Category Archives: People

Conflict in Marriages and Families

Conflict is a good thing.  It is a necessary part of life, progress, growth and movement.  Conflict is a part of marriages and families that holds great potential for growth and maturity.

In Psychology Today (March 23, 2017) Elizabeth Dorrance Hall observes that there are least three reasons conflict is a good thing in relationships.

  1. Conflict signals a need for change.

The biggest room in anyone’s life is the room for improvement.  Conflict pushes us out of comfort zones and wakes us up to opportunities and challenges that enrich our lives and equip us for bigger challenges.

2. Conflict celebrates our interdependence.

Relationships are fascinating mixtures of independent people trying to work together in mutually beneficial ways. Our unique personal preferences, priorities and goals will conflict with those qualities of another unique individual.  Healthy relationships learn to celebrate the differences that push us to grow beyond ourselves.  They do this by identifying the points of conflict, working to understand each other’s perspective and collaborating to discover new and different ways to compensate for those differences.

3. Conflict is almost never about that which it seems to be on the surface.

In marriage and family therapy we often see conflict as the symptom that is calling attention to the real problem.  Everyone is enriched when we  push past the conflicting symptom to discuss the deeper values and principles that at stake.


Metaphors abound in nature to illustrate the benefits of conflict.

  • Chicks necessarily pecking to exit their eggshells.
  • Germinating seeds that push through the dirt to find the light.
  • Road graders that must push aside the soil for a highway.
  • Students trying to push through assignments before deadlines.
Conflict handled in a mutually beneficial manner holds so much potential for good.  It is unfortunate that many see conflict as more of a threat than an opportunity for growth.
Sometimes we are more interested in making sure our issues are heard and understood than we are in considering the viewpoint of the other person.  It does not take much time or effort to be misunderstood.  Conversely, understanding and being understood takes time and focused attention.


The truth is that there are few ‘simple’ solutions easily applied that readily result in positive outcomes.  At the same time there are some general guidelines that may be helpful.

  1. Seek to understand rather than to be understood. Listening is a skill to be learned and practiced.  It is particularly challenging to practice our listening skills when we strongly disagree with what is being said by the other person.  Conflict is easier to manage when we take the time to listen and reflect so we can respond carefully.
  2. Observe the “STOP” rule to avoid destructive conflict.  When the destructive communication begins to emerge, each person should be given the right to call a ‘time out’.  Follow this immediately with agreeing to meet at a better time and place and try again, applying Guideline 1 (above).
  3. Seek win/win solutions.  Win/lose and lose/lose situations rarely succeed in resolving feelings.  When one person ‘wins’ an argument by intimidation, the ‘loser’ is left to come up with a way to resolve feelings that can be pretty intense .  Lose/lose situations occur when each person compromises, losing something in order to win something else.


Work to achieve solutions where each person feels that they have been heard, understood and respected.  Everyone wins when we spend the time and energy to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions to conflict.

Lost Connections

In his most recent book, Lost Connections, Johann Hari shares his own personal journey in the treatment of his depression and anxiety.  He had been prescribed several anti-depressants from age 18.  This was necessary, he was told, because of a chemical imbalance in his brain that the medications could treat.

When he was 31 Hari came to a personal crisis that led him to investigate the veracity of his doctor’s chemical imbalance

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

assumption.  This research led him to question the effectiveness of the medications and to wonder about alternative research into other causes of depression and anxiety.   Finally, his investigation explored current research into causes, treatments and potential solutions.

His conclusions strike a familiar chord for marriage and family therapists because of the emphasis upon interpersonal, relational systems.


Marriage and family therapy is at the front lines of helping individuals, couples and families wrestle with mental and emotional health issues.  Depression and anxiety are influenced by life-cycle stressors, social interactions, familial relationships and communication patterns.

Hence, a value of this book to people who struggle with depression and anxiety is that it encourages the reader to explore  options that may have been significant contributing factors.  In addition, there are other options for treatment that very closely align with familiar marriage and family approaches.  Finally, the simple listing of chapter headings reveals familiar Christian teaching, in spite of the fact that the author himself is an atheist.


