I am a pastor. And, much of what I address regarding marriage and family is heavily influenced by what I experience as a pastor. But, I do not mean what I experience with other families. Much of what I write about is what I experience with my own marriage and family. To be more specific, much of what I write about is what I experience inside of me.
Why do I tell you this? This is my first piece of public writing in almost six months. Why was there such a gap? Because I was overwhelmed as a pastor. Since early summer, pastoring has been a constant kick in the teeth. There have been upset and disgruntled church members, sick persons, families who have experienced death and tragedy, staff members retiring, and staff members being hired. On top of all that, my mom experienced a couple of health scares that required me to travel out of town on a moments notice. Oh and somewhere in all of that was Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So, I haven’t written anything marriage or family related in almost six months because I needed to take a break. I needed to take a break for me. I needed to take a break for my marriage. I needed to take a break for my family. I decided in the midst of all the turmoil that I must zero in and focus on what really matters; God, my family, my friends. I could write about marriage and family later.
I have two very core practical values that led me in my decision to take a break; care for others and living life in a Godly rhythm. These values come directly from Scripture; the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12 and the principal of Sabbath displayed in Genesis 1 and 2. The Greatest Commandment calls us to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The principal of Sabbath calls us to live life in a Godly rhythm. If I am living life in a Godly rhythm, I work and then rest all the while trusting God while I rest.
As I wrestled over taking a break from writing, I concluded:
If I am going to play my part in creating a healthy marriage and family, I must love my wife and family first while creating rhythms in my life where I unplug as a pastor/writer/counselor and trust God to still work without my pastoring, writing, and counseling. (Like he needs my help. But, I sure am glad he wants it.)
I write today because my suspicion is that there are many of us who, for whatever reason, need to take a break. Maybe it’s a break from work, the PTO, volunteering at the local shelter, serving at church, or the community board. At first, taking a break from all these noble causes might sound counterintuitive. They are after all, good causes. But, in the words of Scripture, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world, but loses his soul.” In other words, what does it profit any of us if we are good volunteers in the community or servants at church or the creator of a marriage ministry if we lose focus on what matters most; God, family, and friends?
If you are feeling the need to take a break,
I pray God meets you in the middle of your break.
I’ve been blessed to do some really amazing things in my life. First, there was the opportunity to go to Houston when I was sixteen years old and represent the state of Kentucky at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation (HOBY) World Leadership Congress. While there, I sang the national anthem at an Astros-Expos baseball game, flew in the real Space Shuttle flight simulator at the Johnson Space Center, and had my first kiss with a girl from Boston. (We were madly in love for four hours.) At the age of seventeen, I received a congressional appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. In college, I got to travel all throughout the United States as part of the Western Kentucky University Men’s Basketball team. I’ve been on national television multiple times, once spoke to over seventy thousand people in one weekend, had the honor of preaching a church planting service in Manaus, Brazil where a gang knife fight broke out, and I’ve had my own local day declared in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. As I stated at the start of this paragraph, I’ve been blessed to do some really amazing things!
However, I want you to know that as I’ve grown older, my definition of amazing has changed. I now believe the most beautiful, breath-taking, and amazing things can be witnessed in the most ordinary moments of marriage and family.
Here is what I now determine to be “amazing.”
I turn forty this year and that has caused me to be reflective. As a pastor, I’ve learned the humbling truth that no one is promised a long, prosperous life. Any one of us could be taken from this earth at any moment. Which is why I’ve been asking God to teach me to number my days. I don’t want to assume I have forever and lose sight of the precious amazing things around me every day. I want to live life with eyes-wide-open so that I am truly able to see the amazing truth that God is good.
And, I believe such seeing occurs at home with spouses, children, and extended family/friends. If you’ve lost the ability to see the amazing in the simple things your children do, then unplug from work, turn off your phone, and just watch your kids play. If you haven’t gotten lost in the amazing embrace of your spouse lately, schedule a date night where you and your spouse can simply be together, talk, laugh, confess, and forgive. If you’ve lost the ability to gaze as a family at an amazing sunset or picturesque rainbow, walk outside tonight and watch God work. If you no longer celebrate amazing events around a picnic table, dining table, or kitchen with fixin’s spread all around, clear your calendar, schedule the dinner, and have a celebration.
A long time ago, the Biblical hero Moses wrote,
12 Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Ask God to teach you to number your days and may you, may I, may we all have the wisdom to recognize and celebrate the amazing things we see in life, in our marriages, and in our families.
