Legacy And Adoption

When Two Love Stories Are Better Than One

 

Through the lens of an adopted person, the notion of legacy is filled with complexity.  A large part of legacy is understanding one’s history and beginning.  For the adoptee, life’s journey begins with traumatic and profound loss – losing your first family. So then, where does legacy take root and who defines it?

According to Silverstein and Kaplan, 1986, in the Grief Silverstein Article, adoption has its triggers. These are “seven lifelong and core issues for all members of the triad (adoptee, birth parent, and adoptive parent), regardless of the circumstances of the adoption or the characteristics of the participants.”

These issues are: loss, rejection, guilt and shame, grief, identity, intimacy, mastery and control.

For example, as identity develops an adoptee experiences significant ambiguity. Oftentimes, the lack of information and understanding impacts their sense of self.  This can spur a variety of maladaptive behaviors in the search for self. Those behaviors may look like attempts to conceive or bear a child in order to establish biological and genetic connection. They may also look like defense mechanisms and emotional safeguards for fear of repeat rejection or loss. On the other hand, they may manifest haphazard attachments that allow everyone in, seeking closeness in other spaces and looking for external input to define self.

Innate Questions

Human nature is naturally curious. Genetic testing organizations such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe satisfy this curiosity by allowing people to discover the intimate details of their lineage and heritage. Even for the person born into their family of origin, and reared by their biological family, the desire to align with a wider ancestral body is innate. Likewise, curiosity in the search for self only grows as an adopted person’s origins are blurred or may be completely cut off in closed adoptions. Adoptive families that find themselves unable, or ill-equipped to support their adopted child in their search for their birth family, in order to answer questions that inform who they are, weave a complicated web of perceived rejection and reinforced abandonment.

An adopted person’s search for heritage and fulfillment of legacy is not an unnatural phenomenon. Many people experience this yearning at some point during their lifetime, whether triggered by positive or negative inputs. There are simply more roadblocks and barricades to capturing this for the adopted person, impeding their ability to embrace their history as a matter of import.

Embrace Openness

A multifaceted and practical approach to activating legacy for an adopted person is through embracing the spirit of openness in adoption. In recent years, professionals surrounding the adoption process increasingly and systemically support the benefits of open engagement. Adoptive families, as a result, now experience the joys of pursuing birth family connections.

As quoted by Sharon Kaplan Roszia, a nationally recognized adoption professional, at the 2019 Conference for the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), “Adoption should be about addition rather than subtraction.”  We should be adding to the lives of adoptees, aiding them in embracing rather than erasing legacy and history.

Whenever and wherever open communication between adoptive and birth families can be supported, it should be the first priority to preserve and foster these interactions as they serve to be the greatest benefit to the adoptee. Having direct access to someone who can aid in answering lingering questions helps to undergird the sense of self and belonging, and creates an avenue for the child to express their own wants and desires concerning the relationship and its evolution.

Risks and Rewards of Openness

For many years, adoptive parents feared that the child’s loyalty was at stake. They worried about their children’s longing to return to their birth family. This cloud of worry always looms over the future promises, hopes and dreams of adoptive families. Lying at the root of some closed and restricted agreements were the fears  that the genetic pull would be stronger than the indelible love and commitment of the adoptive family.

One practical benefit of an open adoption is it allows birth parents to be owners of their narrative. They can give voice to their own adoption plan, and answer the adoptee’s “why” questions. Birth parents fill in the blanks, questions such as “where do I gain my athletic abilities?” or “who gave me my broad smile?” Ongoing contact can aid an adoptee in understanding their place in the world in a small but meaningful way.

Complexity

To understand where one is going, one must first understand where they have been. Preserving legacy in adoption where historical context is absent may be a continuous battle. Efforts to provide this context are not at all lost on the adoptee, however. Ongoing support, commitment and appreciation for the adoptee’s journey strengthens and reinforces healthy attachment. It also provides tools to aid them in charting a new course with their adoptive family to establish legacy. In the absence of the birth parent history, this becomes incredibly significant.

However, through the inclusion of open adoption and ongoing, meaningful contact, the adoptee now has access to two love stories. In two love stories they can create a vibrant and rich legacy, bridging worlds and closing chasms. Adoption this way never minimizes the profoundness of an adoptee’s origins. Instead, it gives them the ability to embrace the end. This is key because adoption should always be the addition of a legacy and never the erasure of one.

 

 




Coping With Dysfunctional Families

In the 5th grade I won the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) essay contest. I don’t remember what my paper was about or what made it compelling enough to receive an award. But I do remember the award ceremony. What I remember most is seeing my family in the audience, sitting together cheering me on. I also remember the subsequent family pizza night. All of us sitting together laughing and enjoying each others company over extra cheese pizza with my favorite accessory, Doritos tortilla chips. That moment is one that will forever be etched into my memory.

Shortly after, I graduated 5th grade and we had another family pizza party. It became a family tradition I looked forward to with every academic milestone. In fact, these dinners fueled every single academic accomplishment I’ve achieved even into adulthood. At some point, I learned that I could keep my family unified and “happy” with my academic success. And so, I tried with every fiber of my being to accomplish every possible academic award that was available to me. So I graduated with honors, academic achievement awards, perfect attendance awards, honor society awards, and more.

It’s My Fault: A Child’s Perception of Familial Dysfunction

Fast forward 19 years later after moving away. After earning my master’s degree I decided to take a break from school. One year later, my parents separated and I watched the family that I worked so hard to keep together begin to crumble. I was convinced that this was all happening because of my decision to take a break from the one thing that was keeping my family together, my ongoing academic success.