Below is a list of the book’s chapters under the theme of “Disconnection” as Part II.

  1. Disconnection from Meaningful Work
  2. Disconnection from Other People
  3. Disconnection from Meaningful Values
  4. Disconnections from Childhood Trauma
  5. Disconnection from Status and Respect
  6. Disconnection from the Natural World
  7. Disconnection from a Hopeful or Secure Future
  8. The Real Role of Genes and Brain Changes


Conversely, if the problem is disconnection, it only makes sense that the ingredients for successful coping with depression and anxiety would be “Reconnection”.  This is the theme of Part III of the book.

  1. Reconnection to Other People
  2. Reconnection and Social Prescribing
  3. Reconnection and Meaningful Work
  4. Reconnection to Meaningful Values
  5. Reconnection with Sympathetic Joy and Overcoming the Addition to the Self
  6. Reconnection by Acknowledging and Overcoming Childhood Trauma
  7. Reconnection by Restoring the Future


While each person must make their own choices about their own history and treatment for depression and anxiety Hari does provide a rich list of alternatives to consider.  While medications are a matter for patients to consider with their doctor, it just makes sense that a  broader strategic approach to common mental health matters may increase the likelihood for relief.

Hari, Johann.  Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression–and the Unexpected Solutions, 2018.


We have all heard the insanity quote before.

We’ve probably quoted it ourselves as we observe the behavior of others.

We rarely quote it about our own personal behaviors because, well, that would be insane!  Why would I do something like that?

The Urban Dictionary defines “Insanity” as “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

And yet, that is our nature, isn’t it?  It’s certainly a part of the ‘disease’ of addictive behaviors…”just one more time!” and it is at the core of the relentless pursuit of perfection: the belief that getting it right is only one tweak away.

When it comes to human behavior it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “more of the same” will bring about better results.  The logic goes something like this:

  1. At least once before, when you acted inappropriately, I responded with a word or behavior that caused you to stop acting inappropriately.
  2. Logically, I deduce that this word or behavior must have contributed in an important way to your decision to change your behavior.
  3. Hence, I conclude that applying the same word or behavior to your inappropriate behavior should have precisely the same effect every time.
  4. Yet, I observe that the greater frequency wth which I apply this remedy, the less likely you are to comply with my word or demand.
  5. Conclusion: I must apply the remedy with greater intensity (e.g., yelling, screaming, sky writing, billboard advertising) to help you pay better attention  whenever I apply the corrective response to your inappropriate behavior.

I’ve observed this occasionally when people try to communicate with each other but do not share a common language between them.   A tell-tale sign of an American tourist in a foreign country is his belief that understanding will occur when he speaks English more loudly, slowly or dramatically.

So many times this “more of the same’ mentality is subconscious.  We don’t even realize it when we are doing it.  When we do catch ourselves, we sometimes blow past the warning signs and continue to operate on the belief that I must speak more clearly or more loudly one more time…then they will understand!


The reality is that this ‘insanity’ quote applies to most of us most of the time.  Positively, it adds predictability to life and consistency to the many dances of behavior in which we all engage.  A quality of problem solvers is the ability to work something until success is achieved based upon a belief that the goal is within the realm of possibility…in spite of a plethora of failures.

However, there are times when we cross that fine line between regular, predictable behaviors that build trust in human systems and relationships into the realm of the dysfunctional, toxic, enduring,  patterns that provide their own bizarre sense of security.  Here are some examples that come to mind:

