What’s In Your Garden?

It’s raining again today where I live, which isn’t surprising given that I live in Washington state, which is part of a region known for its amount of rainy days each year. But, this post isn’t about rain as much as it is about what the rain produces: green grass. As I was sitting alone one recent morning enjoying a cup of coffee before my kids woke up, I realized that the rain was responsible for turning everything varying shades of green, even through the winter here. During the long dry summers the lush grass goes dormant and turns brown if not watered. My neighbors, however, have a sprinkler system that waters their yard every evening at 10:27 pm. Rain or shine. The lesson, though, isn’t that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (even if it’s true in this example), but, rather, that the grass is always greener where you water it!

All too often in life it’s easy for me to forget to express my appreciation to the people in my life who love me. As a husband and father I try my best to use my words and actions to encourage my wife and kids, and I know that is music to my ears when they do the same to me. I can’t help being an incurable romantic, so I love it when my Facebook newsfeed contains posts by friends who are publicly expressing their appreciation for their spouses, children, parents or friends. I’ve especially enjoyed reading posts from a husband or wife that is bragging about something that his or her spouse did, said or accomplished. It’s such a simple act that has profound meaning. Genuine kindness and appreciation are the showers that bring life and health to relationships.

Just last week my kids helped me to prepare a small section of soil next to our driveway that we use each year to grow sugar snap peas.

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Rows of Sugar Snap Peas sprouting

We carefully removed the weeds and then planted the rows of seeds. In about 10 weeks we’re going to be enjoying some delicious sugar snap peas because you reap what you sow! The same is true in relationships. If I’m on the lookout for opportunities to tell my wife and kids how thankful I am for them or how much I appreciate something that they did, that’s going to not only strengthen our relationship but also help me to focus on the good in them. As a bonus, it will likely be encouraging them at the same time. It’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose. I have a friend who posts three things for which she is thankful every Tuesday, calling it GratiTuesday. I love that attitude of gratitude that she intentionally writes about each week. I want to be a husband, father and friend that is known for cultivating kindness and gratitude in his garden of life.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that the opposite of the attitude of gratitude is also true. The saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” probably happened because the people involved didn’t take the time to notice or appreciate what they had right in front of them all along.

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What’s in your garden?

I firmly believe that if we each spent a small fraction of the time that we usually use to complain about people and instead used that to water own yards or gardens, then we would see some beautiful grass, plants and flowers right in front of us. I know that I can complain about things to my kids or wife, but that only comes off as nagging or pestering and ultimately hurts our relationship. The reality is that if I’m looking for ways to be hurt or things to complain about, I can find them (or manufacture them) pretty easily. Yet, all that does is feed the negativity and create distance and hurt and separation in the relationship because I’m filling myself with contempt for my loved ones. On the other hand, when I choose to focus on the good and to communicate my love and appreciation, our bond is strengthened. I’m finding that looking for the good in my wife and kids is important when I’m not feeling in a particularly appreciative mood. I want my kids to see and feel what it’s like for their dad to love and appreciate both them and their mother, no matter the circumstances. My attitude of gratitude isn’t dependent upon receiving thanks and appreciation from others. It’s a choice that I get to make daily. Sometimes even minute by minute. In the end, though, I choose to be loving and kind instead of critical and ungrateful.

This notion of choosing an attitude of gratitude is actually based in scientific research by people much smarter and more educated than I am. I recently came across some articles from famous psychologists Gottman and Gottman that really confirmed what I had already been feeling and inspired me to be more intentional in looking for the good in my wife and kids (and others, of course). What follows is an excerpt from their findings.

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.

People who give their partner the cold shoulder — deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally — damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Please do yourself a favor and take the ten or fifteen minutes needed to read the articles which describe their findings in greater depth. (Links to the articles are here: Business Insider article, Masters of Love-Atlantic article)

Perhaps your reaction will be like mine, both convicted encouraged and inspired by what you read there. I hope that your loved ones will appreciate the changes that they see in you and that you will notice how much better they also look once you’ve consistently been showering them with your kindness and generosity. After all, we reap what we sow. So, what’s in your garden?

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Forgiveness: The other F word

If you spend any time online visiting any social media or news sites you will notice that there are a lot of people who are mad, angry and offended by just about anything. Some of the offending topics of the last few weeks that pop into my brain at the moment are, in no particular order, ISIS, politics, healthcare, unions, President Obama, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, vaccinations, circumcision, education, school lunches, gun control, gay rights, religion, abortion, sports, Grammys, Oscars, celebrity nude photo hacks, Kardashians and even The Dress. (White and gold. I know. Who cares!) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of crazy stuff out there. But what’s even crazier to me is the amount of truly vicious and vile comments that people leave without a second thought. th-11I wonder what would happen if people lived their lives choosing to forgive instead of choosing to look for ways to be offended. Can you imagine what a difference there would be if we each lived that way?

I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Sure, Carl, that sounds nice. But we’re talking ISIS. That’s pure evil. How could you possibly forgive them? You know they murdered over 20 Christians recently and just kidnapped over 250 Christians in Syria, right?” I agree. That is pure evil. Yet, Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, an American journalist who was captured by ISIS in 2010 and beheaded last August, is calling for forgiveness of the man who is believed to have been the chief executioner for ISIS.

“So, he, in a sense, had a priviedged upbringing, so to me that makes even more sad that he’d want to use his gifts for such evil and hatred. It’s very frightening to me. We need to forgive him for not having a clue what he was doing.”

What? How is that even possible? If anyone has a right to withhold forgiveness from another person or group it would be his parents, right? Again, I agree. Wanting revenge is the natural and instinctive reaction. Yet, they are choosing to forgive this man. Wow. Again, can you imagine if we each tried to live our lives with such forgiveness? Maybe we could forgive ourselves for saying or doing something wrong.

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Bostick was supposed to block #13 so the guy behind Bostick could catch the ball. Instead, Bostick botched the catch and #13 recovered.

Most of us don’t have our major screw-ups happen in front of over 70,000 people plus millions on TV, but that’s exactly what happened to a football player on the Green Bay Packers named Brandon Bostick. He’s the player that many fans blamed for the Packers’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks, which cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl, all because he made a mistake near the end of the game. Bostick wrote an article recently about what his life has been like since that game took place about six weeks ago.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind. There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home.

I flash back to that moment—I can see the ball floating right in front of me—and I wonder: What if?

I messed up in the NFC Championship Game, and trust me, it hurts. I’ll probably think about my role in the botched onside kick every day for the rest of my life. It haunts me like a recurring nightmare.

This guy is beating himself up over something that he did wrong. How many of us do that to ourselves? I know I do. Unfortunately, I mess up daily. I lose patience with my family. I’m not as loving or kind to my wife and kids as I could be. Sometimes I even raise my voice and yell. I say or do something, trying to be funny only to have it blow up in my face. Yet, at the end of the day, I know that I’m human and that I’m going to mess up.th-5 I love my wife and kids but I’m not perfect. So, I ask those I’ve wronged for forgiveness and I forgive myself; hoping to learn from my mistakes so that I won’t repeat them. Sometimes I’m successful in not repeating them. Sometimes. I try to point out to my kids that I’m not perfect so I don’t expect them to be perfect either. It’s just that we need to keep that as our goal so that we’re improving ourselves.

Back to forgiveness. When we choose to not forgive it wrecks relationships. I grew up with a loving yet very controlling father. As I grew into my teenage years I began to realize how much I didn’t like his type of parenting and began to resent him for it. Thankfully, I soon realized that not forgiving him (even though he hadn’t asked for it) wasn’t going to help my situation but only cause me to become angry and bitter myself. So, I forgave him in my heart and decided that I would still love him. It certainly helped when I moved away to college two hours away from my hometown. It wasn’t until almosth-7t 10 years after I graduated from high school that my father finally realized the hurt he had caused from his desire for control and asked me, his son, to forgive him. It was a tender moment when I was able to honestly tell him that I had forgiven him years before and had prayed for this day of reconciliation. We became much closer from that point forward and those last 6-7 years of his life saw him a changed man. I believe that the healing of our relationship was only made possible because we both chose to forgive. I’m so thankful that I could learn from him how to humbly seek forgiveness so that we could be so much closer over the final years of his life before he passed away in 2007. I know that it has certainly shaped my own parenting as a Stay At Home Dad, prompting me to seek and give forgiveness in order to develop and maintain a close relationship with my fantastic children, even during their crazy teenage years!

Can you imagine what the world might be like if we each chose to look for ways to be kind and to find common ground instead of choosing look for ways to be offended and angered? What if we actually dared to forgive others? When I was 10 years old, my 12 year old friend Beth was killed by a drunk driver who hit the car that Beth’s dad was driving. Even though they had to face some pretty serious emotional and physical pains of their own, Beth’s parents chose to forgive the young man who ended their daughter’s life by driving drunk. While the guy faced legal consequences and was imprisoned for a time, Beth’s dad reached out to him and regularly met with him in prison, extending him true forgiveness and love. Can you imagine doing that? I would like to think I would do the same, but I don’t know for sure.

Can you imagine how different our relationships might be if we each chose to forgive instead of holding on to the anger and hurt? I’ve heard many people talk about how a lack of forgiveness hurts you, not the person who wronged you.th-14 But what good does it do to hold on to that hurt and anger? It doesn’t help to heal the relationship. In fact, it does the opposite by creating distance until ultimately it is destroyed. It happens with co-workers, with friends, and with family. Why hang on to the control and power and lose the relationship? As someone who values relationship over control and power I tend to forgive rather than get offended or, as my teenagers call it, butthurt. Some might call me a sucker for giving people an extra chance and I suppose that is one of the risks of forgiving. You lose some of the control and make yourself vulnerable to being hurt again. But the upside is that I’m not burdened by the past. Newsflash: If you’re dealing with another human being you’re going to be disappointed and hurt at some point. I guarantee it. How you choose to respond to that disappointment and hurt is up you. The choice is yours. Choose wisely!