If you’re thinking, “that’s insane!” You are absolutely right. That’s the issue with family dysfunction, it creates an unbalanced dynamic that results in a confusion of roles, and boundaries. It produces a toxicity that undermines our capacity to individuate. Once this dynamic is established, it takes intentionality to see and understand things differently. Many of us are aware of the dysfunction that exists in our families and are looking for ways to cope. And although we can’t change our families, we do have a responsibility to work on ourselves. The following suggestions have been personally helpful and can hopefully be just as helpful for you.

Deal With Your Own Dysfunction

The first step to effectively coping with the dysfunction in your family is to deal with it. It is impossible to walk away from family dysfunction unaffected.

We are connected to people in our family history whose unresolved traumas have become our legacy. When the connection remains unconscious, we can live imprisoned in feelings and sensations that belong to the past.”

Mark Wolynn, Founder of the Family Constellation Institute.

Our ability to individuate and raise our level of consciousness is largely dependent upon our ability to makes sense of the dysfunction. While some choose to avoid and disassociate from their family unit entirely, this is not a solution. This will only temporarily table an underlying issue that will inevitably resurface (as triggers always do). Having some level of awareness of the dysfunction does not make us immune to its influence.

You Are Your Responsibility

Although we are not responsible for the dysfunction that we inherit, we are responsible for how we deal with it. Making sense of the dysfunction begins with self-exploration. And by practicing and developing new patterns of behavior we can change the negative thoughts and behaviors from our past. This is not something that we should expect to do by ourselves. The dysfunction created was a collective effort. And so your healing process should be just as collaborative. The good news is mental health professionals are passionate about and enjoy helping people like you and me process their past.

An additional underutilized resource is group therapy, also known as a support group. Group therapy provides a space for you to connect with other individuals facing similar issues. Inevitably, you begin to connect with group members (consciously and unconsciously) as if they were members of your original family unit. This creates opportunity to correctly relive familial conflicts. This is important because re-exposure to familial issues has the potential to repair existing wounds.

Forgive Your Parents

But the reality is that often, much of our familial dysfunction is attached to our parents. This is because the parental relationship is the most influential relationship we will ever have. It determines how we see ourselves and how we interact with others. And how we deal with the dysfunction in this relationship determines how we engage with society. In other words, coping with familial dysfunction oftentimes means forgiving our parents, especially when they don’t ask for forgiveness.

According to Oprah Winfrey’s article “Forgiving your parents,” unresolved issues with our parents impedes our ability to form healthy relationships with others. The anger and resentment that we hold onto is infectious and spreads into the new relationships that we form. But the truth is:

“Our parents cannot be expunged or ejected from us. They are in us and we are part of them-even if we never met them. Rejecting them only distances us further from ourselves and creates more suffering.”

Mark Wolynn,  It Didn’t Start With You

Effectively coping with the dysfunction in our families begins with healing from those childhood wounds through the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness begins with self-understanding which also involves understanding the family history underlying the dysfunction. It is through this process of understanding that forgiveness can occur. Forgiveness heals the wounds created by the dysfunction and allows us to objectively analyze the cause of our familial hurt. Once we identify and acknowledge our familial hurt we can make the changes necessary to keep it from happening again.

Protect Your Emotional Health

Ultimately, when coping with family dysfunction protecting your emotional health is crucial. This requires two things: practicing self-awareness and creating boundaries. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine writes in his book The Body Keeps Score:

“We don’t truly know ourselves unless we feel and interpret our physical sensations; we need to register and act on these sensations to navigate safely through life.”

The key to understanding how to protect your emotional well being resides in your ability to be present. Taking a moment to check in with yourself (particularly when interacting with family) is an appropriate practice of self-awareness. Developing self awareness gives us the information that we need to create healthy boundaries.

On Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday Brené Brown, PhD, explains that “there is no trust without boundaries.” This is because it is with appropriate boundaries that we can begin to trust ourselves and become brave enough to build relationships trusting that others will engage with us with our boundaries in mind. Family members will continue to engage in dysfunctional behaviors. The onus is on you to protect yourself by staying true to the limits and boundaries you’ve set.

Facing the Facts

Facing the realities of the dysfunction that existed in my family was the most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to do. I still have to remind myself to be present. Even so, I wouldn’t change any of it. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. The “A” student, the overachiever, these experiences taught me how to leverage the dysfunction of past and turn it into the success of my future. I encourage everyone to learn this same lesson because how we deal with our dysfunction determines how we heal. And the fact of the matter is, how we heal influences the next generation’s ability to do the same. Choose wisely.




If You Want Him to Stay, Leave

I am going to tell you something I typically only share with very close friends, or girls who are crying in the public restroom. This is something I know I may take some hits for, but I hope you will hear me because I ain’t wrong:

If you want him to stay, you may have to leave.

First let me throw a few credentials at you before you hit the X. I teach communications, and have been studying theories on gender and communications for the better part of 12 years. Relationships are exhausting. They are time consuming and they can be excruciating. But there are a few basic principles you can always apply. The first of which is this: if he isn’t staying faithful to you, or marrying you, or giving your relationship the priority you think it deserves: leave.

Reasons to Leave

This is something women do wrong all the time. Trust me, I read your Facebook posts while tearing my Nordstrom’s Rack clearance dress in agony. Your post detail at least one of these scenarios: either he doesn’t come home when he says he will, or, he has convinced you that you are being controlling because you would like a marriage to go with your mortgage and 4 children together. Or worse yet, maybe he cheated on you and swore he wouldn’t do it again, but he did! And this time you are really going to teach him a lesson.