  1. Abusive relationships where the abused, secure in their miserable state, are afraid of change because of the insecurity and unpredictability that freedom portends.  The tactics of the abuser never change, rather, they become increasingly intense (i.e., more of the same) with every expression of dissatisfaction by the abused.
  2. CEO’s who see their company hurdling to market insignificance but are afraid to innovate and re-think their business model to catch the next wave of customer-based needs, interests and desires.  To coin a phrase of Tom Peters,
    there are those who learn to ‘thrive on the chaos’ of the modern marketplace and those who will be buried by it.
  3. Many churches see the next generation slipping through their own fingers but they are afraid to do what it takes to instill a thriving faith.  Fear rules as they are afraid of losing their salvation by tinkering with established, comfortable patterns that lost their relevance on the previous generation years ago are now proving their tone deafness to the cries of the next one.
  4. School systems that see the evolving needs of their neighborhoods yet refuse to shift their organizational structures to anticipate needs that will facilitate student progression.
  5. Government bureaucratic systems that change only when incentivized by lucrative compensations or threatened with severe consequences.  All bureaucratic inertia strives towards self-preservation and system maintenance, avoiding change at all costs  and eschewing innovation by dis-incentivizing the mechanisms for doing so.


Someone, at some point, must step forward to ask the elegantly simple questions such as Dr. Phil’s “How’s that workin’ for ya’?”  For the therapist we look for the family dance where everyone knows their part and plays it out predictably every time the family–or a member of the family–moves into it’s crushingly devastating cycles of painful interactions.  Close alliances with truth telling confidants can prove helpful for discerning the patterns and offering interventions to break up systems, initiating new, hopefully, healthier cycles.


If insanity is defined as “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” then we all must plead partial insanity because of the benefits we derive from it.  At the same time, the desire for security can lead us to more of the same behaviors that hold within them the potential for dysfunction that can be troubling to marriages, families and other organizational systems.

Awareness is the key.  If we are critical of others who exhibit the signs of our definition of insanity, yet are not aware of our own tendency–and even, need–to do the same, we may find ourselves actually “in a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction” due to an illness of the mind.  Actually, Jesus said it best:

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5)

Preparing For The Holidays

Preparing For The Holidays: For Those Who Grieve

Holidays can be tough after losing someone, especially during the first year since their passing.  So many adjustments must be made every day; but, as the holidays approach the challenges can be overwhelming.

On Thursday evening, November 10, from 7-9 p.m. we are hosting a seminar at the Church of Christ of St. Joseph entitled “Preparing for the Holidays.” Our purpose is to provide a place and time where we can share stories, tears, and ideas for making it through the tough times ahead.

The seminar is free and open to anyone who grieves.  If you know of someone who may find this time helpful please invite them to come with you so they won’t have to come alone.

The seminar will be led and facilitated by Stephen Pylkas and Russel Hicks, both of whom have experience in leading grief groups and guiding discussion.

A grief support group will be available through the holiday season.  A sign-up sheet will be offered at the seminar.

For more information, to let us know of your interest or for any questions or comments, please fill out the form below and Steve will reply.  Registration is not necessary so you can wait until the last minute to decide.


Stephen “Steve” Pylkas is the minister of the Church of Christ of St. Joseph where he also has his private practice (Southshore Counseling, LLC) as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.



Since losing his wife, Carol Jean Hicks, to cancer in 2008, Russell Hicks has led grief groups at Lori’s Place for several years.


Unconscious Incompetence

“Sure, I can do that!”

These are the words of someone who believes that they are competent enough to accomplish a task or set of tasks.  Whether or not their confidence is based upon personal experience or if it is wishful thinking will need to be determined by the performance and outcome of the person.

I recently experienced this dilemma in my own life.

I love to cook.  Over the years I have become fairly proficient in doing so in my kitchen.  Give me the recipe and the tools I will need and I believe I can approximate the desired outcome most of the time.chef

So, of course, working in a restaurant should be a natural next step;  a piece of cake!

When I found a restaurant that was willing to give me a chance I leaped at the opportunity, ready to go.

Wow!  Was I surprised!

Rather, I discovered that the Swedish Chef and I had a great deal in common!  In the swedish-chefprocess of struggling to remember stuff it was easy to become flustered, helping me realize that it is one thing to rapid-slice cucumbers for a salad for two people and quite another matter when  prepping massive quantities using someone else’s recipe in someone else’s kitchen!  The tasks required a completely different set of skills that I had not fully appreciated…until I tried to do it.