The New International Version. (2011). (Ps 90:12). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Paul's last post on HMHF challenged marriages to reflect upon the legacies they are leaving behind. We want you to know that we not only write about legacy, we try our best to practice creating one. I (Tara) am excited to share with you, as part of my first post on HMHF, one way we are striving to make a difference as a couple.
I love it when something I purchase benefits not only me but others as well. I like knowing my purchases have a positive impact. Scripture tells us to help others whenever we can. Noonday Collection is a fair trade company that allows me to do those things. Artisans around the world hand make jewelry and accessories and then Noonday Ambassadors market their products in the US to increase their reach. Making and selling jewelry allows artisans in countries such as India, Vietnam, Uganda, Haiti, Guatemala, and others to have dignified work, earn a fair wage, and provide for their families.
After a lot of research and prayer, Paul and I believe that Noonday Collection fits in with our values as a family. I have decided to become a Noonday Ambassador! As an Ambassador I will be able to share the stories of the artisans and promote their products and in turn be a part of their stories! By helping them sell their jewelry and accessories, I will get to participate with them as they provide for their families, send their children to school, and avoid poverty!
You can see the lovely products by going to my website http://TaraGibson.noondaycollection.com
I would love to talk to you about hosting a Trunk Show where you can help spread the message and even earn some free products in the process!
Once upon a time…I recently attended a Disney Institute (DI) Course. Ironically, for this marriage blog, I was not attending a marital workshop. I was actually taking a class regarding leadership principles. However, could you imagine a Disney Class on marriage?! What would “Disney Magic” look like as a couple strives to live “happily ever after?” Who else could teach families how to love one another than THE entity that caters to families every day? I digress. Disney, if you’re listening, I’ll help you shape, market, and teach such a course!
In order to respect the contents of the amazing DI course, I will not share details. However, after attending, I can say that my heart was stirred to compare my marriage to the magical atmosphere of Disney. I found myself asking this question, "Does our marriage reflect happily ever after or Cruella De Vil?"
On our “happily ever after” days, our marriage would include the following commitments:
On our “Cruella De Vil” days, our marriage would display the following:
In reality, the first list includes my “ideal” purposes for marriage and the second list includes my more “cynical” purposes for marriage. I believe day-to-day reality exists somewhere in-between as we strive to live out the first list.
As I review these lists, I find myself asking a deeper question, “What do I want the legacy of our marriage to be?” The Disney Institute Course really challenged me to connect purpose to legacy; our focused purposes now are already creating our legacies for the time after we are gone. (Think Yoda from The Last Jedi, "We are what they grow beyond.") The magic of Walt Disney continues to be passed on from generation to generation because his legacy lives on. I desire for the influence of our marriage to do the same; leave a legacy our children and grandchildren can follow.
What do I want the legacy of our marriage to be?
I want the legacy of our marriage to be that of a couple who intimately loved each other. Intimate love is not “rip-your-clothes-off-love because you cannot wait to be intertwined in passionate bliss.” (Although, I strongly believe healthy intimacy will produce such moments in marriage. And hey, the more the merrier.) Intimate love is a love that is developed over time as a couple learns to listen, see, and trust each other. Intimate love is a love that is safe and encourages emotional, mental, and spiritual vulnerability. Intimate love is an honest love that does not shy away from expressing needs and desires through the words “I need” and “I want.” Intimate love is practicing the words of Ancient Scripture to “forgive as you have been forgiven.” Intimate love is valuing the teamwork necessary to raise children into adults who will be difference makers in the world. Intimate love is praying for one another, praying with one another, and letting each other know that you are constantly praying for them.
I believe that if Tara and I can create such a legacy, the most powerful examples of our legacy will be the ways our daughter (Natalie) and son (Isaac) treat their own spouses and children. The hard and blessed truth about our marriages is that our marriages are not about us. Our marriages are about the people our children become. So, if we do our job as a married couple, our children and great-grandchildren will benefit from our legacy of intimate love. And, prayerfully, such a legacy will lend itself to our children and grandchildren living happily ever after.
What do you and your spouse want the legacy of your marriage to be? I encourage you to take a morning over coffee or even a weekend away to discuss this important question.
(Want to know more about the Disney Institute? Check them out at www.disneyinstitute.com.)
Natalie and Isaac, my two peas in a pod,
I am overwhelmed with gratitude when I watch your beauty.
The depth of your expressions, your enthusiastic joy--
They move me to be in awe of God’s creativity.
Your mother is a rock, I married above my grade,
Her strength, focus, and delicate beauty
Move me to love, passion, thanksgiving.
Your mother is a superstar.
God wrote a masterpiece when he brought
Your mother and me together.
We both decided long ago that our dreams
Would not be limited by our heritage.
Yet, we are grateful for that heritage,
A heritage full of good cooking, laughter, struggle.
We are better, stronger, more resilient because--
We come from quarry men, quilters, preachers, and teachers.
Natalie and Isaac, my two peas in a pod,
You are part of a much grander story. A story--
That is not your own. You play a lead role everyday,
In God’s story to redeem the world.
So, play your role well. Remember--
You come from quarry men, quilters, preachers, and teachers.
Paint your masterpiece with beauty,
Tell your story with creativity,
Point to the next world as you bring heaven to earth.
I am once again heart sick after hearing our current president openly mock and make fun of a sexually assaulted female who was brave enough to tell her story. I am heart sick because I have been in the room when a sexually assaulted person is brave enough for the first time to say, “I am a victim.” I am heart sick because I can vividly recall the fresh tears of assault victims as they openly weep due to the horrific trauma of being raped or abused. I am heart sick because I have a daughter and I shudder at the thought of her growing up in a world where an assault victim is openly made fun of by a person in a position of high power.
A person might respond, “What about the politics of it all? What if the democrats are trying to sabotage the GOP’s right to hold a vote on the Supreme Court? What if she‘s not telling the truth?” I’m not focused on politics and I believe that Dr. Ford is telling the truth. Regarding the Supreme Court, I believe the president’s words today are about something much bigger than the Supreme Court. They’re about loving the abused, the raped, and the assaulted the way Jesus would. Sadly, the president’s comments are perfect examples as to why so many sexually assaulted victims choose to not come forward. (See link below for further understanding as to why victims often do not report.) And, his words will delegitimize future proclamations of being a victim.
If you are a Christ-follower, I encourage you to think about this question, “How would Jesus respond to Dr. Ford?” Think about the Woman-at-the-Well. Reflect on the story of Mary Magdalene. I’m afraid our current president would make fun of the Women-at-the-Well’s water jar or mock Mary Magdalene’s past. Again, if you are a Christ-follower, please compare the actions of Christ to the actions of the current president when considering women who have been sexually assaulted.
My heart aches. The blank stares, the bodily convulsions from violent weeping, and the terrifying flashbacks of the victims I’ve worked with will not allow me to be quiet about the president’s words today. My faith in Jesus will not allow me to stay quiet when an assault victim is mocked. Jesus calls us to a higher standard. Lord, may that change begin with me.
I am convinced the American church has an upside-down understanding of a Biblical church. A large part of the American church culture has bought the lie that a healthy Biblical church=big church and a biblically healthy leader=a strong, put together leader. Those are unbiblical definitions of both church health and Biblical leadership. According to Scripture, a healthy church is a faithful church and a healthy leader is a wounded healer who leads from their brokenness just as much as their strengths. A Biblical leader’s chief call should be the words of St. Paul, “Jesus Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”*
I write the words above because I was at the bastion of big church/strong leader from 2005-2008; Willow Creek Community Church. And, after all the heartbreaking and evil news that has recently been revealed about Willow, I’ve had to internally wrestle with a lot of what I learned from that church. My wrestlings have centered around two questions, “Does a healthy church require a strong charismatic leader?” And, “Does a healthy church have to be a big church?” I’ve always held to the answer of “no” for both questions, but after Willow’s recent hard fall, there is a freshness of evaluation in my heart and mind.
Does a healthy church have to be a big church?
Absolutely not. There was a church growth movement in Acts 2 when “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” But, many of the three thousand ended up in house churches that resembled the American church’s definition of Sunday School class or small group. We’ve got to divorce The Church from the idea that bigger is better. God does not call the church to be bigger. God calls the church to abide in him, love its neighbor, care for the poor, serve the immigrant, and ultimately, share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
Does a healthy church require a strong, charismatic leader?
Absolutely not. What makes a church so beautifully powerful is her people. A pastor can only be successful if they see themselves as a fellow saved-broken-sinner who grasps the mantle of leadership reluctantly and humbly. Leading a church is a holy terrifying task. A reluctant leader sees herself or himself no more important than the church nursery worker, groundskeeper, Sunday School teacher, Sunday morning greeter, or weekly tither. May God crush me as a pastor if I ever see myself differently.