The list goes on and on. And I want you to know that my heart breaks with you. I am a woman. And not the type who likes to “hang with the boys” either. I like to do girl things with my girlfriends in our overpriced leggings. I understand how hard it is in these streets! My advice: put down your caramel macchiato and repeat after me, “I HAVE TO LEAVE.”

Equity Theory and Power in Relationships

See the truth of the matter is, relationships are as much about power, as they are about love. Want to know what makes people feel attracted to one another? Power. Human beings are always attracted to power, and the more power I perceive you to have, the more attractive you become. We all watched this play out on abc’s hit TV show ScandalOlivia Pope played by Kerry Washington and President Fitzgerald Grant played by Tony Goldwyn are the perfect example of a couple with an overwhelming attraction to the perceived power of the other.

Joseph DeVito explains this idea in The Interpersonal Communication Book where he describes how Equity theory says that relationships are most profitable when there is an equal power dynamic between partners. If we were truly honest with ourselves, too many of us are giving one person all the power in the relationship. It’s no wonder we aren’t treated as a priority to that individual! No one can walk over you if you don’t lay down first.

If he cheats and you stay, and he cheats, and you stay, and he cheats some more, and you are angry and sad, but you still stay, what do you think you are telling him about your share of power in the relationship? You may as well tattoo his name on your forehead because he owns you. Not only are you hurting yourself, but you are only making yourself less and less attractive to him in the meantime.

Breaks and Boundaries

Every human being in a committed relationship should have a line that their partner knows cannot be crossed. When we set up boundaries and people know we aren’t bluffing they are far more likely to keep themselves in check. If someone crosses the line they made the decision for you. They crossed the line they knew would bring destruction. You are leaving because they didn’t give you any other choice.

By the way, in order to leave you have to be absent. You can’t break up, but then keep seeing him, texting him, and answering his phone calls. My darling, how can someone miss you if you aren’t ever gone? You have to go on relationship blackout. Don’t answer his texts, don’t respond to his phone calls, and if a carrier pigeon shows up at your doorstep call animal control.

If there is one thing men biologically and instinctively know how to do, it is to get something that they want. If he wants you, he WILL go and get you. You don’t need to leave bread crumbs because you are worried he will get lost. If you are the woman of his dreams, do you really think he is going to let you go because you didn’t answer his text? And if you aren’t the woman of his dreams, why are you settling? In fact, some statistics suggest that you are a match for one out of every seven people. Sure, there may be six bad dates to follow. But the man who would NEVER risk losing you, who will always come after you, is right around the corner.

Say “No” to Social Media

Now, the most important thing to breaking up and setting boundaries is learning how to stay quiet on social media. Stop posting about him and the break up, or what the last thing he said to you was. Stop saying how much better off you are, or posting selfies with song lyrics the two of you used to dance too. I forbid you to like his pictures or send that snap. Remember, sometimes leaving is the only thing you can do to save the relationship. But if you do it wrong don’t come to me with your clap back tweet.

Trust me. He will PANIC if one minute the person who he shared all his deepest thoughts and dreams with is there, and then she is gone. Even if he was happy with the breakup at first, your silence will cause him to tailspin. He will question everything. The powerless girl he thought he was leaving, will become a goddess he can’t live without. He will start to worry that perhaps you have actually left, and may stay gone. It may take a few months, but if you go radio silent, he WILL show up at your door. And then my dear, it’s your move.

In the meantime, take some time to fix what is broken. What is causing you to need someone else so badly that you will take them even if it is just in pieces? You are worthy of attention, love, and belonging. And during this time apart you may discover that for yourself.

But first, you have to leave.




It Takes Two: [Re]Connecting Our Sexuality and Spirituality

When it comes to sexuality, it takes two. You can’t talk about sex without talking about spirituality because sex is inherently connected to the heart and image of God. Where there is one, there will always be the other.

Everybody knows you can’t have mashed potatoes without gravy, spaghetti without sauce or bread without butter. In fact, there are several things in life that seem weird when you have one without the other. That’s because most of nature operates off of a dual partnership. For example, it takes both hydrogen and oxygen to get water. Your wallet constantly reminds you there are two sides to every coin. And even the Bible teaches that the complete Word of God needs both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, if you ask me, I consider these things dysfunctional unless they’re together, but we can agree to disagree.

The point is, all of these things teach us that you can’t have one without the other. It takes two.

The same is true for sex. You can’t talk about sex without talking about spirituality.

However, so many Christians struggle with this very point. So many have separated their sexuality from their spirituality making it even harder for them to truly understand either one. In fact, this has become such an issue The New York Times recently published an article called How Should Christians Have Sex? In it, Katelyn Beaty shares how the purity culture of the 1990s was harmful and dangerous, but that its recent demise has many Christians looking around for guidance on how to navigate sexual intimacy.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Unfortunately, church culture has made talking about sex and sexuality taboo. This fear of sex and sexuality that has silenced the Church on the topic has conditioned many Christians to divorce spirituality from sexuality. This disconnect deepens the more Christians underestimate and ignore where these desires come from.

The truth is: Sex is spiritual! Sex is spiritual because the source of our longing flows directly from the heart of God, whose very nature and being is relational. The triune God created humans to exist in relationship not isolation. This relationship between the human family was to reflect God’s existence as eternal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (See Genesis 2:23, 24). This is why spirituality is at the heart of every relationship.