It reminded me of the four stages of competence that come with learning a new skill as referenced via Wikipaedia:


  1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.[2] The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.[3]
  2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.[4]
  3. Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.[3]
  4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

The key is being persistent until stage 4 is achieved.

Here is the point.  The biggest room in anyone’s personal house is the room for improvement.  When one of those ‘rooms’ is discovered, it is important that there may be a learning curve that begins with an uninformed sense of competency that is, in actuality, an unconscious incompetence.  Whether it is simple areas of learning such as the skills involved in being thoughtful and courteous all the way to fundamental communication skills to deal with conflict….

There is always a learning curve to be conquered, a skill to be mastered, a task to perform.  The speed at which people can more through these four stages of competence depends upon many things.   At times there may be great advantages to learning a new skill by employing the service of a Marriage and Family Therapist who can assess the interpersonal needs, help people devise a strategy for accomplishing their task, and move quickly to the goal, stage 4, unconscious competence.


Evil, Innocence & Traffic

traffic jamDriving through Detroit recently I was impressed by how much we all depend upon everyone else obeying the rules of traffic.  For example, anyone who has been through driver’s training knows that the rules of the road are to obey the speed limits, use your turn signal when changing lanes, keep proper distance between your car and the one in front of you, slow down in construction zones, etc.

When people obey the rules it is often appreciated by other rule-abiders who are grateful for simple things like predictability, a shared commitment to minimizing dangerous situations, thoughtfulness and consideration on the road.  When accidents occur among rule-abiders, it is easy to believe the best and assume the fault was due to a malfunction of the car, an unanticipated road hazard or some health issue such as a heart attack, sudden kidney stone or some other natural, unpredictable event.

Others who appreciate those who obey the rules are those who do not have regard for the rules.  While they share some of the same values such as an aversion to pain from serious accidents, they are also grateful for people who keep a safe distance from the car in front of them so they can weave back and forth through traffic.  Also venerated are law abiding people who choose to obey the speed limit and stay in the right lanes except to pass.  This honorable practice gives freedom to the anarchical motorist allowing wide-open left lanes for traveling at excessive speeds, knowing that if a legalist wishes to change lanes he or she will use the turn signal giving the speeder time to quickly accelerate and race by before the car’s lane change begins.

This tongue-in-cheek perspective on traffic rules leads me to a more serious reality that involves the fingerprint of evil.  Enamored by those who assume shared core values for life, personal responsibility, deference to others and respect for the individual, the person consumed by evil intentions perceives these behaviors to be weaknesses upon which they choose to capitalize.  Surrounded by people who choose to trust, believing the best in others, evil people see opportunities for doing as they wish in spite of the rules with one governing principle: don’t get caught.  These people laugh in the face of victims and sneer at law enforcement personnel, marvel at their own ingenuity for beating the system and covering their tracks, leaving behind little more than circumstantial evidence…and, of course, the victims of their crimes.

In Psalm 36:1-4, David writes:

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;  they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

The point is that a the total disregard for others begins many times in the small things done in secret.  We first note it as a twinge of conscience that informs that what we are about to do is wrong and we choose to blow past our own internal warnings to stop.  As James observes in James 1:13-15,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

CainByLovisCorinth copy
“Cain” by Lovis Corinth

This is not to say that minor infractions of our consciences will make us into mass murderers.  I am simply observing that the inkling for doing good or evil begins somewhere among the little choices we make every day and the fruit of those decisions impacts our own inner compass as well as the lives of those around us.

As God told Cain shortly before he decided to murder his brother, Abel, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

It seems to me that the nature of man’s struggle with God has not changed very much: it still comes down to those little choices we make every day.

People, Love, Intimacy and Family

woman-talking-to-manTo develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else requires honesty, openness and transparency; being truthful, even when it is painful. Of course, there are many other definitions of this interpersonal phenomenon that depends upon one’s willingness to be vulnerable, choosing to allow someone else into their private world.  Intimacy is a close, personal, private relationship that is warm and friendly.