Defending Willow Creek and Feeling Duped
I’ve had to defend Willow often over the years from pastors that judged Willow’s theology as “light” or even unbiblical. Sadly, my guess is that a few pastors are quietly celebrating Willow’s downfall. If you are one of those pastors, please don’t. If you are celebrating the log in Willow’s eye, please also see the log in your own eye. As recent failures within many non-denominational churches and the SBC teach us pastoral brethren, all of our churches are susceptible of the same ugly and evil behavior produced at Willow Creek. Don’t create, through your pride, the same type of no accountability culture that Willow created with Bill Hybels. Allow his downfall to shake you to the core, like it has me. Any structure, especially a leadership structure, that gives too much unchecked power to a single leader or group of leaders is setting itself up for a major fall.
I guess one of the reasons I have had to wrestle with my time at Willow is that part of me feels duped. Was I wrong in defending Willow all those years when I heard pastors criticize her? I’ll respond by saying this: the power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is bigger than Bill Hybels’ ability to lead, it’s bigger than his pride, and it’s definitely bigger than his ugly sin. The salvations that happened at Willow for thousands of people were due to God, not Bill Hybels. Those salvation experiences are still true and eternal. God has, and I believe, will continue to work at Willow Creek. But, it won’t be through a charismatic leader that leads Willow to large growth. It will be through reluctant leader-pastors who hold to Biblical teachings on church growth and leadership.
When we are tempted to embrace a pastor or church due to charisma or style, or even worse, when we embrace ourselves as pastors who lead big churches with charisma or style, may we immediately repent and realize that our true shepherd is a slain lion-lamb who led through sacrifice. Let that slain lion-lamb be our symbol for what a healthy church looks like. Allow that slain lion-lamb to set the bar for what type of pastor we desire to follow or be.
*See Dan Allender's, "Leading with a Limp" or Henri Nouwen's "The Wounded Healer" for more insight on being chief sinner and leading as a wounded healer.
Whether I work with pre-marital couples or couples that have been together for thirty years, I often see one constant challenge when it comes to relationship struggles: communication. I once thought that communication was important so that couples could discuss budgets, dreams, parenting, and sex. Yet, the more I provide counseling and coaching, the more I begin to realize that there is a deeper purpose to communication; a purpose that lends itself to better budgets, realized dreams, shared parenting, and healthy sex lives. The purpose of communication is intimacy.
Song of Songs 4:16 provides a powerful picture of sexual intimacy:
Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.
Three times in this passage, through the use of the verbs, “come” (twice) and “blow,” the bride indicates that she feels safe and attached enough to her groom to invite him into her most intimate of spaces. Such an invitation only occurred in Song of Songs after the couple had spent time displaying mutual commitment which led to the establishment of trust. A feeling of trust helped the bride know that it was safe enough to be very physically vulnerable and intimate with her groom.
Intimate communication develops in much the same way.
If couples are going to communicate in healthy ways, they must first work to show one another a Biblically covenanted type of commitment. Such commitment can only be developed over time.
Spending time together as a couple helps build trust. Time is the currency that is used by couples to display to each other that they are truly committed. The more a significant other sees that their engaged partner or spouse is committed to getting to know and invest in them, the more likely they are to trust their engaged partner or spouse.
Trust allows a person to feel safe in a relationship. Just like the bride in Song of Songs felt safe enough to invite her groom into sexual intimacy, an engaged or married significant other who feels safe will invite their future husband, future wife, husband, or wife into emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy occurs when two people feel safe enough to share vulnerable communication with each other.
To summarize, commitment produces trust. Trust testifies to an environment of relational safety. A safe environment encourages vulnerable communication. And, vulnerable communication produces emotional intimacy.
If you are struggling to communicate in your pre-marital or marital relationship, I encourage you to ask:
-At what point of the communication process are we struggling?
-Are we displaying enough commitment to one another?
-Do we trust and feel safe with each other?
-Are we carving out time to communicate?
One More Challenge
A spouse or significant other that grew up in an unsafe home will most likely have a difficult time recognizing and therefore sharing within a safe relational environment. If you find yourself wanting to be more emotionally intimate with your spouse, but feel as if he or she is constantly putting up walls, please know that he or she is probably practicing the same connection style they developed as a child or adolescent. That means your spouse probably needs help learning how to recognize a relationally safe environment and how to communicate within such an environment. How should you engage such a spouse/significant other?
Your role as a partner or spouse is to help your spouse or partner see that he or she might need help by communicating YOUR desires to connect and attach more. Don’t say, “You need help!” Say, “I really wish we could be more emotionally vulnerable with each other. What do you think is keeping this from happening?”
Be patient. If your spouse/significant other did come from a home that was unsafe, it will take some time for them to understand and communicate within a safe environment. Love them with the same patience and grace with which God loves us.
Pray. Pray that the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead can resurrect or develop the ability to communicate intimately within your marriage or soon-to-be marriage.
Keep working on yourself. How can you continue to show your spouse that you are committed to providing a safe environment for them to vulnerably communicate?
I recently sat down to pen this poem in order to reflect and heal after a very challenging season in ministry.
Were you there when I walked the lonely hallway,
Having just helped a family say goodbye?
Were you there when I held a dying woman’s hand,
Hearing “I love you,” a family member cry?
I walk this lonely hallway with a heavy, grieving heart.
The hallway’s emptiness matches my soul,
I’m carrying a weight within so heavy,
My heart is paralyzed, my body feels old.
I know I will have to carry this family,
Through the tears that will honor their mother.
A great celebration of life,
Yet a wonder, "Why Mom and not another?"
Yet, I turn the corner to this hallway,
For tomorrow is another day.
People to see, sermons to write,
Who knows what the next church member might say?
So, keep going I must,
Though my soul feels both empty and full,
Heavy heart, grateful heart, Lord I know you’re good,
But life can feel so cruel.
By: Paul Gibson
Why would anyone want to be a teacher?!
Kids are lazy. They do not have the work ethic kids used to have thirty years ago. They whine. They're hyperactive. Their manners are terrible. They would rather have their nose buried in an electronic device than listen to a lesson. Some of them are willing to curse at you without a second thought. "Why did you give me that grade?! (No, honey. You earned that grade.) And, the kids who do want to learn, have the odds stacked against them.
Why would anyone want to be a teacher?!
Parents project blame all the time. They do not hold their children accountable like parents used to in the past. It is never the student's fault. "What did the teacher do or not do that caused my child to get that bad grade?" Teachers look for allies in parents. Instead, they find enemies.
Why would anyone want to be a teacher?!
The administration is critical. "We must have better test scores." "Better classroom management." "Make sure you attend PD." "Turn in your lesson plans on time." "There will be a teacher's meeting after school." "What must you do to help that student get a better grade?"
Why would anyone want to be a teacher?!
The pay is average. The hours are long. Grading papers while watching television gets old. "But you get three months off every summer!" Well, not exactly. There are workshops to attend. Education requirements to pursue. And, before you know it, August catches you off guard. "Is it that time already?"
Why would anyone want to be a teacher?!
And, oh, what about being an administrator?! The parents do not trust you. The teachers do not like you. The kids are leery of you. There are days when you feel like you can please no one.
Why would anyone want to be an administrator?!
You are part of the school support staff. You are not a teacher, so you are often viewed as "not as important." It is disappointing that people do not realize that without you, there would be no bus rides, no trips to the bathroom, no lunches, the phones would constantly be ringing, and there would be no after school care.
Why would anyone want to be on support staff?!
I will tell you why anyone would want to be teacher or administrator or support staffer.
Because they burn with concern and passion for that little boy or girl who wears the same clothes to school three days in a row while looking malnourished or unkept.
Because they see the promise in the junior high student who is often angry and disrespectful. They see that if the student could just get past their pain and anger, they could be the next doctor, college president, pastor, stay at home mom, or teacher.
Because they see that high school student who is gifted beyond their years, yet struggles with self-confidence. If that student could just learn to trust and believe in who they are, their life has no limits.
Because they take the long view on life. They understand that the true work of a teacher is not determined by test scores or marks on a paper. Instead, their work is judged by the women and men, the mothers and fathers, the leaders and workers their students become ten to fifteen years later in life.
Because they were once that elementary student or junior high student or high school student described above and if it were not for the teacher or principal or teacher's assistant or lunch lady who believed in them, they would not be the mother, the father, the husband, the wife, the teacher they are today.
Why would anyone want to be a teacher?
Because they care.
Paul is the husband to Tara, father to Natalie and Isaac, has an average jump shot, and enjoys running. His secret wish is to one day become a Jedi Knight. Paul holds a doctorate in marriage and family counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently serves as senior pastor of Harrodsburg Baptist Church. Paul desires to help young couples navigate the early crucibles of marriage, especially when one or both of the spouses are engaged in vocational ministry.
Tara wears several hats; wife to Paul, Mom to Natalie and Isaac, Physical Therapist by day, and Noonday Collection ninja at night. Tara cares deeply about helping other women understand their true identities and developing their relationships with Christ. Tara likes to read, cook, and learn about all things Disney.