[Re]Connecting Sexuality and Spirituality

There is a universal, human longing for connection. So God created sex as means of expression within relationship to promote connection and intimacy. You heard me right. God created sex! And because God created us to exist in relationship and then created us to express our connection within relationship through sex that makes sex within relationship spiritual. Dr. C. Wesley Knight talks about the spiritual origins of sex in his book Thirst: Quenching Your Deepest Desire. He says:

Sexuality was the creation given to them to help perpetuate what they ultimately received from God’s presence. Sex was created so that we would be reminded that we are not alone. Sex was to remind us that we can be ultimately united with another soul. Sex was to be a representation of unconditional love. It was created to allow us to enter into an experience that would remind us how much we are loved.

Dr. Knight goes on to explain that sex began its process towards corruption the moment humanity ceased trusting in God. In other words, sex outside of sacred relationship – marriage – is our attempt at meeting our own needs, satisfying our own desires, or quenching our own thirsts.

The guy who jumps from bed to bed for casual, detached encounters with women is using sex to meet a spiritual need for connection and intimacy. The single woman who occasionally feels incomplete because she doesn’t have a husband to satisfy her has a spiritual need for connection and intimacy. Even couples who carry layers of resentment in their hearts towards their spouses, but continue to engage in sexual intercourse hoping it will make things better are looking to their sexuality to fix their spiritual need for connection and intimacy.

These expressions of sexuality are dysfunctional and unsatisfying. And the truth of the matter is that our sexuality will remain dysfunctional, dissonant, and unbefitting of God’s ideal so long as we continue to turn off, ignore, or minimize how our spirituality and sexuality intersects.

Steps to [Re]Connecting Our Sexuality and Spirituality

Here are three mindset shifts that helped deepen my awareness of the harmonious connection between sexuality and spirituality.

1. My Sexuality is Singular – “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31 NLT).

Every outfit calls for a specific purse that compliments what I’m wearing. Sometimes this means that I have to transfer the contents of one bag to another so that I have everything I need. But when it comes to sex, I don’t have a variety of bags. I have one bag called Life and that’s it!  When I made that subtle shift in my thinking, everything changed. I went from having a spiritual life and a sexual life to having one life where God is glorified in everything I do by His grace.

Our sexuality disconnects from God when we choose to compartmentalize our life rather than consolidate our life into one single focus.  Aligning all our sexual decisions so that they bring glory and honor to God will naturally be met with resistance from our flesh. But I challenge you to ask God to help you to stop compartmentalizing. This week, allow Him to consolidate all your life choices for His glory.

2. My Sexuality is an Opportunity – “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1 NLT).

For many of us our sexuality is viewed as a point of contention with God. It could be because you may be struggling with your sexual identity and wonder why God made you this way. For others, sexual immorality might be an addiction and it feels like a thorn in your flesh that won’t leave. Or an unmarried person may not be having sex but think it’s unfair and frustrating that they can’t.

I can tell you from experience that a major mindset shift happened when I began to see my sexuality as an opportunity to deepen my longings for God, instead of as reason to get angry with Him.

This week, don’t allow your sexual desires or sexual mistakes to prevent you from deepening your craving for more of God. Instead, let your real feelings drive you unashamedly nearer to the heart of God.

3. My Sexuality is Welcome – Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NLT).

Growing up, many of us were taught to repress or ignore our sexual desires until we were married. Oftentimes to even have sexual desires before marriage was considered shameful and sinful. This presents a challenge in today’s society for two reasons. First, more and more people are waiting later in life to be married. According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age of first marriages for women in 2018 was 27.8 years. For men, it’s slightly older at 29.8 years. That’s the longest Americans have ever waited to get married. To put it in perspective, in 1990 the average age of marriage for women was 24. It was age 22 in 1980. And back in the 50s most women were married by 20 years old.

It’s simply unrealistic to think that healthy Christian men and women are exempt from having sexual desires until marriage. Secondly, a quick observation of our anatomy confirms that we will always be sexual beings no matter our relationship status. Thus, what has helped me is choosing to acknowledge that my sexuality is welcome in the presence of God simply because he created me that way. It’s not a dirty or shameful part of me that needs to be suppressed. We surely don’t have to give in to those desires outside of God’s will, but

learning to embrace the freedom we have to bring our entire self into worship will shift how we experience His satisfying love. God wants to fulfill our need for intimacy and connection but it won’t happen if we feel those needs aren’t welcome in our sacred moments with Him.

This secular, post-modern society will have you believing that Christianity is a killjoy, anti-sex religion. But that is simply is not true. Nothing in the Bible says that sex is wrong. Instead, It talks about how our sexuality was designed to reflect how deeply connected we can be to God and each other. This should always be the ideal we strive to achieve. And thankfully, when we fall short God is gracious and merciful enough to reconnect us back with Him. Because with God it takes two. And to Him, we are whole beings that are both deeply spiritual and deeply sexual all at the same time.




Expect Less, Get More: A Tale of Unrealistic Expectations

The table was beautifully decorated with an array of colorful foods. The sunlight shone in through the big, bay window overlooking the meal. The atmosphere was just right for conversation, fun and fellowship. There we sat, three married couples ready to enjoy the delightful brunch spread prepared. We were the only parents at the table with teenaged children. The other two couples had toddlers. The conversation quickly turned to parenting and expectations.

In that moment, we realized that living through this phase with our children gave us a lot to say on the subject. We did not want the wonderful atmosphere to turn into a parental counseling session by offering a bunch of unsolicited advice, but if we were asked, heres what we would have said:

Expectations are a powerful thing in any relationship. And nothing is more hurtful than unrealized expectations. But there is nothing more dangerous than unvoiced unrealistic expectations.