Positive, intimate relationships are built upon the foundation of trust that is defined by certain assumptions.   Consistent, predictable behavior over a long period of time that reinforce those assumptions breeds a trust that goes deeper than a vow and a promise, penetrating right to the heart of everyday behaviors.  Getting caught doing the right thing fosters reassurance and security…and trust.

Intimacy Toxins

While there are many things that stand in the way of intimacy, perhaps the most pernicious is  lying:  making an untrue statement with the intention of deceiving someone else, creating a false or misleading impression.  It is the poison of intimacy.  It is a toxin that will injure or terminate a relationship, for trust cannot blossom where words and actions are designed to deceive and mask true intentions, not reflect them. 

Nonetheless, a recent Psychology Today article ventures into the gradients of lying, suggesting that we all do it to one degree or another.

Studies show that the average person lies several times a day. Some of those are biggies: “I’ve been faithful to you.” Others are par for the course: “No, your new dress looks good.” Some forms of deception aren’t exactly lies: comb-overs, nodding when you’re not listening. And then there are lies we tell ourselves, as part of healthy self-esteem maintenance or serious delusions. In the end, it appears that we can’t handle the truth. (Psychology Today: Deception)

People look for intimacy in all sorts of places.  Logically, they expect to find it in their families; and, in most cases they do so.  At other times, our hope and desire to find love and acceptance in our family of origin may blind us to the fact that their communications, behaviors and attitudes convey exactly the opposite.

Much of Marriage and Family Therapy involves examining the relational realities of life.  This often means assessing the best ways to address the positives and the negatives in a way that respects boundaries, acknowledges tensions, accentuates the positives and adjusts behaviors to those influences that are toxic.  Many tools are available to the seasoned therapist ranging from personal interviews with individuals, couples and families to a variety of testing instruments.

Southshore Counseling, LLC: Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach their potential.

Rhythm And Relationships

metronomeThere is a rhythm to relationships that is often taken for granted.  Yet, rhythm is such an important ingredient to making healthy conversations work and for helping diagnose problems when something is wrong.

For example, someone who is not rhythmically inclined in music or a coordinated activity will not be able to keep the beat of a simple metronome or marching steps.  In contrast is the person who is highly rhythmic in their perceptions who can clap out a complicated, syncopated accompaniment to the regular tick-tock of a clock’s pendulum.

1974 Harding Yearbook

Swimming is another example.  My memory of swimming the butterfly stroke in High School and College 40 years ago feels very different when I try to duplicate the stroke today at 57 years of age.  Finally working out to build up the muscle strength and stamina to try again I must have gulped half of the pool at first just trying to breathe because my rhythm is off.  Now I’m starting to get the timing back so that I can start working on my endurance again.  Without a sense of timing the stroke is a painful struggle in which muscles get pulled and water goes up my nose.  When the timing comes back the stroke becomes easier, making it possible to swim longer, smoother and more efficiently.  Before long I don’t really think about it anymore.

Our personal rhythm has to do with the day-in/day-out activities we do in an average day as we rise in the morning, greet family members, go through our normal routines to get ready for work, travel to our workplace, engage with other employees, return home, conclude the day and wind down to rest in preparation for the next day.  With the routinized choreography of the day we develop a rhythm that helps us stay emotionally stable, organized and behaviorally predictable.

The baseline or our daily rhythms also allows us to be flexible and adaptable so we we can choose to introduce measured changes that we can evaluate and decide whether or not they will fit into our established routines.   When the daily structure and systems are suddenly challenged by sickness, car accidents, or other uninvited calamity, we can step outside of ourselves, knowing that we will return one day to the regular rhythm of new routines, patterns and structures.

conversationsThere are also rhythms in relationships that contribute to predictability, regularity and security.  Boundaries are clear and normalcy characterizes the ebb and flow of life. Changes are planned and mutually agreed upon so routinely that we often take them for granted.   This is as it should be.  For marriages, families and other close relationships, these regularities provide stability in a world that is often unpredictable and chaotic.

