point where this is our default belief rather than the alternative—because Satan will certainly try to convince us otherwise. We heard this from several different marriage conferences we’ve been to over the years and it has made a huge difference. One key we’ve found is to combat the subconscious belief by asking the question outright, “do you think I did that intentionally to hurt you?” and then talk things out from there. It’s been a game-changer for us.

5. Lighten up.

Life can be really stressful sometimes. Our marriage has had plenty of good and plenty of bad. And especially in the bad times, try not to be so serious all the time. Find more ways to add humor into your marriage and don’t take yourself so seriously either. This partly relates to the last lesson because when you realize that stuff is just going to happen and that your spouse will mess up, give grace and try responding with humor instead of criticism.

6. Learn to communicate in your spouse’s love language.

This one is super important. Read Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages and learn what your spouse’s love languages are. After reading the book, discuss it with your spouse, and then re-read it occasionally, or at the least the sections that talk about your spouse’s love languages. I had read this book before getting married, but I read it in a different light after getting married. It takes time to sink in. My default is to love Elly in the ways I like to be loved—acts of service and physical touch. So it is very easy for me to come home and do the dishes or help clean up, or give Elly a back rub. And those are all great things, but they don’t mean as much to her as when I want to sit down and just talk with her about her day or what she’s been reading and learning about. She feels more loved when I do that than when I do the previous things (although I think doing the dishes for her is climbing her list! 🙂 And doing the things that make your spouse feel loved will end up paying dividends in your marriage!

7. Focus on changing yourself and not your spouse.

This one is a hard one. We all have a tendency to judge ourselves based on our intentions and judge others based on their actions. Consequently, its easier to find fault in others than in ourselves and we often fall into the trap of self-deception. Probably the best book I’ve read on this topic is Leadership and Self-Deception. It’s written in story form and the authors did an amazing job at helping me realize how self-deceived I was. For the first several years of our marriage, I wanted to blame most of our problems on Elly. I didn’t think she was solely to blame, but I did think she was mostly to blame. If we’re all honest, I think most would probably agree with that sentiment. But can you really quantify the blame for a struggling marriage? In some cases, perhaps, but most of the time, I’d venture to say that both parties are equally to blame. But the point here is not who is to blame. The point is that you can’t fix a problem for which you don’t take responsibility. If something is my fault, I can fix it. I can’t control Elly and I can’t “fix” her, but I do have control over myself—my attitudes and my actions. So I’ve learned that regardless of who is to blame, I’m going to focus on the aspects I can control and try to improve them and let God worry about the rest.

8. Sexy is more of an attitude than a look.

This one is more for the ladies. I obviously can’t speak for all guys here, but I hope that all the guys out there will agree. This probably isn’t something you’ve never heard before, but I’m going to reiterate it here. Sexy is more of an attitude than a look.

Neither of our bodies are the same as when we got married 10 years ago. Things change. I don’t have the same time to workout as I did when we were TINKS (two-incomes-no-kids) and Elly has birthed 3 children. Don’t misinterpret this—we’re simply just not as fit as we used to be. But Elly is still beautiful and I’m every bit as physically attracted to her as I was when we started dating over 11 years ago. Like many women, staying home with 3 kids—trying to maintain order, homeschooling, changing poopy diapers, cooking, cleaning, etc.—doesn’t do anything to help Elly feel more attractive. But her own self-perceptions don’t change the reality of my physical attraction for her. So my point is this, ladies—don’t assume that just because you don’t feel attractive or sexy that your husband thinks that as well. Maybe the next time you’re feeling down about how you look, remember (and focus on) how attractive your husband finds you.

For you husbands out there, make sure to tell your wife frequently how beautiful she is. If you’re like me, I think it way more often than I say it, and I still don’t say it enough, but I’m trying to be more intentional about this.

9. When working through conflict, error on the side of not saying something that will be hurtful to your spouse and that you will regret saying.