As we think back over our journey together, we realize that we argued a lot more when our kids were young. And many of the arguments stemmed from unrealistic expectations. Were not sure why we were so unrealistic. It could have been the lack of sleep or the lofty dreams we had for our children. Or perhaps the pressure we faced from extended family. We havent quite been able to put our finger on it. But for some reason we had a lot of unrealistic expectations during that period of our marriage.

Time, experience and many deep conversations have helped to temper our expectations so that we dont have nearly the same struggles with unrealistic expectations as we did in our early years. Heres what we learned:

Lesson #1. Remember who you married

One of the biggest issues in committed relationships is this idea that my spouse will change once he/she marries me. This is the most unrealistic expectation that there is! Dont get us wrong; we believe that people can change. But meaningful change can only come through the power of God. We should remember that “…Godplaced the parts in the bodyjust as he wanted them to be (1 Corinthians 12:18, NIV). In other words, God purposely created our spouses to have the personality and attributes that he or she possesses. Yes, God made him and her that way on purpose!

For this reason, it is vitally important to have realistic expectations about what kinds of changes are possible for your spouse. It is unrealistic for you to expect your spouse to alter things about his or her natural personality. If your husband is an outgoing and extroverted person, that will remain true about him for as long as hes alive. He will sometimes be able to adjust his behavior to allow an introvert to be more comfortable. For example, he may agree to stay home for a quiet evening. But this does not mean that he will one day wake up and become an introvert. Thats an unrealistic expectation.

Your wife, who is type-A and likes to get things done may make an accommodation for her laidback husband by letting him plan the date night without her involvement. But that does not mean that she will all of a sudden become a passive personality one day. As long as shes breathing, shell want to know the details.

Remembering who you married requires you to recognize and appreciate your spouse and all that God purposely created them to be without trying to change them into someone else.    

Lesson #2: Your child is not your clone.

Remember that even though your kids are here because of something you did, theyre ultimately here because of Gods power. He created them with precision and care. Your children are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). In fact, He has a purpose for them in this world that you need to recognize (Jeremiah 1:5). So, temper your expectations of your children. Allow them to be who Christ created them to be. They belong to God and with your guidance will become what God has in mind for them.

This means you will need to get active in helping them to discover their purpose in life. At the brunch, one of our musician friends commented that he has no expectations at all about his sons ability to be musical when he gets older. He remarked that his son has already shown many signs of musicianship, but he wont be disappointed in the least if his boy does not end up playing a particular instrument or becoming a famous musician. We affirmed his stance and frame of mind because we believe he is right on track with his responsibility to his son as a parent.

Our job is to help our children achieve Gods will in their lives, not to place unrealistic expectations on them for their life and career.

Lesson #3: Ignore extended family

Well, not literally, but almost! Extended family can often be unreasonable as they comment from a distance. Grandparents, for instance, lose their objectivity from the moment their grandkids are born. We are not certain why this is true, but how else can you explain why your mother pleads with you not to punish your child when she readily punished you throughout your teenaged years! Whatever the reason for this phenomenon, you should listen to your extended family differently when it comes to your children.

Sometimes extended family can unwittingly place unnecessary pressure on you in how you should rear your kids. They can be demanding about what extra curricular activities they need to be involved in, what summer camp they have to attend, which instrument they should play and what college they “must” enroll in. Since extended family members, in the traditional sense, do not have the primary responsibility of child rearing they often have an unrealistic perspective about how they should be reared.

Be careful not to be pressured by the expectations placed on your nuclear family by loved ones.

Expectations hold a lot of weight and can cause negative responses if not properly understood. If you learn to manage your expectations with your spouse, your child and your extended family, you will have one less thing to stress about as you establish your home.




A New Frontier: Interracial Love and Marriage Through the Lens of Star Trek

The cult sci-fi hit Star Trek has been a milestone for many things. The team of the starship Enterprise set the standard for numerous storylines and tropes common within the genre. More than that, the show encouraged conversation on controversial topics such as reproductive rights, terrorism, homosexuality, and race.

“Plato’s Children”

This November, Star Trek will celebrate its 51st anniversary of the first on-screen interracial kiss. The kiss takes place between Captain James Kirk, played by William Shatner, and Lieutenant Uhura, played by Nichelle Nicholes. Uhura herself was already a strong figure in the show. In fact, she was one of the first women of color in a position of power on prime-time television. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. even encouraged Nicholes to remain on the show. Depicting a black woman on equal footing with her white coworkers, King said Star Trek was one of the only shows he let his children stay up late to watch.

The controversial episode “Plato’s Children” first aired on November 22, 1968. And it can certainly be said that Star Trek opened up a new “final frontier” by pushing the social boundaries of its time. In fact, the episode was debated and critiqued by social and civil rights analysts for decades. The power rested in its controversy. This show, and particularly this episode, showed that people of color could have romantic relationships not based on the color of their skin.

The Kiss That Inspired Love

Eric Deggans, a TV critic for National Public Radio, said the kiss

suggested that there was a future where [interracial relationships] were not such a big deal. The characters themselves were not freaking out because a black woman was kissing a white man…In this utopian-like future, we solved this issue. We’re beyond it. That was a wonderful message to send.

However, in 1968 less than 20% of Americans thought interracial relationships were acceptable, according to Gallup Polls. In fact, in 1967 it was illegal for a racially mixed couple to get married in many states. This sentiment still resinated with many viewers causing them to see the kiss as a degradation of American values. While others saw it as a great leap forward in representation. In the end, society determined that Kirk and Uhura’s kiss was a step forward in normalizing mixed-race couples.