These elements are so important to the day-to-day functioning of relationships to the point that, when people begin to shift their behaviors others begin to ask ‘Why?’ questions, looking for cause and effect explanations.  Divergence from the rhythms of life that have provided the basis for trust and freedom can suddenly become sources of discomfort, fear and anxiety when the answers do not satisfy the one who has started to notice the changes.

The security of sameness is threatened by unexplained changes that introduce dissonance between the way things should be and the way things have become.  The changes can be subtle at first or suddenly dramatic.  Either way, the development is noted by those who have grown accustomed to the sine wave rhythm of their relationships…but they are not ready to talk about it or are afraid of the answers.

So, the questions begin on an innocuous level, probing for logical, simple answers that reassure without being confrontational. Here are some examples of how these unilateral changes can introduce dissonance, addressed indirectly:



You didn’t kiss me when you came in the door. Are you upset with me about something I did or said??
You stayed in the basement until after bedtime. Are you surfing porn sites again?
You sounded strange on the phone this evening. Have you been drinking?
Why so sensitive? I’m just trying to have a conversation…. What are you  hiding from me?

One of the faulty beliefs of addicts is that “No one will notice if I keep it under control.”  The reality is that someone has already noticed but they are not sure they want to risk the relationship by confronting.  They want to maintain the rhythm of the relationship.  So they have decided that they, themselves, must avoiding-conversationbe mistaken or over-sensitive.  “It’s probably nothing.”  The key is that the change is noticed but not being addressed until confirmed by repeated behaviors or collaborating evidence.

As the dissonance persists and the answers fail to satisfy one’s partner, real challenges to the relationship can begin to emerge.  Communication patterns begin to shift as questions start leading to suspicions and the breakdown of trust becomes an important issue to address.

When a partner begins to withdraw, conversations begin to escalate into arguments, when partners begin assuming the worst in their partner and when the simplest disagreements become a painful re-hashing of past hurts and perceived offenses, it is time to ask for help before erosion sets in and the sense of hopelessness and helplessness descends into a relational numbness.

Marriage and family therapists are specifically trained to help couples work through the issues and disparities that often lead to relational breakdowns in a mutually respectful way.

Adventures in Life

EPSON MFP imageMonday morning began as most Monday mornings in my life.  The only exception was that our oldest daughter was preparing to drive her car to Minnesota to begin her adventure to make a new beginning for herself all on her own.  The morning continued normally until my cell phone rang.

“Hey dad, what does it mean when the battery light comes on?”

Three hours down the road, knowing that we were on borrowed time I started suggesting options.  Corroded battery posts…battery…alternator….uggh!  Always work from the least expensive option to the most.

So, I began conducting searches on the computer for auto parts stores close to her location.  I knew of some chains that would offer battery/alternator testing to diagnose the problem and recommend a solution.  Perhaps it was a battery.  Simple fix and not as expensive as an alternator replacement.  Of course, there is the u-turn option of coming home so I can take it to a trusted mechanic and fix it.

Then came the next call: “Hey dad, the light went off.  I think I’m going to keep going.”

Whew, disaster averted.  I decided not to tell my wife because she would just worry….

Then came the third phone call.

“Hey dad.  I stopped at the rest stop to go to the bathroom and get a pop.  When I got back to the car it wouldn’t start.  It just made this clicking sound.”

“Ok,” I said.  “I’ll be there in about three hours.”

So much for my normal Monday.  Hurrying home, I finally called Pam to let Anna’s mom know the situation and my proposed solution.  She could start worrying, now.  I changed clothes, put the tools in the trunk and rushed off to fill the tank and pick up some D-cell batteries for the flashlight.

So much for my average Monday.  From this point on we made it up as we moved along, flying by the seat of our pants.