Elly and I have had plenty of conflict throughout the last 10 years, but I can honestly say that I have never said one thing to her during an argument that I regret. I have never said anything mean and I’ve never said anything hurtful. Don’t misunderstand me—I have certainly shared how I felt I had been wronged or how my feelings had been hurt and I have shared criticisms, but never in a mean or hurtful manner. There’s never been any name calling and there’s never been any cursing. Even when I’ve been the most upset, I’ve been careful to choose my words and if I couldn’t find a way to voice my perspective without being hurtful or making unfair accusations, I’ve kept my mouth shut. (By the way, I can’t think of anything mean or hurtful Elly has said to me either.)

I have a history of being verbally made fun of when I was younger, so I’m well aware that words can leave scars. The phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a flat-out lie. In fact, the very opposite is true. Your physical body can heal from a myriad of wounds and leave no signs of injury, but our words have tremendous power to injure and cause lasting damage. So if you can’t find the right words to say in the midst of disagreement, better to say nothing than to regret saying the wrong thing.

So there you have it—9 different lessons I’ve learned throughout the last 10 years of marriage. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I felt like these were all major lessons. If something didn’t make sense, feel free to let me know. Or if there’s a lesson you’ve learned in your own marriage, leave it in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Faith in the Approach

This afternoon I sat down to read my Bible and opened up to where I’ve been reading in the book of Matthew. Chapter 8 opens with two stories of faith. Both include faith in Jesus’ power, and yet Jesus responds very differently in each case. I’m sure the stories are familiar to most who have read the Bible, but today, something different struck me about these two accounts that I’ve never really thought through before.

The first account (verses 1-4) is of a leper, or a man who had a “serious skin disease.” He came before Jesus and knelt before Him and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus replied that He was willing and then healed the man. The next part of the account is something that has always puzzled me. Jesus commanded the man not to tell anyone what He had done for him. This never really made sense to me. I mean, wouldn’t Jesus want people to know of His power?

The second account (verses 5-13) involves another story of healing. This time, a centurion had a sick servant who he highly valued. Consequently, he went to Jesus to ask Him to heal his servant. Once again, Jesus was willing heal the man. Since the centurion did not take his servant to Jesus, Jesus said He was willing to go to the servant to heal him. But the centurion actually told Jesus he didn’t need to come. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be cured.” He went on to explain, “For I too am a man under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” And that’s where he stops; that’s all he says. It has never struck me as something profound that he said. And yet, it does strike me how Jesus responds. Verse 10 says “Hearing this, Jesus was amazed and said to those following Him, ‘I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!”

Apparently, Jesus saw more in what the centurion had said than I did! And that’s what struck me today. Why in the first account did Jesus command the man not to tell anyone what He had done, and in the second, He praised the centurion for his faith in front of everyone who was following Him? Obviously, there must be something very different about each of these men. As I thought about it, this is what stood out: the first man seems to have faith in what Jesus could do, the centurion seemed to have faith in who Jesus was. Here’s what I mean…

The first man definitely exhibited faith. He had faith that Jesus could heal him. He said, “if You are willing, You can make me clean.” But did he have any interest in Jesus beyond his desire for healing? Jesus’ response to him makes me think he didn’t. It seems to me that when Jesus commanded him not to tell anyone, He was really telling him, “don’t tell anyone what I did because I don’t want people to follow Me just for what they want Me to do for them.” In other words, I think that this man saw Jesus as a great man with the power to heal sickness, but he didn’t view Him as the Messiah, or the Son of God. Jesus healed many people because He had compassion on them, but He did not come to heal sick people. He came to testify to the truth of the scriptures.

The centurion also exhibited faith, but his words imply a much deeper faith. “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. But only say the word…” It amazes me that the centurion believed that Jesus was so powerful that He didn’t even need to see his servant or lay hands on him. He needed only to say the word! Moreover, he recognized that Jesus was not merely a man who had been given the power to heal, but that Jesus had been given authority, which obviously included authority over illness. In other words, what Jesus could do was an extension of who He was, and not simply some magic ability He had. It seems to be implied that the centurion understood Jesus to be the Son of God (which according to Dr. Doug Bookman actually means “one with God” and not “son” in our earthly sense of the term). And even if he didn’t exactly know that Jesus was the Son of God, he certainly recognized that there was something divine about this man called Jesus.

Now there’s one part of the story that I’ve left out. In verses 11-13, after Jesus praises the centurion for his faith, He says, “I tell you that many will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I think what Jesus is saying here in these few verses is that many will think that they will be saved, when in reality, their faith is not authentic. Their motives are not pure and therefore they are not truly saved. This is a serious warning and it seems to apply to the first account. In the last part of verse 13, “Jesus told the centurion, ‘Go. As you have believed, let it be done for you. And his servant was cured that very moment.”

This got me thinking about my own faith. Am I more like the first man who looks to God just for what He can do for me, or am I like the centurion who saw Jesus for who He is and not simply for what He can do? My faith is authentic, but I confess that all too often, my prayers are more focused on what God can do for me rather than the other way around. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with asking God to do things for us. He loves us and wants to do good things for us. How do I know this? I love my kids and want to do things for them that they will like and enjoy. And I know that God is greater than me, not lesser. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil [sinful], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” So there’s nothing wrong with asking God to do things for us, but we must be careful not to approach God as if He is some genie who exists to do whatever we ask. We must approach Him with humility and a sincere faith that is based on who God is and recognize that He is in authority. And whether He answers our requests or not shouldn’t change how we view Him or what we believe about Him. That is the kind of faith that seemed to be exhibited by the centurion—a faith that is praised by Jesus and a faith I want to emulate.

He Gave It

“No one took Jesus’ life–He gave it”

In honor of Easter and celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus, here is a song I wrote back in college after seeing the movie, End of the Spear. When thinking about Easter, the crucifixion is one of the first things that comes to mind. If you’ve never read about the physical pain that Christ endured on the cross, I would recommend reading The Murder of Jesus by John MacArthur, or The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. The term “excruciating” was created to describe the pain of being crucified because no other word could describe it. When we read about what happened to Jesus, it’s easy to think that He was at the mercy of Pilate and the Roman soldiers; but by all accounts, He went to the cross willingly. He sacrificed his own life as a substitute for the penalty that I deserve–that we all deserve. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).” No one took Jesus’ life–He gave it. (Click HERE to listen to a recording I uploaded to MySpace after Elly recorded me in a recording studio at Emporia State University in 2006 (She was a digital recording major). I don’t claim to be a great singer, but I do believe this song was divinely inspired.)


He Gave It

It was His plan since before time

to send His son to become mine

to give His life—an offering

to take my sin and wash me clean


No surprises when they came

He humbly accepted all that pain

nailed to the cross and crowned with thorns

as people shouted mocks and scorns


No one took my Jesus’ life

He gave it

He gave it


How could I know what He went through

As he suffered through and through

He died upon that cursed tree

and gave His life freely


Atop the Skull was not the end

He was laid down, but rose again

One day I’ll rise and join my king

Jesus Christ, His Majesty


No one took my Jesus’ life

He gave it

He gave it


It was His love that put Him there

The price is paid, no debt to bear

It was His joy to set us free

So we may live eternally


No one took my Jesus’ life

He gave it

He gave it


Jesus, no one took your life

You gave it

You gave it

What Happened to Good Customer Service???

What happened to good customer service? Seriously. Recently, I have personally experienced several instances of just plain horrible customer service. I’ve never been one to say that the customer is always right, because, let’s face it, there are some pretty special people out there. However, I do believe that it is better for a company to make it a practice to generally give the customer the benefit of the doubt. It seems to me that many companies today are so worried about their own bottom lines, that they make that a priority over good customer service. Here is a brief summary of a couple of my recent experiences–and hang with me, because I’m going to make a point (and it’s not to just complain):

Example #1: Recently, we changed our internet provider because of some ongoing internet issues. When we switched, I called the first company we used to cancel our service. We were told our service was disconnected and told we’d be receiving a refund. Found out over a week later our service was never cancelled, so I called back again to have them cancel it. This new customer service agent assured us he got it cancelled, but couldn’t give us the refund we were promised before and basically said there was no way to refund us for the week our service was supposed to be cancelled. To make a long story short, I spent more than an hour on the phone with FOUR different reps to solve the issue. A couple were sympathetic, but said they were powerless to change it. The third one explained they couldn’t make my refund retroactive because they had no record of my call (Basically, the original rep I talked to didn’t do her job and made no notes on my account about why I called and didn’t complete my cancellation.) Despite me having my phone records to prove I called when I said I did, I was repeatedly told they couldn’t refund me because they had no record of my call.

So I asked, “let me see if I understand–you can’t refund me because you don’t believe I called when I said I did.”

“Oh no, sir, that’s not it.  I just can’t refund you because we have no record of your call[!]”

So I asked to speak to someone else and thankfully, this person knew how to do her job and fixed the issue (and found a record of my call!) within 5 minutes. (She couldn’t understand why the others I had talked to couldn’t solve my issue…) So I was thankful I got it fixed, but only after being inconvenienced spending over an hour on the phone to fix an issue that never should have occurred.

Example #2: Just today I went to a well known fast food chain to buy a sandwich for lunch. My total was a bit over $6 and I paid with a $20 bill. As the hostess was giving me my change, I realized that I had a couple extra $1 bills and just as she was closing the money drawer, I asked her if I could give her my $1’s and get a $5 bill back instead. She said she would have to ask her manager. So she did and she came back to tell me that she wasn’t allowed to “make change.” I was astonished. I had just bought a sandwich at a restaurant I go to at least once a week, sometimes more, and the manager wouldn’t allow her to swap some $1’s for a $5! It wasn’t like I had just walked in off the street and wanted some change. I walked away shaking my head.

This evening when I got home, Elly had asked me if I had heard about the guy that was dragged off the United Airlines flight. Well, between watching the Master’s this past weekend and coaching my golf team in two tournaments the last two days, I didn’t know anything about it. So I did a brief search online to find out more about it because what she told me sounded so appalling. After reading a bit, I was even more surprised to hear that the CEO of United never admitted any wrong-doing by the company.

Thus the reason for this post: What happened to good customer service?

Do companies that have bad customer service realize what they are doing to their future profits? In trying to protect their bottom lines, ironically, they are pushing customers away. I agree that businesses shouldn’t allow people to take advantage of them, but that doesn’t mean they should’t give their customers good service or the benefit of the doubt. Additionally, I remember hearing a statistic a few years ago that people are 11 times more likely to share a bad experience, which could possible translate to even less business in the long term.

There are a lot of companies that seriously need to read How to Win Friends and Influence People, or The Speed of Trust. Treating customers as if they are untrustworthy is never a way to earn more of their business. Also, from a profits standpoint, a customer should never be looked at based on how much they spend on one occasion, but rather how much they spend over the long term. The sandwich shop I visited today may not care about swapping some bills for a customer that just occasionally comes in to buy a sandwich. But if they realized I was a regular customer, they would realize they had a lot more to lose by not providing good customer service. But the point is also this: you may not always know who the regulars are or not. So why not treat every customer with great customer service. Chances are if they’re not a regular customer yet, excellent customer service just might make them a regular and the company will profit more in the long term.

Do Not Fear: Lesson 2

“[Fear] is a tool that the devil uses to neutralize our impact and influence.”

Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed emotionally. It seems that around every corner, bad news is lurking—it seems like you can’t check Facebook, or Twitter, or the Yahoo homepage, or even email without coming across something sad or negative whether you want to see it or not. It might be some tragic event, natural disaster, childhood cancer, or some other loss that creates human suffering of some kind. I really try my best to avoid as much negative information as I can, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. One thing I’ve noticed in regards to this is that it is easy to become fearful in the wake of such information. Pain is something that none of us wants to experience, but often can’t avoid. It is simply the result of living in a fallen world. If we are not careful, it is easy to be overtaken by our fear.

The interesting thing about fear, though, is that all of us are born with only 2 fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. If you have children, you’ve witnessed the exhibition of these fears. But all the other fears or phobias that we face are learned. We’ve developed them through the things we’ve watched, the people we’ve known, the experiences we’ve had, and most, if not all of them do us no good. Like anxiety, being overly fearful reveals a lack of trust in God. But it is also a tool that the devil uses to neutralize our impact and influence. For me, the easiest thing to do when I feel fear is to shrink back into a state of despair. It limits my creativity, steals my courage, and keeps me on edge, creating a negative attitude. Being fearful doesn’t just affect me; it affects my wife, my kids, and everyone else I come into contact with.

The good news, however, is that if our fears are learned, they can be unlearned. By no means is this easy, but I believe it can be done. The first step is to recognize the source of our fears. I’m not sure what your spiritual beliefs are, but I believe that all of our negative fear originates with Satan. The Bible tells us that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). There is a cosmic battle between good and evil that goes on unseen in this world, though sometimes we can feel it. We are warned in 1 Peter 5:8 to be “sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” What a powerful image! Satan is constantly working to get us off track.

Whenever we feel fearful, our initial response should always be to pray. I once heard someone say that the Bible tells us 365 times not to fear—one reminder for each day of the year.  I have not verified if it is truly that many times, but nevertheless, we are exhorted often to fear not. I think that this shows us that in our fallen nature, God knows that we will have fears, but He wants us to learn to give our fears to Him and seek His refuge. Isaiah 41:10 says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

I confess that this has been a difficult lesson to learn. My first response is generally to fret, worry, or dwell upon my fears becoming reality. When I was writing earlier about my experience with my heart issues, I mentioned that the thing I feared most when faced with the fear of death was my kids growing up without a dad. If I spend even a moment dwelling on the prospect of this, I can become distraught with fear—fear that Elly and the kids won’t be financially provided for in the long term, fear of my son not having a godly man to lead, guide and mentor him, fear that my daughters won’t experience the unconditional love and emotional security gained from a relationship with their father.

Another issue I have faced since going through these things is something called Somatic Symptom Disorder. Basically, I’ve become somewhat of a hypochondriac—fearing that any little physical issue I feel is some major health concern—random muscle soreness might mean I have a blood clot, a lump of fatty tissue could be a tumor, or back pain could be another heart issue. It’s really been amazing to me because sometimes it seems like there is something new every day to fear.

Thankfully I have learned not to spend too much time dwelling on these fears. Sometimes it is still difficult, but it has been a daily exercise in trusting God. I honestly believe that Satan is doing whatever he can to prevent me from living a God-honoring life. I’ve heard it said that fear is simply an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real and I have often found this to be true. As mentioned before, fear is simply a tool Satan uses to distract us. But the more we exercise trust and faith in God, the lesser the impact fear will have. If an issue persists, I’ll have it checked out, but I’m not going to be overcome by fear.

Even if some of my fears do come true, I still believe that God is sovereign and in control. For example, Lord willing God will allow me to live a long life, but if He takes me while my kids are still young, I know that He will provide for Elly and the kids. He will provide a man to mentor my son, and perhaps He would bring another godly man to marry Elly and to be the father that my kids would need. Because I trust in God, I don’t need to fear what would happen to them.

When you feel fear, do you spend more time dwelling upon it than you spend in prayer to God? Realize that fear can only paralyze you if you let it, and it may just be Satan trying to keep you from making the impact God wants for you to have. But also realize that even if some of your fears do come true, God is still in control. He will still be there for you.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).”

In this world, there will always be things to fear. Satan is going to do whatever he can to derail us. If we give in to every fear we face, we will become inept, ineffective, and complacent. This is exactly what Satan wants. His purpose is to “steal, kill, and destroy,” but God wants us to experience life to the full (John 10:10). When I am fearful, I remind myself that I can’t live my life in fear. I can’t allow Satan to win the battle for my mind. I remember that God has said,

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 46:10).”

I hope I don’t give the impression that fear is something that I’ve mastered, because I haven’t. But I have learned to temper it. And that has happened only through a lot of prayer and scripture reading. I’ll leave you with my favorite Psalm that I like to read whenever I am feeling particularly distressed, and if you, too, are feeling fearful about anything, I pray it will bring you comfort as well.

Psalm 86

A prayer of David.

1 Hear me, Lord, and answer me,

for I am poor and needy.

2 Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;

save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; 3 have mercy on me, Lord,

for I call to you all day long.

4 Bring joy to your servant, Lord,

for I put my trust in you.

5 You, Lord, are forgiving and good,

abounding in love to all who call to you.

6 Hear my prayer, Lord;

listen to my cry for mercy.

7 When I am in distress, I call to you,

because you answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;

no deeds can compare with yours.

9 All the nations you have made

will come and worship before you, Lord;

they will bring glory to your name.

10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;

you alone are God.

11 Teach me your way, Lord,

that I may rely on your faithfulness;

give me an undivided heart,

that I may fear your name.

12 I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;

I will glorify your name forever.

13 For great is your love toward me;

you have delivered me from the depths,

from the realm of the dead.

14 Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God;

ruthless people are trying to kill me—

they have no regard for you.

15 But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,

slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

16 Turn to me and have mercy on me;

show your strength in behalf of your servant;

save me, because I serve you

just as my mother did.

17 Give me a sign of your goodness,

that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,

for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

Relinquishing Control: Lesson 1

“Anxiety, at its core, reveals a lack of trust in God.”

When Elly and I were dating, I remember exactly where I was the moment I realized I loved her. We were visiting my sister in Dallas over Spring Break, and were just chilling on her couch one evening. I had my arm around Elly and she was leaning her head on my shoulder when the thought entered my head.

“This is the girl I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

We had been dating for about five months by that time and it just felt normal to be with her. (I’m sure many of you know what I mean.) But although I had the feeling, it wasn’t until four months later that I verbalized it. I guess it was for a couple reasons. First, I didn’t want to throw around the “love” word until I was ready to commit to marriage. Second, Elly was heading out of the country for 6 weeks at the beginning of the summer and I wanted to use that time to reflect on our relationship and our future together.

It didn’t take me long after she left to realize that I really did want to marry her. So I purchased a ring. But it was after I bought the ring that I started to experience quite a bit of anxiety and I really didn’t know why. It bothered me so much that I felt no peace—a constant uneasiness in my core. In my mind, I wondered if I had made a mistake by buying the ring. Was I moving too fast or did God want me to marry someone else?

I often think about Proverbs 16:9 which says, “In his heart, a man plans his course, but God determines his steps.” It’s easy for us to make plans based on what we want to do, but ultimately, God is sovereign and in control. After I bought the ring, I began to fear that I was merely asking God to bless my plans for my life rather than prayerfully considering what His will was for me.

Ultimately, I needed to spend some quality time in prayer and meditation to figure out the root of my anxiety. So I headed to the place where I did this best—the gym. (There’s just something about working out that allows my mind to think more clearly.) I entered the cardio room and hopped on a recumbent bike and started peddling, freeing my mind to pray and think through everything I was feeling.

My thoughts wondered to the relationship I had been in prior to Elly. It wasn’t a long relationship, but I remember when this girl broke up with me, I felt utterly confused. We both liked each other, so breaking up didn’t make any sense to me at all and I didn’t understand it. Interestingly, however, it was in that state of confusion that I experienced my deepest connection with God in the months that followed that breakup.

Then it dawned on me—my anxiety, my discomfort, my uneasiness was being caused by the fact that I loved Elly so much, I feared losing her. The solution, however, was not that I needed to be reassured of her love for me. Instead, I needed to surrender to God’s will no matter what happened.

If there is any scripture that has served as my life’s motto, it is Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

It’s that middle section that has always proved hardest for me—“lean not on your own understanding.” There will be times in our lives when we can’t make any sense out of what’s happening to us. Either we’re just clueless or there may seem to be no logic to it. It is at these times that we have to exercise our faith the most despite being lost in the big picture. If we don’t have faith that there really is a “big picture,” how can we expect to find any peace?

I had to realize that even if Elly did come back from overseas and her feelings had changed, God would still be there for me (Hebrews 13). My prayer looked something like this:

“God, Your word says that in all things, You work for the good of those who love You (Romans 8:28). So I know that if Elly comes back and doesn’t want to be with me, I know that you’ll use it as an opportunity to draw me closer to you, just as you did before. And if that happens, I know it’s just because You have something better in store for me. I love Elly, but if I have to give her up so that I can be close with You, so be it. I would rather be close to You than live outside of Your will for my life.”

At that moment, I surrendered my plans to God and allowed Him to be in control–and I felt total peace. The uneasiness was gone. Once I decided to give God the reigns, I rested in knowing that I had nothing to worry about. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As it turned out (thankfully!), God wasn’t telling me that Elly wasn’t “the one,” He just wanted to recalibrate my focus to make sure that my hope and my trust were ultimately in Him and not in man.

Fast forward 8 years and God was reminding me of this lesson in a totally different way.

Anxiety (worry), at its core, reveals a lack of trust in God. When I am worried about something, it is because I do not fully trust that God is sovereign and in control. (See Matthew 6:25-34.)

If I did have total faith in God and total trust in His sovereignty, what would I have to be worried about? Who can compete with the Almighty God, the Creator of all things? Who can thwart His plans or rival His power? Who else existed before time began? Who else has the power to calm the raging seas or raise the dead to life again? No one! Therefore, because I believe in Him, I should truly have nothing to worry about.

A former pastor of mine used to say that we should only be concerned with the things that are within our control. If it is outside of our control, it does us absolutely no good to worry about it. As humans, this is extremely difficult, because we all like to have control! As it applies to the situation with my heart, I had to realize that God is the one who keeps my heart beating. And even if it is defective, He will ultimately determine when it stops. God is not confined to our time or space or reasoning. He defies odds all the time. And I have to believe that He will keep my heart ticking until I have fulfilled all the purposes he has planned for my life.

This doesn’t mean that it’s an easy lesson to apply. I still worry and have anxiety quite often. But I’m learning to change how I deal with it and how I talk to myself when I feel anxious. I have to daily surrender to God and allow Him to be in control, reminding myself constantly of those things I mentioned above. I also did learn practical techniques to help with the anxiety, such as deep breathing to counter the shortness of breath, but techniques really only provide temporary relief. I needed to change my thinking, which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been reading my Bible and praying daily. It was doing those things that helped me relinquish my desire for control and trust God with the outcome.

So what have you been worrying about lately? What inputs are you allowing to affect your thinking? Are you spending more time listening to yourself or talking to yourself? In what ways haven’t you been trusting God for the outcome? If not God, in whom or in what have you placed your trust?

What I learned was that God is the only one who will never let us down. He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us and I experienced that in, what was to this point in my life, my deepest time to need. Many things will happen to us that we may never understand. While we don’t always have control over what happens to us, we do have control over how we respond. We can choose to let our anxiety run rampant, or we can choose to trust that God is sovereign and in control and rest in the peace that He alone is able to provide.

Finally, Some Answers!

“Something doesn’t feel right. I need you to drive me to the ER.”

Probably the first time I legitimately thought I was having a heart attack happened during church about a week after I heard back from my doctor. More than any other time, I felt short of breath, pressure that felt like a weight on my chest along with other little stabs of pain. We didn’t even wait for church to end. I leaned over to Elly and said, “We need to go. I’ll explain on the way.”

So we picked up the kids from the nursery and headed to the car. After we got the kids buckled in, I told Elly, “Something doesn’t feel right. I need you to drive me to the ER.”

When we got to the ER, they checked me in very quickly and did another EKG almost immediately. They found the same thing the first EKG revealed—a right bundle branch blockage—and also like the first one, they found no signs my heart was in distress.

This was when I really began to understand the effects stress and anxiety can have on the body. While I had hoped that talking with my doctor would relieve my anxiety, it unfortunately didn’t help. Cardiology is not his specialty, so rather than try to give me a full explanation of my condition and test results, he referred me to a cardiologist. The thing that made it difficult was that they couldn’t get me an appointment until a month later. I obviously didn’t want to have to wait a full month to get any answers, but it didn’t seem like I had another option.

Looking back on it, I should have told myself, “Well, they don’t seem too worried about it. If they thought my life was in danger, they would have admitted me to the hospital. So why should I be worried?”

Unfortunately, my mind took the gloomier and worst-case-scenario view and I ended up worrying more. It was all that stress that landed me in the hospital just a few days later, and it wouldn’t be the last time either.

I had pretty much figured out after the first visit to the ER that anxiety can produce very real physical symptoms. So after that point, I tried to be more conscious of my anxiety in conjunction with my physical symptoms. Although most of the other physical symptoms went away after a short period of time, I persistently felt short of breath. Additionally, even though I figured my symptoms were stress-induced, I wanted to err on the safe side.

A couple weeks later we were in KC for my father in-law’s birthday when I began to feel a weird tingling feeling in my left arm, up into my jaw. This, being a symptom I hadn’t felt before, got the worry train rolling again. So again I paged my doctor, but got a different doctor on call. I gave her a brief history and explained what I was feeling and of course she recommended going to the ER just to be safe. (Remember what I said about going to the ER in Kansas City…)

Same song, third verse—right bundle branch blockage; heart wasn’t in distress. (As a side note, I felt the same symptoms again the following day shortly after taking a new allergy drug I had taken for the first time the day before. So apparently, it was just some side effect. So thank you very much Claritin-D. You owe me $1,000!—Ok, not really.)

At this point, I was getting pretty annoyed. Not having any answers (which none of the ER doctors could supply) was causing me tremendous anxiety that was very difficult to control. I finally called my doctor.

“I’ve been to the ER twice in the last 2 weeks because I don’t know what’s going on with my heart. Is there any way we can get my appointment with the cardiologist moved up?”

The best they could do was a week sooner, and I took it gladly.

When I finally met with the cardiologist, he was able to tell me more about my condition. He explained that a right bundle branch blockage is an electrical shortage on the right side of my heart. Under certain conditions, rather than my heart receiving one electrical signal to beat, it receives a burst of signals, which can cause the heart to beat very rapidly.

“Under what conditions?” I asked.

“Stress, fatigue, exhaustion, dehydration, excessive caffeine consumption…”

After he said that, I understood what had happened on the course. I was behind in a match play tournament, it was a very hot, sunny day and the only drinks I had had on the course were two caffeinated sports drinks.

I was nearly satisfied with that answer until I thought of another question, “so what did they see on the results of my myocardial perfusion scan that would cause them to say my results were only ‘slightly positive?’”

He didn’t know. So he went and looked at the results himself.

When he returned, he said that there was one tiny spot that showed up on the results, but he couldn’t say for sure what it was. Consequently, he recommended yet another test—a cardiac CT scan, which would reveal if there was any blockage in my heart or blood vessels. Not wanting to waste time, he scheduled it for the next day.

Like the other tests, I would have to wait for the results. It wasn’t easy. I called the cardiologist’s office several times over the following two weeks, each time receiving the same answer.

“No results yet.”

Finally I received a letter. My cardiologist wrote that he was “very encouraged” as the test revealed that I had no significant blockage. It wasn’t really specific, but I took it as good news, which brought me much relief and I finally felt like I could stop worrying about having a heart attack. The electrical issue was still something I would have to learn to manage, but it wasn’t life threatening.

What was so amazing to me was that despite the fact that most of my test results were positive, Satan could take such a small seed of doubt and turn it into a mountain of fear. It was a level of spiritual warfare that I had never dealt with before. And it revealed to me a big area of my faith that needed a lot of attention…

To Be Continued…