Love on The New Frontier

As of 2018, about 17% of newlywed American couples are interracial. In fact, Honolulu, HI has the largest number of interracial marriages hovering around 40%, while Jackson, MS has the lowest at 3%. Studies further show that only about 11% of white partners end up marrying someone of a different racial background, while Asian, Hispanic, and black Americans are much more likely to marry outside their ethnicity. What’s interesting is that the rate of black interracial marriages has risen from less than 5% in the 1980s to almost 20% today.

God’s Response to Mixed Marriages

But concern about interracial marriage is not just 20th and 21st century issue. The Bible also records instances of biracial, or more appropriately bi-ethnic, unions. Possibly the most famous is that Moses and Zipporah. Displeased with their brother’s choice in a mate, Aaron and Miriam argued with Moses about his decision to marry a woman from Cush, or modern-day Ethiopia.

Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.

An outsider from the Hebrew community, Aaron and Miriam did not believe that Zipporah was suitable for Moses. They actually began to question Moses’ ability to lead because of his choice in a mate. For their xenophobic and discriminatory criticism Numbers 12:10-11,15 record God’s punishment:

And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was a leper. So Aaron said to Moses, “Oh my Lord! Please do not lay this sin on us, in which we have done foolishly and in which we have sinned.”…So Miriam was shut out of the camp seven days, and the people did not journey till Miriam was brought in again.

This story clearly reveals that as far back as the Old Testament God protects interracial marriages. Not only did God show favor on the marriage of Moses and Zipporah, but he also punished anyone, even Moses’ sister, for trying to tear them a part.

Conclusion

Star Trek tried to show viewers that true love will explore new frontiers, new cultures, new people. And the story of Moses and Zipporah teaches us that when we step out to reflect the image of God with partners of different racial and ethnic backgrounds that we have His protection and His favor. May we build relationships that truly exemplify that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:11 NIV). If modern Christians can follow this principle, then maybe Star Trek won’t be the only world exploring a new frontier.




She’s So Slow. Tell Her to Hurry Up!

My wife moves very slowly. It is the reason we are late most of the times to everything. We’ve been married for over 25 years and I am really tired of always waiting for her. I wish she could move a little faster. However, every time I ask her to move faster, she seems to move slower. Sometimes I feel like I am going to lose my mind. Please help me with a strategy to help my wife move faster so our marriage can be what it has the potential to be. —Anonymous—Flint, Michigan

Marriage can be truly difficult. Isn’t that right? Nevertheless, once you accept the fact that marriage can be difficult, the fact that it is difficult no longer really matters, as long as you trust God to give you the patience needed to respond to any situation with love. And, by the way, Jesus makes the promise in Mark 10:47 that, “…with men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”

As we think about the situation you have shared about your wife, we cannot help but reflect on the fact that we are at the beginning of another year when many choose to make resolutions for the new year. We are wondering out loud what new or not so new resolutions you might want to make in your relationship with your wife of 25+ years, given the annoyance you have reported having with her slowness.

Right about now we are wondering if your wife has always been slow, or if this is a tendency she has developed of late. If it is the former, then it follows that during your courtship and early marriage you simply chose to overlook her slowness, given her outstanding characteristics on other matters. Of course, if your wife’s slowness is something she has recently developed, you may want to check on her health, and/or come to grips with the fact that as one grows older, one tends to develop aches and pains in one’s extremities, which tend to literally slow one down. And the latter may be an explanation for your wife’s current slowness.

So, this is as good a time as any to make decisions about how you will respond to your wife, going forward, in order to maximize the viability of your marital relationship in this new year. Because, the truth is, the only counsel we have to share with you about improving your current marriage dilemma is not so much about what you can tell your wife to correct her perceived flaws, as much as it is about how you can respond to your wife to enhance your marriage relationship. 

What we know about healthy marriages is that they are characterized by partners who tend to respond to each other with love, despite the circumstances that may arise from time to time in the course of negotiating life together. We have the natural predisposition to respond with anger, resentment, selfishness, contempt, criticism or disrespect to things we don’t like about people we are in close relationships with; responding in love is the only assurance of being in a successful and satisfying partnership.

Thus, rather than being too concerned about your wife’s slowness, we would encourage you to make a New Year’s resolution—with the help of God, of course—to be loving and kind to your wife regardless of the circumstances. Also, that you will practice being accepting of her, just the way she is. The more you exercise responding to your wife in love, the more likely you will be to bring out the best in her, and experience the joy of a satisfying and happy marriage relationship.

Please know you and your wife are in our prayers as you trust God each day to help you be the patient and loving husband He wants you to be.

…......………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

WILLIE OLIVER, Ph.D., C.F.L.E., an ordained minister, pastoral counselor and family sociologist, is director of the Department of Family Ministries for the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters. family.adventist.org; hopetv.org/realfamilytalk oliverw@gc.adventist.org 

ELAINE OLIVER, M.A., L.G.P.C., C.F.L.E., a counseling psychologist and educator, is associate director of the Department of Family Ministries for the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters. family.adventist.org; hopetv.org/realfamilytalk olivere@gc.adventist.org




Single Elegance: Hope That Shines After The Hurt

“My beloved spake, and said…Rise up, my love…and come away,” (Song of Solomon 2:10).
I didn’t want to be single again, but I am. It’s just me again. How do you walk in a phase of your life you weren’t prepared to re-enter? How do you honor God in a consequence that feels so unfair, so painful so undeserved? But here I am, years later, still single; yet, in spite of the losses, disappointments, readjustments and sense of failure, experiencing God’s joy, peace, hope, ability to forgive and accept His ministry of reconciliation.