From the earliest days of Pamela’s pregnancies, my dream had always been to have kids who loved to do stuff with their dad.  In the early days, it worked pretty good with Legos and some other projects.

And then, one day, it stopped.  I don’t think it was anything particular that I did or said.  It just happened.

I’ve decided that one of the problems of teaching kids to be independent is that, after a while, they don’t depend on you any more.  That has a good side when I approve of the choices they are making; but, it can be a killer when they make choices of which I do not approve.

There also comes a point where they want to do things without me!  Imagine that!  And so, my dream of doing stuff together began to Anna&Stephenfade until I finally gave up.

Back to Monday, this was one of those weird times when I was actually excited that Anna needed me.  When I arrived I opened the trunk, pulled out the tools and we started on the battery while looking up the local auto parts store in Marshall, Michigan.  The adventure had now, officially, begun as we raced to find a solution before the sun set.  Maybe we could fix it without needing a tow.

Several hours later, a few busted knuckles and greasy fingernails, we were on our way back home with a new battery, hoping the alternator could function just enough to get us home.

No such luck.  Calling for a tow truck in Ann Arbor, Michigan to take us to a local repair shop that rated five stars on the internet, we finally left the car at the shop and found our way home in my car Tuesday morning by 1:30 a.m.

With the change in plans for my day I had a blast with my daughter as we worked together to solve our problem with the car.  We laughed, we held tools for each other, we talked about wrenches and sockets and tricks and techniques of the trade and got the job done.

Here is the point.  Life is an adventure, made to lead us down paths that we can hardly plan or anticipate.  We have choices to make when we respond to circumstances.  Given the fact that we often have little control over the forces that push and pull us every day, we have opportunities to decide how we will act and react to each day’s challenges.

Make the most of each day, going with the challenges and facing the problems with a sense of adventure.  Only God knows what opportunities or discoveries you may encounter along the way.



The Serenity Prayer

Young Woman Thinking --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis


By Reinhold Niebuhr

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it,
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will,
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next,

Over the past several months I have been helping a local congregation begin a Celebrate Recovery program. Broader in scope than the normal 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous, the purpose of the program is to help people find healing for their ‘hurts, habits and hangups” with a clear emphasis upon identifying the “Higher Power” as Jesus Christ.  The teaching is further based upon fleshing out “The Eight Principles” of the beatitudes in Matthew 5.

Every week the group recites the Serenity Prayer which is such a powerful tool for helping us focus upon discerning between the “things I cannot change,” asking for the courage to change the things that I can.  Indeed, a key to coping with the challenges of life is developing the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

So much of our dysfunctional coping skills emanate from trying to manage or control things that are outside of our “sphere of influence”, as Steven Covey distinguished it in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  It is so easy to desire the best for others. It is quite another thing to take responsibility for their ability to change in line with our desires.

What makes this especially difficult is when the people for whom we desire only the best begin to make choices that lead in a direction other than where we think they should go (key word: should).  So, out of our frustration we are tempted to use every tool in the shed to attempt to force them to make better choices.  Within reason, these are the last-ditch attempts to help someone alter their course, do a U-turn or to come around 180 degrees.  As loving, caring people, we must use these tools, fully aware that the person we are trying to influence is likely to reject them.  There is some value in knowing that we gave it our best shot against the odds.

But then there comes a line that is easy to cross if we are not careful.  We find ourselves lying awake all night worrying about their problems, their decisions, their choices.  If we are not careful, we risk losing our selves as we invest in their problems and begin to neglect our own needs.  Better to help someone from a position of strength than to become so immersed with their problems that everyone loses.  Someone has to stay strong in order to be available when it is necessary to rescue….

Mistakes in life are tremendous learning opportunities that usually involve some degree of pain and suffering.  “Wisdom to know the difference” may mean watching a loved one suffer the consequences of choices they have made and being clear about what you can and cannot do to help.

Of course, the goal is to allow them the opportunity to benefit from the experience.

What often keeps us engaged is the fear we have when we consider the potential severity of the consequences.