The empty spaces are filled with Him and I feel free and complete and continue to be amazed at how He is transforming my life and using me in ways that He never could have, had my life not been interrupted. Changed. Transitioned and Transformed.

It was a process, however, a process of experiencing deeper levels of love and forgiveness. I began owning what was mine to own, and letting go of what was not. I started surrounding myself with positive Christian family and friends. Then, I saturated my life in Bible study, prayer and service (2 Cor. 1:4). I learned to be still, I mean really still and quiet, and as I did, I could hear God speaking to me. He was leading and guiding me. Above that, He was my Counselor who has deposited joy and strength into my very soul (Nehemiah 8:10). He holds my hand (Psalms 73:23,24), and He has a surprise in store for me (Isaiah 43:19)! These promises give me encouragement and remind me that there is hope on the other side of hurt.

Rejecting The Sense of Rejection

But there’s a real enemy in the struggle, and the warfare is real! Our enemy wants to distract us away from our focus on God and His promises. In times of difficulty he wants us to believe his lies that we’re unlovable, unworthy and unwanted. But he is a liar and God is greater (1 John 4:4)!

We look like God, and were created in His image. In my painful journey back to singleness, God revealed to me just how He has used me. In a recent conversation with my former pastor, he confessed to me that he and his wife had been talking about me. I was immediately curious about the details. Instead of speaking though, I paused and listened to what he had to say.

My Pastor then explained how amazed he and his wife were at the courage, grace and strength I have shown in dealing with my intense trial. Perhaps God had allowed me to face my struggle to show him how to face his! He and his wife called me the epitome of “Christian elegance.”

Of course, I was overwhelmed and humbled. All I know is that God has allowed certain things to happen in my life because He trusted me to steward those trials well. He wanted to work out His purpose in my life through a painful process to grow/mature me so that He would be glorified in how I responded. I understand that what I experience here on earth is just a small sample of the ultimate spiritual warfare being played out over my life in a realm I cannot see. I feel somewhat privileged to be somehow trusted by God to represent Him and stand as His ambassador.

Stella’s Second Act

I remember having a difficult time and crying out to God for help. He impressed upon my heart to spend time with a special couple who are like family to me. As I entered their home, I was immediately surrounded by love, acceptance and support. The home cooked meal filled my heart with memories of South Carolina days as a little girl, and the safety of their home provided emotional sheltering for my wounded soul. The spiritual counsel made an indelible impression upon my heart.
As we stood in a circle to pray before I headed home, my pastor-friend gave me three life principles that I continue to treasure:

Stay close to God-increase your Bible study and prayer time.
Never give up-always believe that God can!
Always look good!-When people see you they should know that you’re a daughter of the King so eat well, rest and exercise.

These three principles carried me through, when I felt lonely because the house was just too quiet. Or, when I was concerned about my future and my finances, when feelings of sadness would overwhelm me and my tears seemed to have no end, I would read the Word and pray! I would pray scriptures and sing scriptures and as I did, I began to heal!

Weary One, Rise Up!

What is moving me forward is the knowledge that I am loved (Zeph. 3: 17, John 3:16). Let me shout it out: I am loved! I am valued! (Psalm 8:5, Genesis 1:27). My God speaks to me and has told me to rise up! Everything that I have experienced is not wasted and is working together for my good (Rom. 8:28), and has been allowed by my beloved (Genesis 50:20).

He loves me too much to be solely concerned with my comfort, so He has Divinely Ordained an alteration to assist in my transformation process (2 Corinthians 3:18). My latter will be greater than my beginning (Job 42:12) and he has told me that I will rise to new heights in Him. He has also told me to come away and as I have spent more time with Him I have gained a new perspective which has altered my mind and responses.

The definition of elegance is: Style, good taste, gracefulness, refinement, class, taste, chic and sophistication. Initially I looked at this definition and could not see any aspects of myself in the description, but I realize that all of us who have chosen to become new creatures in Christ will display Christian graces which, in essence, are the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23)! I am standing on the strength of Jesus Christ and by his power I am able to stand in silent strength and confidence.

Are you a Christian of elegance and grace in spite of your circumstances? Whether single or married, ask God to give you power to please him in the midst of difficult times.




Drama Files: Shattered Ministry

In polishing their ministry, their businesses, their school, their community, this successful couple missed a spot.

Alvin and Ava co-pastored a vibrant and highly successful church ministry. Family and friends loved and respected them. Their commitment resulted in 27 years of marriage and four children.

The family had several other business, such as schools, building and construction companies, and their church. Yet, with their avid attention to the details of creating these successful ventures, they shortchanged each other.

Hard to Reach

When Ava could not reach Alvin on his cell phone one afternoon, she contacted her children. They had not heard from their father all that day. Later that evening Alvin came home and told Ava his phone was not working. He needed to get that checked, she said, this problem had occurred several other times over the past few months.

A few months later as they grocery shopped together, Ava and Alvin ran into a female church member. Ava spoke to the woman, but her husband never acknowledged her and the woman never spoke to her Pastor. “Strange,” Ava thought. Why would a church member not even acknowledge her pastor? When they finished shopping they went to their car and Ava confronted her husband.

“Something was not right about the two of you not greeting one another. Did you have an affair with that woman?”

“I would never would do that” Alvin replied.

“Why did you not speak to her?” asked Ava.

“You both were talking and I was getting the bags,” her husband explained.

Courage to Confront

Ava had no peace, and the during the next few months their marriage became strained because she was convinced that something was going on behind her back. Ava broke down and finally called the woman who then admitted the whole thing.

“He felt so ashamed and ended the affair soon after,” the woman told her. “I told him that I would never speak on the matter because I knew he loved his family and his work for the Lord.”

“You’re a coward,” Ava went in on her husband that night. And, yes, Alvin who confirmed the sad fact, was indeed now very fearful for his family.

Shortly thereafter, the couple started marital counseling to discuss the direction for their marriage. Ava’s anger, and embarrassment just would not subside. Every time she attended church, she felt as if everyone knew but her. By our fifth session she said she wanted a divorce.

“What about our family and the church?” Alvin pleaded.

Ava turned to him “Did you think about all you had to lose when you committed adultery?”

You Better Think

Alvin acknowledged his weakness. He had allowed himself to begin an emotional affair because Ava was always so busy. He felt neglected. Ava, too, remembered feeling neglected due to his schedule. Likewise, she remembered her own opportunities to fall into temptation. But, she insisted, she would never have considered it. Her God and family were more important than a brief sexual fling.

Of course, the fatal consequence of adultery is broken trust and loss of closeness. Many affairs begin with an emotional interest or contact. On the other hand, too many times individuals are lured into affairs for the opposite reason. They see the opportunity to be disconnected and free from their spouses. It’s important to identify and recognize the missing components in the relationship, before it’s too late and may cost you everything.

New Path

As their marriage therapist I spent hours trying to help Ava and Alvin recognize their individual concerns and the turmoil within the marriage. It was just too late. So, within a few months, a tremendous marriage, family, and ministry had been shattered by one selfish act.

Alvin shared with Ava on their last session together that it was never his intention to destroy his family and hurt her. He asked once again for her forgiveness.

“I forgave you in the supermarket, even when you lied and denied it several times to me,” Ava said bravely. “God has given me peace, and I hope you can someday find peace in your life.”

Ava hugged him, walked out, and left Alvin in my office where he cried.

 

I prayed with him, but, I reminded Alvin it will be a long hard journey ahead for both of them and their children. His focus would now center on his ability to forgive himself and recommitment to his relationship with God and his children.

…......…………………………………………………………………

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent.




Drama Files: Holiday Hues of Blue

Seems like the holiday season was just here, Bryon* thought to himself. He was divorced,  and was not looking forward to another holiday season alone.

Though successful in his work, and traveling extensively, this young man realized all of that failed to fill the emptiness in his life. Bryon decided to find a therapist to help him adjust to the “Holiday Blues.” He was feeling loneliness, confusion, hurt, and disappointment during this time.

Blue Christmas Without You

Byron also felt pain from the memories of his past because his wife would decorate the home so beautifully. They would do the family shopping together. 

Bryon always looked forward to his parents and siblings joining him every year for the holidays and experiencing the love of the festivities. He grew up with his parents and many siblings engaging with the gift sharing, singing and visiting his grandparents was so enjoyable. 

Impending Season of Joy

As the time approached year after year Byron would remain busy and focused on his work. When November approached his depression began to overwhelm him. Prior to his divorce, Julie, his ex-wife had moved out to an apartment 22 miles away. She never called, and never came back.

Thanksgiving would usually be the start of the blues, a time when it seems everyone cherished a thankful and forgiving spirit. Byron figured that if there was ever a time when Julie would reconsider and return home, it would be at the beginning of the holiday season. He thought that she would call, but she never did.

Emotionally it took Bryon a while to get past his pain. He could not wait for the holiday  season to pass. He would find himself staying away from the stores or office holiday gatherings. Often, he hid his pain as more of his coworkers and friends learned that he was divorced.

As a very kind man and private person, Byron reluctantly told his family that Julie left and filed for divorce. His parents wondered what happened to Julie was on several occasions, so he finally told them the truth. He told them that Julie left because she no longer loved him the way a wife should. She really just grabbed for straws, looking for a way to leave. 

Some Folks Like to Get Away

In many cases people experience the holiday blues due to the lack of finances, the loss of family members or friends,  divorce, relocation, loss of employment,  or just hardship. They watch while so many other people enjoy the luxury of shopping, eating out at nice restaurants, traveling, and leaving their cares behind. Holiday blues are a real stressors.

Reimagine and recast your holidays using these ideas: 

  1. Acknowledge your feelings about your pain. 
  2. Reach out to positive family and friends. 
  3. Be realistic about your station in life.  
  4. Set aside differences with those who have hurt you by forgiving them. 
  5. Forgive yourself and pray 
  6. Develop a budget and don’t deviate from it. 
  7. Don’t run into any ones arms because you are lonely. 
  8. Know your limitations 
  9. The holidays are not a license to indulge in substance abuse.
  10. Schedule a pre-holiday or holiday season counseling session. 

As Bryon continued his therapy we discussed how important it is to recognize things could be so much worse, so he decided to do his best to remain thankful. He also committed to remaining busy and seeking the company of positive and encouraging family and friends.

Find The Right Mix of People And Activities

During the therapeutic process it is vital to identify with people who have gone through similar experiences to help you mature by attending a support group. Despite what you are going through try to be a blessing to someone else by serving and visiting someone in the hospital, a homeless shelter or serve at soup kitchen.

Accept, believe, and embrace Roman’s 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called to his purpose.” By grasping this concept when you are experiencing the holiday blues, you remember that God knows your pain and offers you comfort through your situation. 

With another holiday approaching Bryon is learning  to remain focused on others. He is  thankful, and allowing God’s will to be done while defining his new purpose in life by giving back to others. He is beginning a new chapter in his life not just getting through the holiday blues, but adjusting and accepting to a new life. Bryon now ends each session with these words: “God can make my latter days better than my former days.”

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent.