Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. . . .

For some reason, it seems Sarita and I are called upon to encourage more young people than just our own children.

Today I wrote a letter to a young woman who seemed discouraged about pursuing a job she said she wanted. . . .
When I was writing my book, Dating With Integrity, I spent, on average, two hours every day, six days a week, nine months out of the year, for five years straight, writing . . . and rewriting (five complete write/rewrites).

Each year, after nine months, I thought I was done. I would send the manuscript off to various publishers. By the time the book was finally accepted for publication, I had submitted it to 45 different publishers. Of those 45, I submitted to 25 of them twice; and of the 25, I submitted it three times.

Of all the submissions--except two the last (fifth) year--none came back with any encouraging word. Most of them included what I came to realize was the standard "brush off": "We are sorry to inform you; your manuscript does not meet our publishing requirements at this time." Virtually nothing more. Just that one sentence.

And then, about a month and a half after I submitted the manuscript to a bunch more publishers that fifth year, the editor at one of them called me up: "I am really excited about your manuscript. . . ."

And then, about a week and a half later, a second publisher contacted me as well: "We think we would like to publish your work. . . ."

Interesting. In neither case was it a first-time submission. In fact, the final publisher was the second of the two who expressed interest, and they had rejected me (just like all the others) three years prior.

"What changed?" I asked. "Why would you have not been interested three years ago, but now you (the owners) are expressing such great interest?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, we had another book under contract three years ago by another author and it was supposed to deal with the subject in a very similar manner. . . . So, having that contract, we weren't in a position to acquire your book as well. . . . However, that deal fell through. The author never produced what he had promised. So when we saw yours . . . !"


Oh. And I should throw in one more thing: During most of the time I was working on the book, Sarita kept saying to me: "Why are you wasting your time on that book? No one will want to read it! . . ."

Why did I keep writing?

Because I sensed I needed to. No one else was sharing the message.

Again, Hmmmmm.

POINT to all of this: If you believe in something, you need to "keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking . . . until the door opens."

It's true for getting jobs. It's true for selling stuff. It's true in virtually all of life.


Sarita and I told Jonelle another story. About her brother.He was wait-listed for the college of his choice. But he really wanted to get in.

So I told him to start calling the admissions office every day. (Yes, every day!)

And he began to do that: "Hi. This is Justin Holzmann. I'm really interested in going to [Name of college]. I just wondered what I could do in order to improve my chances for getting in? . . . Should I re-take the SAT? . . ."

Next day: "Hi. This is Justin Holzmann. I've been wait-listed and I really want to come to [Name of college]. I'm wondering: would it help if I were to have some teachers send additional letters of recommendation or . . . ?"

Next day: "Hi. I'm wondering how I might improve my chances of being admitted this fall. I'm on the waiting list . . . . "

"Are you Justin Holzmann?"

"Yes. . . ."

"Well, Justin, we're really not able to tell you anything different from yesterday. I know you're in the pile of applications, but we simpy have no more dorm space. . . ."

Next day: "Hi. This is Justin Holzmann. I called yesterday and you said there was no more dorm space. I'm wondering . . . "

Next day: "Hi. This is Justin Holzmann . . . "

Next day: "Hi. . . ."

Every day he'd say something different, ask some new question, make a comment about his interests.

Eventually he found out the wait-listed students weren't even in a priority order.

I don't know if he suggested, or whether the woman in Admissions finally decided to take matters into her own hands, but she said, "Justin. I'm taking your application right now and placing it on the top of the pile in the Director's office. If a space opens up, you will be first in line. . . ."


And sure enough, he received a call a few days later. . . .

So. Once more. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. Keep asking. . . . Eventually the door will be opened. . . .

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Overcoming self-defeating thoughts, developing one's talents

As I counsel my own kids, and as I work with other young (and not-so-young!) people who are struggling toward initial success--the experience that tells them, "This is where your talent lies! Walk in this path"--I have found many of us engage in a lot of self-defeating thought, the old "tapes" I have heard people say we play to ourselves: "You'll never amount to anything." "You can't do anything right." "Don't get too big for your britches." "Who do you think you are, [some successful celebrity in the field in which you are striving to excel]?"

Defeatism, defeatism, defeatism!

Buckingham and Clifton suggest we tend to focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths because of fear: fear of failure and
  • the internal anguish we feel when, or if, we fail at a task in which we think we are strong;
  • the distress of being ridiculed in society at large--the ridicule that is reserved most caustically for those who claim strengths and then fail. (See Now, Discover Your Strengths pp. 125-126.)
They list these two issues in the order I have presented them here.

But I would think the majority of us fight, far more, the latter than the former fear because we never get to the point where we recognize--or are willing to recognize--our unique strengths.

Buckingham and Clifton don't quite come out and say this is a reason we tend to focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths, but they strongly imply one additional reason for such behavior. They say that many of us are concerned about coming across egotistical.

However, they note, "Egotism is when you make claims to excellence, but your claims aren't tied to anything substantive" (p. 126).

"Yes," I would say. "But isn't that the rub? Most of us never get to the point--or are never permitted to get to the point or encouraged to get to the point or allow ourselves to get to the point--where we can know for sure whether there could be any substance behind claims to excellence in any field of endeavor."

But, say Buckingham and Clifton, "patching up your weaknesses will never lead you to excellence."

So what should we do?

One thing: recognize that

building on your strengths isn't necessarily about ego. It is about responsibility. . . . Your natural talents are gifts from God . . . [Y]ou had nothing to do with [acquiring] them. However, you have a great deal to do with fashioning them into strengths. It is your opportunity to take your natural talents and transform them, through focus and practice and learning, into consistent, near-perfect performances.

From this point of view, to avoid your strengths and to focus on your weaknesses isn't a sign of diligent humility. It is almost irresponsible. By contrast, the most responsible, the most challenging, and, in the sense of being true to yourself, the most honorable thing to do is face up to the strength potential inherent in your talents and then find ways to realize it. (pp. 126-127)

This is where I think Sarita has proven exceptionally wise while our kids were younger--in elementary and high school. She never permitted them to "sit around" and "do nothing" besides school work. She made sure they were involved in competitive sports, music, drama, art, chess, magic, something that required effort, practice, persistence for the child to sense s/he had succeeded.

And in so doing--by requiring these activities on the part of our children--Sarita and our kids discovered their areas of strength and weakness, areas of interest, . . . potential talents that they could develop.

I feel sad for those who have never been encouraged to persist the way our children have been encouraged to persist--to persist until they realized, "Hey! I'm good at this!" or, "Y'know, I'm never going to be good at this." --One can't make such discoveries in the space of moments, hours, or even a few days. It takes significant time and effort--in general, I'd say, at least one full season, three months or more. At full exertion. Then say whether you have "no talent" or "some talent" or, even, potentially, "a lot of talent"--even if that talent is yet to be developed.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

An exceptional piece of engineering . . .

"Please understand that this is an extremely special piece of furniture, of exceptional quality and design," says the sales copy on David B. Fletcher's website. "It is not for everyone by a very very long way and can only be afforded by the lucky few of us with exceptional wealth."

Talk about a marketing strategy focused on a narrow audience!

The special piece of furniture to which Mr. Fletcher's website refers is a table . . . an expanding table . . . a table that goes from seating six to seating 12 in less than 10 seconds. And is absolutely gorgeous. Truly an exceptional design.

I have no idea what one might cost. All of these tables, we are told, are "exclusively designed and built, and each one numbered. . . . Every piece is of exceptional quality, and was custom designed and built for a single individual or family. . . . Nothing is copied, nor are any two pieces ever created the same. . . . Nautical tables are so constructed that they are able to resist a harsh marine environment to the point that they may be positioned permanently on an exposed deck."

Only a few capstan tables have been designed and manufactured so far . . . for example, this one for the Yacht Ilona.

(Not sure, ultimately, exactly what Fletcher means when he says "nothing is copied." --Obviously, something is being copied from one table (modified from an 1835 patented design by Robert Jupe) to the next.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A madman

Someone on the Sonlight forums noted a book our company includes at the Pre-K level in which one character calls another "stupid."

"I don't let my kids call each other such names. Why should I read a book in which the children use such words?" she asked.

The respondents included a diversity of opinions. My own opinion, stated well by others, is that such books or stories provide "teaching opportunities." We read such stories and include the scenes that include such bad behavior not because we want to model bad behavior, but so we can discuss the consequences and implications.

Someone asked, "Would you refuse to read 'Three Blind Mice' since you don't want your children running around with butcher knives? . . ."

The discussion got me thinking.

We are very strong in our house against put-downs.

When one of our daughters was getting married, her fiance's family visited. He had half-acquired our vision for "no put-downs," but it quickly became obvious to all of "us" that his family had no sensitivities about put-downs.

At one point, having just received such a barb from one of his family members, [fiance] turned to Sarita and with a plaintive look on his face said, "'No put-downs'?"

"Yes," she said. And then proceeded, gently but firmly, to tell our daughter's new in-laws that we don't permit that kind of behavior in our house. . . .


I should also mention.

Back when I was in high school, back before I figured out/learned the concepts I present in Dating With Integrity, I had a girlfriend. She would call her sister "dumbhead."

"Don't say that!" I protested.

"I'm only joking!" she said.

I discovered, shortly after, Proverbs 26:18:
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, "I was only joking!"
Ever since, that has been my "life verse" against put-downs.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Standing in the middle

I haven't written a Christmas/annual letter in years. To anyone. But this year I'm trying to write such a letter. At least to a few friends.

Anyway. I was thinking yesterday morning . . . uhhhh writing yesterday morning . . . about some of the struggles I've been having with my dad. (NOTE: Not that he has caused me trouble directly. Rather, I have been troubled by some of his behaviors. And so I have struggled, internally, to know how I ought to respond. . . .)

I wrote yesterday:

It bugs me (and others of my siblings) that he seems so . . . dishonest. One of my siblings called him a "chameleon." It's hard to know what he is really thinking because he seems to take on a different persona depending on who he is with. [That is most evident when it comes to religion. Depending on who he is with, he will come across as a devout Jew, or evangelical Christian, or secularist, or New Age follower. . . . But the same "go along to get along" attitude and behavior seems to permeate his life elsewhere as well.]
I had just written this and then it struck me: There are very positive aspects of this personality trait. Indeed, doesn't my whole desire to "stand in the middle" and "bring opposing viewpoints together" come from my dad? (I think so!)

And, in a way--in a way--doesn't St. Paul seem to speak positively of this trait when he says, "To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law . . . , so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . , so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:20-22; NIV)? Again: I think so!

So the ability to shift personas, as it were, can have positive attributes. It can be used for good purposes. And I pray my use of this ability to "become as" may be for good purposes.

It is, I think, a unique ability or strength--a talent?--I have: always to be able to "go to the other side" in an argument to seek to understand the other viewpoint, indeed, to "take on" the other viewpoint to such a degree that people on "my" side think I am "enemy."


Something else along the same lines.

Now, this morning, I just realized I never posted what I thought I had posted a month ago. Something about a man whom--without, honestly, knowing that much about him--I believe is a kind of "hero" to me, a "kindred spirit" or some such: Philipp Melanchthon.

As I say, I know very little of Melanchthon, other than that, according to my understanding, he was always seeking to bring about peace between otherwise warring factions. And he was criticized for it. Some of the same kinds of criticisms (he was too diffident and lacking in decisive backbone) that my siblings and I have raised against our father. As the Wikipedia article about him notes:

[T]he Augsburg confession . . . was mainly the work of Melanchthon. . . . Luther did not conceal the fact that the irenical attitude of the confession was not what he had wished, but neither he nor Melanchthon was conscious of any difference in doctrine, and so the most important Protestant symbol is a monument of the harmony of the two Reformers on Gospel teachings. Some would say that at the diet Melanchthon did not show that dignified and firm attitude which faith in the truth and the justice of his cause could have inspired in him, perhaps because he had not sought the part of a political leader, as he may have lacked the necessary knowledge of human nature, as well as energy and decision. [Emphasis added--JAH]
Later, the article notes,

Melanchthon's importance for the Reformation lay essentially in the fact that he systematized Luther's ideas, defended them in public, and made them the basis of a religious education. . . . Melanchthon was impelled by Luther to work for the Reformation; his own inclinations would have kept him a student. Without Luther's influence Melanchthon would have been "a second Erasmus," although his heart was filled with a deep religious interest in the Reformation. While Luther scattered the sparks among the people, . . . Melanchthon's many sidedness and calmness, his temperance and love of peace, had a share in the success of the movement.
And then,

As a Reformer Melanchthon was characterized by moderation, conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace; but these qualities were sometimes said to only be lack of decision, consistence, and courage.
I would desire for myself to be a man of moderation and conscientiousness and known for my love of peace. I am not so sure I seek caution, however!

Still. There is something in what I have read about Melanchthon's character that resonates with me.

And then there is that other man of roughly the same period in history: Desiderius Erasmus.

I once told Sarita that I thought he was a kind of hero to me as well, a man whose character I believe I seek to emulate. (Not out of any conscious wish to be like him. I mean, simply, that I desire and naturally pursue the kind of character qualities and behaviors I sense Erasmus had.)

Sarita responded with horror at the thought.

But I have just read his summary biography at Wikipedia and I think I was not as wrong as she seems to believe. "[P]artisanship was foreign to his nature and his habits," says the article.

And yet, the article notes:

Erasmus was sympathetic with the main points in the Lutheran criticism of the Church. He had great respect for Martin Luther, and Luther . . .hoped for his cooperation in a work which seemed only the natural outcome of his own. . . . [But] Erasmus declined to commit himself, arguing that to do so would endanger his position as a leader in the movement for pure scholarship which he regarded as his purpose in life. Only as an independent scholar could he hope to influence the reform of religion. When Erasmus hesitated to support him, the straightforward Luther felt that Erasmus was avoiding the responsibility due either to cowardice or a lack of purpose. Erasmus, however, . . . believed that there was room within existing formulas for the kind of reform he valued most.

Ah, yes! Common themes! "Cowardice." "Lack of purpose." Or as one of the partisans of our day has said of me: too much "compromise"!

And then the traditional difficulty of the person in the middle: Erasmus was "too Catholic for the Protestants" and "too Protestant for the Catholics." Thus, as the Wikipedia article says of his Legacy:

The Catholic Counter-Reformation movement often condemned Erasmus as having "laid the egg that hatched the Reformation." Their critique of him was based principally on his not being strong enough in his criticism of Luther, not seeing the dangers of a vernacular Bible and dabbling in dangerous scriptural criticism that weakened the Church's arguments against Arianism and other doctrines. . . .

Reformation supporters see Erasmus's critiques of Luther and lifelong support for the universal Catholic Church as damning. His reception was particularly cold by the Reformed Protestant groups.

Just some meditations on a theme.

I realize I am nowhere near as irenic as perhaps I could be. When I am committed to an idea in the area of marketing, for example, I will wrestle it to the ground.

But in more philosophical or theological areas, for some reason, though I love to "work" in those areas, I am happier, I think, to "float" and not come down too strongly on one side or another.

Talents #3: The StrengthsFinder Test

I figure it's time I continue with my comments about Buckingham & Clifton's Now, Discover Your Strengths, first mentioned December 5th, and last mentioned December 7th.


The book offers a free "StrengthsFinder" test supposed to "reveal your five strongest themes of talent" (p. 32) or "find where you have the greatest potential for a strength" (p. 78).

I took it a couple of weeks ago. You'll notice I haven't said anything about the test or its results.

Why not? Well . . .

Out of the 34 "themes of talent" StrengthsFinder deals with--Achiever, Activator, Adaptability, Analytical, Arranger, Belief, Command, Communication, Competition, Connectedness, Context, Deliberative, Developer, Discipline, Empathy, Fairness, Focus, Futuristic, Harmony, Ideation, Inclusiveness, Individualization, Input, Intellection, Learner, Maximizer, Positivity, Relator, Responsibility, Restorative, Self-Assurance, Significance, Strategic, and "Woo" ("Winning Others Over") * --my five themes were these:

Ideation: People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

Input: People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

Learner: People strong in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.

Responsibility: People strong in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.

Intellection: People strong in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

I thought (and still think): "Oh. Great. --What am I supposed to do with this?"

Though I am sure these themes are correct, I don't think I learned a whole lot by having the test tell me these are my top strengths or talents. In fact, it depresses me a bit. Because I don't see how it will help me find where I want or need to go in the future.

Although, now that I think of it, maybe I should pay closer attention. What am I--or what am I not--doing right now? And how is that (what I am and am not doing) impacting me?

I look at four of the five themes--Ideation, Input, Learner and Intellection--and I think: "(Duh!) Scholarship. --Doing the work of a scholar."

And what have I--or have I not--been doing in the last year or more? One thing I have not been engaged in to any significant degree is . . . scholarship.

I've been involved in business, in marketing (which I love). But I have not been involved in the idea side of things so much. I haven't been discovering things, learning things that bring (what I consider) a nice shock to the system. And that has made for a rather "dull boy."

I think back to how Sarita and I used to walk and talk for hours. Or, rather, I used to talk for hours. I'm afraid she mostly listened. (She's a good listener. I mean no slight by that.) She'd let me babble--or not. (And what I mean by that is that I'm sure, sometimes, my talking was little more than the ravings of a lunatic. But other times, I'm sure, I was saying some things that were very profound.)

So I was happy, satisfied, when I was learning new things, discovering new things about my world, about history, . . . about the subjects listed at the top of this blog: "History, Religion, Epistemology and Communication with a little Politics, Economics and Legal Theory thrown in for good measure."

I have enjoyed--and still enjoy, and probably always will enjoy--learning about marketing. After all, marketing is a form of communication. And I love to think and theorize and learn about all forms of communication. And I am delighted to see that--and when--my ideas and theories actually work, in practice. (I.e., so I am delighted to have my ideas and theories applied.)


I sense I need something more. I'm not sure just what right at the moment. (Is it more "Intellection" and "Ideation"? More diversity of subject matter? . . . More . . . ?) I don't know. But I think I need to find out.

Sarita and I, it seems, haven't had a whole lot to talk about recently. And I feel like I'm dying inside. Shriveling up. (Is that where some of my fear of declining mental powers might be coming from-- . . . why I am experiencing some of the symptoms that lead to my fear? I don't know. But I'd like to find out.)

* The authors comment: "You will notice that the theme names are not all the same 'type.' Some refer to the person (e.g., Achiever, Activator). Some refer to the category (e.g., Discipline, Empathy). Others refer to the quality (e.g., Adaptability, Analytical). We chose this approach because attempts to standardize the type yielded increasingly clumsy and unfamiliar terms" (footnote, p. 81).

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sweet Charity

We watched a music-and-dance oriented play last night: Sweet Charity. According to the program notes, it was written and first performed in 1966.

Kind of amazing to me. I didn't realize they had places like this back in the '60s: The lead character, Charity Hope Valentine works in a "dance club"--what I believe is known today as a "gentleman's club"--a euphemism for a place where women dance, in various states of undress, in order to get money from male clients. If a man is willing to pay extra, apparently, the woman is supposed to be willing to offer "additional services," never clearly defined, but definitely not of a character that either male client or female employee would normally be proud to speak of in polite society.

Charity is a hopelessly naive romantic in an industry where no one remains naive or romantic past the first night of work. But, despite having been burned many times, Charity keeps believing that "this" man--whoever he is--really means her well.

The musical begins as Charity is ripped-off by the man she is sure is going to marry her. Walking along the waterfront one night, he pushes her in the water as he snatches her purse, then runs away. She returns to the club seeking to protect her mental and emotional equilibrium--and her dignity before all her more cynical co-workers--by concocting an impossible story about how she had tripped in the water, and her fiance had actually tried to save her. . . .

I don't want to go into many more details. She eventually meets a man, Oscar Lindquist, who has no idea concerning the kind of work she does. He is, himself, a respected and respectable member of society, a tax accountant. Yet he suffers certain paralyzing mental conditions, most notably, claustrophobia. In by far the highlight scene of the entire play (where the two of them meet and are then stuck, just the two of them, for a lengthy time between floors in an elevator), Charity is able to talk Oscar through his extreme discomfort.

Now, suddenly, the stronger member of a male-female partnership, Charity seems able to form a true friendship with Oscar. Eventually, Oscar has the opportunity to return Charity's favor when they find themselves stuck in mid-air on a Ferris wheel.

One senses the mutual respect between the two characters. One hopes for and all but "knows" where the play is heading. And it heads right where one hopes: there is to be redemption, after all, for all parties concerned.

Except. . . . Except. . . . At the last moment, the night before their wedding is to take place, in the same spot where the play began--in the park by the lake--Oscar tells Charity that he can't handle the thought of her past life with all the "other" men; he can't go through with the wedding.

And so Charity's dreams are dashed once more. Ironically, money plays a role in the last scene every bit as much as it did in the first: Oscar announces his intentions (or, rather, lack of intentions) just after Charity has told him she has transferred her life's savings to a joint account with him.

I was astonished how a play that had held so much hope, so much joy-- . . .in those last couple of minutes suddenly turned dark and nasty. Sarita has had nothing good to say about it. I, myself, found it depressing. (I am tempted to say "extremely depressing," but I will leave it at "depressing.")

All the joy, the pathos, the mini-ironies of self-discovery that had pleased us so much in the run-up to the expected wedding: suddenly they were dashed on the shoals of this "one more" failed relationship.

We sat stunned in disbelief as Charity walked off stage for the last time declaring, I believe (I cannot be sure I heard accurately; my mind was numb with the shock of what was occurring onstage) . . . I believe Charity walked off stage declaring that she would carry on, undaunted.

I don't think I would be so equanimous.


Funny. I had intended to make this post about Guy Adkins, the man who played Oscar. His physical humor in the elevator was beyond almost anything I can remember. I don't know whether he is or has been a professional contortionist, but I could believe he must have been one at one time. The contorted positions into which he tied his body as he demonstrated physically what a person must feel on the inside while suffering an extreme bout of claustrophobia: absolutely hilarious.

Mr. Adkins, in my opinion, was the only real standout in the cast. He strongly outshone the lead, Molly Ringwald, whose singing and dancing seemed, by contrast, lacking in flair or fluidity.

Strange, then, when it came to the final opportunity for applause: the applause for both actors was indistinguishable. But then, I imagine, the emotional impact of the final scene was so heavy upon us, the audience was unable to sustain great applause for anyone in the production: when all was said and done, at least for that moment, we were unable to separate Mr. Adkins, the actor, from Lindquist, the part that he played and whose character, in the end, proved flawed in a way that none of us wanted to accept.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"HELP!!!" -- Stuck on an escalator . . .

My brother brought this humorously sad one-minute-and-one-second long video to my attention.

An allegory for people who rely too much on government services?

An illustration of how, indeed, we may be Making life too easy through over-specialization?

Turns out it's the first half of a two-minute ad for the "Becel Hearth Health Makeover"--"Win a personal trainer, dietitian, life coach and more"--from Becel Heart Health.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Chronicles of Narnia an Abomination?

Someone asked me to "check out" Cobblestone Road Ministries' "Beware of Narnia" webpage since we include The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe in our curriculum.

I thought I should check it out.

The referenced article begins with a quotation from Romans 1:21-23 in the King James Version: "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." The underscore was (and is) in the original on the "Beware of Narnia" webpage. . . . I had an idea where the article was going. The "four-footed beast" could be none other than Aslan, the Lion. . . .

The article is exceptionally long, so I wrote back: "Obviously, that's a long article, and it pretty well 'challenges' much--very much--of what we are "all about" here at Sonlight. So I'm going to have to take a fair bit of time, first, to read the article, then to digest it, meditate on it, pray over it, and decide how to respond."

It took over a week, but I finally replied in some depth.
Dear ____:

Having now taken a lot of time to go through the article you asked us to "check out," I realize I may have misunderstood your purpose. Was this an article you wanted to recommend to us because you thought we should stop carrying The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and/or (since we have carried it at various times) the entire Chronicles of Narnia set? Or because you found the article troubling, and you wanted our perspective? Or . . . ?

I assumed the second purpose: that you weren't really sure whether you ought to "buy" the critical author's perspective or not.

On that assumption, then, I tried to read and prayerfully consider what the author has to say.

My general impression: s/he has legitimate reasons for concern if. . . .

The problem is (in my mind), the "if" in that sentence--his or her assumptions--ultimately don't hang together.

I think, in the end, I am left with the impression that this person is using the Chronicles of Narnia primarily as a foil--something to enhance by way of contrast--some important points s/he really could (and, in my opinion, should) make by other means.

For example, I think s/he has a good point: we and our children need to study the Bible; the Bible has tremendous value; it is the primary source from and by which we should be seeking to know God; let us not become so distracted with other possible "sources" of knowledge about God that we fail to understand God as He reveals Himself in His Word; and so forth.

These are all good, necessary, valid and valuable points. But when, as it seems, s/he suggests that the Chronicles of Narnia are of the Devil himself, I am afraid s/he goes too far.

Rather than working my way through the article "point by point" (which is what I did until about a third or halfway through the article), I would like to call your attention to only a few illustrative matters. If you want more, I will be happy to provide more.

I would like to begin with a comment found somewhere about a third of the way through the article:
In Lewis' novels, there are many mythical creatures described. This, my dear friends, is an abomination. God did not make such creatures.
My response: If a potential reader of the Narnia series is so lacking in discernment that s/he might mistake the fantasy/fiction world for the real, then I think the author has a point. But if the potential reader is able to discern the two, I don't understand the author's objection. Does s/he really intend to condemn all imaginative mind-play? Are "thought-experiments"--which, in my opinion, is one legitimate way of thinking of any and all works of fiction . . . --Are thought experiments all abominations?

Did Albert Einstein engage in an abominable practice when he said (something along the lines of), "Imagine you were riding a beam of light . . ." --Does the author of this critical article really intend to condemn such thought-experiments as "abominations"?

After all, "God did not make you capable of riding a beam of light! . . ." --Isn't that the gist of the author's criticism: the description of anything that God did not make is an abomination?

If his/her criticism is valid, however, then every child who "makes believe"--the little girl who dresses as "a princess" or who "has tea" with her dolls; or the little boy who plays with toy trucks and makes "motor" sounds with his voice-- . . . According to the author of this article, every such child is engaged in an "abomination" or an "abominable practice." Right?

I'm sorry. I don't buy it.


Just a couple more examples, and then I'll quit.


The real question is will Christian children even have faith after reading the series? The Bible says that, "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." [Romans 10:17]
From my perspective: I know of no one who would recommend replacing the Bible with the Narnia series, or who would suggest that the Narnia series can serve as a replacement for the Bible.

Now. I could imagine someone complaining, "But any time spent reading the Narnia series is time away from the Bible!"

Yes. And so is any time spent talking with friends. Or telling stories around the dinner table, and so forth. All of those pursuits take time away from reading the Bible. . . .

Does the author of the article really and truly believe that we should do nothing but read the Bible all day? Or, if and when we read, the only thing we should read is the Bible?

If s/he believes that there are other works besides the Bible that one might read, does s/he truly believe--as his/her statements make it sound s/he believes--that the Narnia series ought to be on the list of works specifically proscribed?
2 Cor 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

God's Word reveals to us everything we need to know.
The Bible reveals to us everything we need to know for salvation. But if God's Word reveals everything we need to know, then there was and is no need for the author's article. No need for books about how to write HTML code. No need for books about science or math or linguistics or Hebrew or Greek or anything. Just the Bible.
Redemption is the message of the entire bible.
Yes. Agreed.
We do not need fiction to convey this.
Okay. But does the author believe it is wrong to have more than we need, to develop more than we need? By way of illustration:

Was the inventor of the telephone in sin for having created that instrument--an instrument that, in very truth, we don't need? (Unless we are looking for medical help in a life-threatening emergency, or . . . )

How about the inventor of the dishwasher?

Or of eyeglasses?

I mean, if we were to quote Scripture on the matter, isn't it true that all we "need" is basic food and clothing, and with that only, we should be content (1 Timothy 6:8)? . . . If we were to take 1 Timothy 6:8 a bit more literally than I believe we ought, then we don't need and ought not to be seeking to live in homes, right?

But suppose we grant ourselves food, clothing and shelter: according to the author, are we in sin if we own or develop or enjoy more than these things? (That's what his/her "argument" sounds to me as if it is saying. . . . )
We need to read God's words. . . .
Absolutely! (Well: to be literally correct, we need, at least, to hear God's Word/words.) Yes. Okay. Right. And so? . . . What's the point? I know of no one in the Christian community who would dispute this statement. . . .


I could go on, but I'm afraid I would bore you.

In sum, I believe the person who wrote the article to which you called our attention: that person has gone "too far" in his or her zeal to uphold the value of Bible study, Bible meditation, Bible memorization, and so forth. All of these practices and disciplines are of great value. But not, I'm afraid, so great that we should criticize every work of fiction, every child who plays a game of imagination, every person who reads anything besides the Bible . . .

Those are my thoughts, for what they are worth.

Thanks for writing.

I hope I may have been of some help to you--or to someone else--today.


John Holzmann
I think I should add some comments.

I read the Cobblestone page and found myself disturbed by its apparently extreme statements, which, when analyzed, hardly seem to make sense. I mean, really: Is the author ready to condemn children's (or adults') imaginative play? Is the use of imagination wicked?

Yet. Yet.

I admire the author's intense desire to do right, to be right.

Perhaps the Scripture passage makes sense in this context: "Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise" (Ecclesiastes 7:16; KJV; or, in NIV: "Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise").

And one final word of warning.

One woman wrote, "I have never allowed the Narnia series in our home. I read them all as a Junior High student (they were in the public school library) and they led me directly into occult interests--witches, spells, etc. . . . Just my experience."

I find her testimony cautionary and sobering, at least.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Our connected world . . .

One of my brothers warned me a year or two ago about how quickly news--or, should I say, word--travels in today's world. Things one would never imagine entering the ear of another are suddenly being heard.

He suggested that it is this interconnectedness, this communication, that is fueling many of the conflicts and problems in today's world. Some leader of a Western nation says something that, if heard on the street corner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, would offend the Muslims there.

Well: those words are being heard in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As well as Tehran, Iran; Kabul, Afghanistan; and Nablus, West Bank (Israel/Palestinian Territories). . . .

[I just realized that no matter how I write even a place name, I can easily offend someone!]

And so, this morning, I woke up to discover that I had, myself, caused offense.

Someone ("Anonymous") wrote in response to my "A letter to my family: About living strategically . . .":

I read your comments after seeing the M/Y Golden Rule.

While I agree with much of what you said and admire your desire to teach a perspective on the world that is not taught either often enough or effectively enough, I do have one observation.

I am the owner of the Golden Rule. You chose to make assumptions about both the boat and its owners without bothering to know the facts ---- and you were wrong.

You were wrong about where the name came from (it was the true Golden Rule). You were wrong about how the boat is used, how often or its purpose. You were wrong about the owners and what type of people we are. Nonetheless, in the absence of any real information you felt ok to judge harshly and then use that erroneous set of assumptions to make your point --- at our expense.

What happened to "Judge not and ye shall not be judged"?

Your approach in this instance is inconsistent with the tone of your writings as I'm sure that you did not follow the Golden Rule when you made your assumptions about the boat and its owners.

Besides sitting here in embarrassment, recognizing that I am, indeed, "the man" who is guilty as charged and needs to be made right with those I have wronged; and besides recognizing--and wanting to acknowledge--the gracious spirit in which my accuser has spoken; I "merely" wanted to note how truly astonishing is the connectedness of our modern world.

Who would have thought that a comment I wrote on a relatively backwater blog in late November 2006 would be seen and commented on only four weeks later by a person such as Philip Morgaman (assuming the commentator is, indeed, the owner of the boat, and the boat is owned by Mr. Morgaman)?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Making life too easy?

In my last post, I suggested that

by seeking to simplify the the process by which a reader may come to understand what the Bible says, dynamic-equivalence translator/interpreters impoverish--or, certainly, threaten to impoverish--the understanding, wisdom, and insight of their readers.

And that same impoverishment threatens consumers in many other areas of life.

Or [new thought as I wrote the last line] . . . does it?

That little side comment arose from the following thoughts.

I'll start with the most recent item brought to my attention by a lunch mate this past Thursday.

[Please understand. In what follows, when I quote someone's speech, I am not claiming to make an exact, word-for-word report of what anyone said. I am attempting to create a [dynamic equivalence! :-) ] report of the gist of what the speakers had to say.]

My lunch mate commented that kids these days are being deprived of significant learning opportunities due to the manner in which all major competitive sports--baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and so forth--are fully organized and controlled by adults.

"It used to require quite a bit of pluck and gumption on the part of the kids who wanted to play; and they had to engage in some pretty high-level managerial functions in order to get a game together," said my lunch mate.

Another participant agreed: "When I was growing up, it could take us all morning to make arrangements so we could play a game of baseball. . . . We would all get our own lawnmowers and cut the grass in the field on which we intended to play."

"So where do kids nowadays get the opportunity to develop such managerial skills?" asked the first speaker. "I think we've lost something in our march toward 'efficient' play!"

Then there was another friend who made the following comment in an email:
Chris Tomlin writes Christian songs, and he was recently featured in Time magazine . . . : "According to Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), an organization that licenses music to churches, Tomlin, 34, is the most often sung contemporary artist in U.S. congregations every week. Since glee clubs have fallen out of popularity, that might make Tomlin the most often sung artist anywhere" (Time, November 27, 2006).
My friend commented,
There’s a robust industry of buying music and listening to music, but do people sing outside of church? There has to be music; as the US culture departs from its Christian roots it is also moving away from its singing. Maybe there’s nothing to sing about anymore, except in the (more and more) counter-culture Jesus-focused, Bible-instructed faith communities.
Well, that reminded me, immediately, of a longstanding complaint that I have.

For the last 20 years or so, evangelical churches have been abandoning printed hymnals in favor of overhead projections of the words to songs only.

"Where will future generations learn how to read music?" I have been asking for many years. After all, I have reasoned, I learned how to read music by standing in church Sunday after Sunday and seeing the words with the musical notations. It took me a while to figure out how the visual intervals between notes were supposed to translate into vocal intervals. But that was, indeed, how I learned to read music: by seeing it week after week at church.

And who gets to see music at church anymore?

Well, that reminds me of my experience with my optometrist.

As I mentioned in February, I had known for years that I had problems with my eyesight. And my optometrist knew it, too. And he had some idea of how to fix my problem. But, he said, he was unwilling to take the "easy solution" that was available to us.

"If I were to prescribe prismatic lenses for you," he said, "it would be like putting you on cocaine. You would become addicted to them. And instead of improving your eyesight, over time your eyes would actually become worse!"

Various events conspired to eventually get me into the office of a developmental optometrist who took a very different view.

"Prism glasses," he said, "are adaptive technology. They're like shoes. Shoes make your feet weaker, don't they? I mean, if you had never worn shoes, wouldn't your feet be a lot tougher than they are? . . . So your shoes have actually weakened your feet! . . . But who worries about having weaker feet as a result of wearing shoes? . . . Shoes enable you to do things that you couldn't possibly do without them. You can walk further, go across terrain that is littered with sharp edges, or that is too hot, otherwise, to traverse. You can walk through snow or on ice and not worry about damage to your feet. . . . You can climb mountains you would otherwise be incapable of climbing . . . "

And so it is with glasses. And prismatic glasses. And computers. And calculators. And all the other forms of adaptive technology we enjoy today: automobiles, bicycles, . . .

Every advance in technology offers opportunities for benefits. But it also offers opportunities for decline, for a failure to develop, a failure to rise to the opportunities, once beyond reach, but now made possible if only we will use the new adaptive technologies as a means for advancement rather than an opportunity for greater laziness. . . .

And so, returning once more to the ongoing thread of thoughts about Bible translation: I wonder about dynamic equivalence translations every bit as much as I do about prismatic glasses . . . or any glasses at all: What do we gain--and what do we lose--when we agree to use these adaptive technologies?

Aren't we losing something when we permit ourselves to enjoy even any translation at all? Wouldn't we be far better off if we refused to bow to the pressure of our own laziness (or is it laziness? or is it pressure of time? or . . . what?) that keeps us from learning the languages from which the translations are made?

Wouldn't we all be better off if we learned Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic (for the few chapters of Daniel that come from Aramaic), let alone Latin and German, French, Spanish, and all the other great languages of the world? . . .

Or is there a legitimate reason and call for specialization and division of labor?

Bible translation: "essentially literal" vs "dynamic equivalence"

I spent about an hour yesterday reading a book titled Translating Truth. It's about Bible translation.

A fascinating group of studies about what the authors call "essentially literal" as opposed to "dynamic equivalence" translation.

I am impressed with what I have learned, as a result of only about an hour's reading, concerning the implications of the choices translators--or, in the case of some, "interpreters" or, as I am beginning to think some are: "ostensible message-conveyers"-- . . . I am amazed at the implications for the reader of the choices these people make.

But the reason for my post here is not to pursue the full range of implications. Rather, I want to focus on one observation. I am struck by the observation that, by seeking to simplify the the process by which a reader may come to understand what the Bible says, dynamic-equivalence translator/interpreters impoverish--or, certainly, threaten to impoverish--the understanding, wisdom, and insight of their readers.

And that same impoverishment threatens consumers in many other areas of life.

Or [new thought as I wrote the last line] . . . does it?

Let me first illustrate the impoverishment associated with Bible translation.

C. John Collins notes some comments by A. J. Krailsheimer, a teacher of French at Oxford, who translated Pascal's Pensées.

One of the reasons Krailsheimer said he believed his translation was necessary had to do with something most previous translators had failed to do: "I know of no other author who repeats the same word with such almost obsessive frequency as Pascal, and failure to render this essential feature of his style makes a translation not only inadequate but positively misleading. Wherever possible, and especially within the same fragment or section, [therefore,] I have used one English word for the same keyword occurring in French."

Collins and other contributors to Translating Truth note that the dynamic-equivalence "translations" of the Bible fail on the very point about which Krailsheimer was so concerned. As a result, readers of these "translations" fail to see some of the very points that the original authors were obviously concerned to convey.

Example: "The verb [meno] ("abide") appears 24 times in 18 verses in 1 John. . . . Believers abide in Christ, in the light, in the Son and in the Father, and not in death; while God, or the word of God, or God's anointing, or eternal life, or the love of God abides in the believer. . . . This repetition is so prevalent that it must be part of the author's intended literary effect." (p. 97)

So, in 1 John 2:24, we read in the English Standard Version (ESV), an "essentially literal" translation,

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.
And in an extreme "dynamic equivalence" version (here, the New Living Translation (NLT))?

So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will continue to live in fellowship with the Son and with the Father.
"The connection that the Greek repetition establishes," Collins notes, "does not come through at all."

The New International Version (NIV) is generally recognized as relatively moderate when it comes to dynamic equivalence v. essential literality. So what happens with the NIV?

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.
"At least here the repetition comes through," Collins says.
But just a few verses later (2:27-28) we find:
(27) As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him. (28) And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
Point of all this?

You lose something in a loose translation.

Collins and other contributors to Translating Truth note that, over the course of an entire Bible translation, loose translation means you lose, among other things,

  • Literary allusions--or, as Collins refers to them, "literary evocations," references to Old Testament concepts and passages not by way of direct quotes but, rather, by use of specific words. When the words "aren't there"--because the "translator" has provided no consistent referent to which one can point--the reader is truly impoverished. S/he cannot acquire the literary knowledge necessary to recognize the allusions . . . because they aren't there. They don't exist.

  • Ambiguities. Where the Scriptures are truly unclear--in 1 John 2:5; 4:9; and 5:3, for example, does hé agapé tou theou ("the love of God") refer to God's love for us or our love for him?--"essentially literal" translations will leave the ambiguity intact. But dynamic equivalence versions make decisions in our behalf. --The decisions on the part of the translator/interpreters make reading easier, but do they mislead? Collins, Grudem, Ryken, and the other authors are in rather strong agreement that the elimination of ambiguity does mislead.

  • Important meaning--the specific words upon which important meanings might rest. Because dynamic equivalence translators say it is the intention and meaning of the author and not the specific words themselves that are important in a translation, the dynamic equivalence translation, shockingly, actually fails to convey meaning.
As Wayne Grudem notes in his opening essay, the Scriptures speak rather forcefully of their faithfulness down to individual words and, if you will, even to individual letters. Thus Proverbs 30:5 says, "Every word of God proves true." And in Matthew 4:4 we read that Jesus said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."

Moreover, we find
Jesus and the New Testament authors make arguments from the Old Testament that depend on a single word of Scripture. . . . For example, notice Jesus' use of the Old Testament in the following dialogue between himself and some Jewish leaders:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, 'the Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet'"? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?" (Matt. 22:41-45).
Grudem also references Matthew 5:18, in which Jesus says, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished"; and Galatians 3:16, where "Paul bases an argument on the difference between singular and plural forms of a word:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings,"referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.
"In this argument Paul depends not on the general thought of an Old Testament passage but on the specific form of one word in the Old Testament."

He then follows Roger Nicole in listing some 20 places "where the argument of Jesus or the New Testament author depended on a single word in the Old Testament . . . : Matthew 2:15; 4:10; 13:35; 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 4:8; 20:42, 43; John 8:17; 10:34; 19:37; Acts 23:5; Romans 4:3, 9, 23; 15:9-12; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Galatians 3:8, 10, 13, 16; Hebrew 1:7; 2:12; 3:13; 4:7; 12:26."

But dynamic equivalence translations, by design, specifically and intentionally "ignore" specific words.

So what does this mean to the reader in practice?

Consider Romans 13:4, in which the Greek word machaira ("sword") appears. A literal translation: "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for [the civil authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."

The New Living Translation (NLT) says, "But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong." And the New Century Version: "But if you do wrong, then be afraid. He has the power to punish; he is God's servant to punish those who do wrong." And The Message: "But if you're breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren't there just to be admired in their uniforms."

Grudem comments:
Perhaps supporters of dynamic equivalence translations would respond that "he has the power to punish" is stating the same idea as "he does not bear the sword in vain," but doing it in a contemporary way of speaking about government authority. But is it the same idea? This is one of the primary verses appealed to by Christian ethicists who defend the right of the civil government in the New Testament era to carry out capital punishment. The right to "bear the sword" involves the authority to do exactly what the sword was used for--to put someone to death. . . .

Those who oppose capital punishment argue that Paul mentions the "sword" here only as a symbol of governmental authority and this does not imply the power to take life. People may or may not find this a persuasive explanation of the "sword" in Romans 13:4, but readers of the NLT, NCV, CEV, and The Message cannot even follow the argument. They could never even think of such an argument from this verse, because there is no mention of bearing the sword. "Punishment" might mean only jail time. Or community service. Or a fine.
Grudem concludes, "When I teach ethics, I could never use these dynamic equivalence translations to argue for capital punishment from this verse because they have not translated all the words."

There is more in this relatively thin volume, Translating Truth. But I wanted to give some of the central points I acquired in my hour of reading.



I want to note that, despite comments of various reviewers on the Amazon website, it seems to me the authors of Translating Truth are very careful to note potential positive values for the dynamic equivalence translations. Writes Collins, for example:
We cannot answer the simple question, which is the best approach to translation? We must instead qualify it: best for what purpose? I have argued that the essentially literal translation, carefully defined, is the kind of translation that best suits the requirements for an ecclesiastical translation, and for family reading and study. This is because . . . it . . . aims to provide a translation that perseveres the full exegetical potential of the original, especially as it conveys such things as text genre, style, and register, along with figurative language, interpretive ambiguities, and important repetitions. Of course this lays a heavier burden on the reader to learn about the shared world and its literary conventions, and we might decide not to lay this burden on the outsider to the Christian faith in our outreach (though we should make it clear that the burden exists). (p. 105)
Or Grudem:
[I]n actual practice every dynamic equivalence translation still has a lot of "word-for-word" renderings of individual words in the biblical text. And every essentially literal translation has some amount of "paraphrase" where a woodenly literal translation would be nearly incomprehensible to modern readers and would hinder communication rather than helping it.
[Grudem illustrates this latter point by reference to the difficulty of translating splagchma--"which refers to the inward parts of the body, especially the stomach and intestines . . . [and can be used] metaphorically to [refer] to the seat of inward emotions or to the emotions themselves, especially love, sympathy and mercy."

So Philemon 7, in the King James, reads, "For we have great joy and compassion in thy love, because the [splagchma] of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother."

Should a modern translator do as the King James translators and make it sound as if Paul was referring, somehow, to Philemon's wonderful colonic irrigation system: " . . . the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee"?

Grudem suggests not:
The word "bowels" is not appropriate because it has come to be used in modern English almost exclusively to refer to the intestines and the discharge of bodily waste, a sense readers in 1611 would not have given it in a verse like this. Even translating it as "the intestines of the saints have been refreshed by you," or "the internal organs of the saints have been refreshed by you," would not help modern readers, because these highly literal renderings would seem more physiological or medicinal than emotional. For that reason nearly all modern translations (including some current printings of the KJV itself) have changed to "the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you" (ESV). This still talks about an internal origin (the heart) but does so in terms of an image that modern readers easily understand. (p. 24)]
And so, as Grudem notes (and as I prefaced this section), "every essentially literal translation has some amount of 'paraphrase'" in it.


There are a number of practical implications of what I have noted in this post. I hope to address them in the future.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A woman I admire highly

Yep. I admire Sarita highly. Highly. She's my wife. "The wife of my youth."

This post has to do with her ability to set goals for herself. To set goals and stick to them. To set "boundaries" for her life in ways I have never yet succeeded.

Setting Boundaries of Time

This has always fascinated me. She gets to a point in her day and she says, "I'm done."

  • "I'm done working."

  • "I'm done reading."

  • "I'm done . . . whatever."

And she just stops!

I don't tend to operate that way. I find it very hard to stop whatever I'm doing. To "turn it off."

I want to keep going.

But I don't. Not really. I want to stop. But another part of me says, "No! You have to keep going!"

I've learned--partially with the help of Sarita (she was raised this way; I was not; but I discovered the principle at the very front end of my Freshman year in college when I read a book called Ten Great Freedoms; and I had acquired the discipline)-- . . . I have learned to take a Sabbath, a rest day. And that has provided at least one kind of boundary for me when it comes to time.

But it's this daily boundary issue that has me flamboozled.

And I admire Sarita for setting and keeping daily time boundaries.


Another area:

Spending Time with the Grandkids

Sarita and I were talking last week about how she came to enjoy our grandkids so much. For some reason I had never become aware of the truth of the situation before.

When our daughter first mentioned she was pregnant with her first child, Sarita's initial response was not joyful. --I have always remembered that.

I was modestly happy. Sarita was moderately dismayed: "I'm too young to be a grandmother! . . . "

With that memory firmly in my mind, I was shocked, then, a year or two later, not when Jadon was born, but . . . I don't know . . . maybe six months or so after he was born . . . --I was shocked when Amy and her husband Phil and Jadon came to visit, and Sarita seemed almost to shriek with apparent glee at their arrival and the wonder of Jadon's appearance.

This wasn't the same woman who had seemed to bemoan the fist announcement of Jadon's approaching birth.

What happened in between?

I hadn't heard the story--not truly, with understanding-- . . .until last week.

"I was talking with Jan (a woman from our church)," Sarita told me. "I asked her what she did during the week.

"'Oh,' she said, 'I work at my job a couple of days a week, but then the other days I get to spend with my grandkids!' --And she said that excitedly, as if it were some kind of privilege or something: she gets to spend the time with her grandkids.

"I couldn't understand that. That wasn't the way I was raised. I didn't have those tapes running in my mind.

"My mom told me, when I was pregnant with Amy, that she had done her work when raising [my siblings and I]. She wasn't going to be available to babysit. She was done."

So grandma never did take our kids. When the kids were born, no grandmas (on either side--mine or Sarita's) . . . No grandmas ever appeared to "help out."

The "tapes" that Sarita had playing in her mind said that grandkids are a burden. You leave them alone. You've done your work when you've gotten your own kids out of the house.

"But when Jan said that she got to spend time with her grandkids, it made me have to rethink my paradigm. Could grandkids be a joy? Could I enjoy spending time with them?

"I told Amy about my conversation with Jan and said I wanted to try it. I wasn't sure if I could handle it. But I wanted to try."

And I will confess with Sarita that "It has worked out great!"

Sarita loves spending time with the grandkids.

She is absolutely exhausted when they leave at the end of their visits. But she loves having them around.

. . . And I am challenged to consider--or reconsider--how I ought to be operating. Can I--am I willing to--"come out of myself" enough to spend significant time with them . . . especially when they are young? . . .

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Wants #3: Family

Tougher and tougher!

Once more: McCarthy's list of eight areas of "wants":

  • Physical/Health/Recreation
  • Finance/Material Possessions
  • Family
  • Vocation/Career
  • Social/Community
  • Spiritual
  • Mental/Intellectual
  • Other
So I'm up to "Family."

I love my wife. As I identify myself here, I'm the "husband to the wife of my youth" . . . which is a direct reference to Proverbs 5:18b, but, by implication, to the section from Proverbs 5:15-20:

Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer--
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife?

Family Goals

  • I want to remain faithful to my wife above all else, when it comes to "Family." Though maybe faithful isn't even the right word. I want to love her . . . I think, to use a term from Scripture: "As Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . ." (Ephesians 5:25-26). --I'm afraid that may be a bit more "pie in the sky" than I want: I am sure I fail at it far too often. But that's my desire. That's what I want. . . .

    As I said back in Love Languages: The Gift of Gift-Giving . . . and Receiving:
    Closeness . . . means--and has always meant--[such] a great deal to me that [I permitted] no one--no one, not even any of our kids, even when they were exceptionally young-- . . . "get between" Sarita and me. If we were sitting in church: no one sat between us. Ever. It was simply understood. The symbolism was too great, too meaningful.
So that's #1.

After that, . . .

  • I want to pass on a legacy of wisdom to my kids and grandkids. I'm not exactly sure what that means in practice. I think it includes thoughtfulness, and a desire for graciousness in speech and conduct. . . . And if and when we fail (which, I am afraid, we will all do far more often than we would prefer) . . . then I want them to be quick to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with the person(s) they have offended: to be "made right." That is a heart desire.
This one is really tough. I find myself torn, torn, torn on it.

On the one side:
  • I don't want to be a "Cat's in the Cradle" dad:

    My child arrived just the other day
    He came to the world in the usual way
    But there were planes to catch and bills to pay.
    He learned to walk while I was away
    And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
    He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, Dad.
    You know I'm gonna be like you."

    And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
    Little boy blue and the man on the moon.
    "When you comin' home, Dad?"
    "I don't know when. But we'll get together then, son.
    You know we'll have a good time then."

    My son turned ten just the other day.
    He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad. Come on, let's play.
    Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today.
    I got a lot to do." He said, "That's ok."
    And he walked away, and his smile never dimmed.
    He said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
    You know I'm gonna be like him. . . ."

    --Harry Chapin

My eyes tear up just writing those words!

I so much wish I could have had a closer relationship with my own dad. . . .

So: I want not to have a Harry Chapin-esque "Cat's in the Cradle" kind of relationship with my kids and grandkids.

But yet, at the same time, I have to confess, I have to fight my . . .

  • humongously strong desire for . . . time to be by myself; time to think; time to . . . just "be."

    And I have never been "good" at--and

  • I have no desire for--"chit chat" kinds of conversation.

    I endure it. I can "even"--when I'm really deliberate about it-- . . . I can "even" permit myself to enjoy light conversation: just "let it flow." But I will never seek it out. I will seek human company. And for the sake of such company, I will enjoy the camaraderie of light banter and "shooting the breeze." But if the conversation turns deep, if it turns "fierce": then I feel I'm truly in my element. . . .

    So that "reality" means

    • I find myself pretty shredded when my kids or grandkids are over.

    • I want to spend time with them, but

    • I don't "just" want light time, and

    • I don't want to force heavy time, and

    • I know I can't expect to enjoy the heavy times if I'm not "there" for them during the light banter times when, in the midst of such conversation the heavier topics will almost inevitably make themselves felt and known. . . .

    So I often find myself "apart" from the family, kind of "doing my thing," yet feeling drawn to--guilty, even, because I'm not involved in--their conversations.

    I guess I'm a kind of "double-minded" man at that point. . . .

    [Strange: This seems to be a pattern in our growing extended family. While the women watch the little ones (the grandkids) and enjoy fellowship one with another, the adult men in the family (other than me) seem to sneak off and play video games or watch movies together. I sit in my office, often at my computer, and do this kind of stuff--like writing blog posts. I don't join either group. Because I think video games are pretty stupid, and I don't enjoy "chit chat."

    But if the women decide to go for a walk or something, then I love to join them.]

Well. Back to wants.

Y'know? I can't really think of any more "wants" right now. I'm afraid this is as far as I'm going to be able to take this right now.

But as I said before: this is a start. And a start is better than no start at all.

So I'll quit now. . . .

Fear: Declining mental powers

My brain seems to be working less and less well all the time. I'm more and more forgetful. I forget what I'm talking about in mid-sentence. I can't remember words. (I know the word is "out there"; I "just" can't remember what it is! . . .) And I'll be working on something, get distracted momentarily--an email will come in, or something--and I'll fail to remember what it was I was working on. . . . So I become less and less efficient, less and less able to accomplish anything . . . at least anything I have declared is of top importance.

I find myself--or, at least, I think of myself--as somnambulating [sleep-walking] through life. What was a curious and delightful diversion in college (I'd think "great and mighty thoughts" during almost every course lecture; my "notes" were all about my thoughts rather than about the professor's lecture) . . . --What was a curious and delightful diversion in college is now, it seems, becoming almost a prison. I find myself more and more unable to maintain focus on what another person is saying. I begin daydreaming during lectures, sermons, plays, musicals--any semi-passive listening opportunity--i.e., any opportunity in which I have no ability to interact with the presenter.

(New thought: Is that why I have always tended to be "the" person in a class who would "always" ask questions? . . . Maybe even back in high school, when I'd do that, I was attempting to overcome my penchant for daydreaming? Perhaps I have always been this way, but I just didn't realize it? Whether that's the case or not . . .)

I am becoming increasingly concerned that I might find myself literally "sleepwalking" through life. Sometimes I get the feeling that my brain is functioning about the way I have noticed it does--or the way it feels--when I find myself waking from an episode of attempted sleep-talking. (Ever had that happen to you? . . . I wake up from a dream in which I desperately want to say something, but I can't make my mouth form the words. It's as if my entire head has been stuffed with Novocaine or something. I can make my mouth move, and my vocal chords are moving, but at extreme slow-mo. And though I try to shout, and though my vocal chords are vibrating the way they should when I speak (and not when I whisper), I can't get much more sound volume from them than when I am whispering. . . . --And then I wake up!)

I don't want to "go gentle into that good night."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Talents #2

Reference, once more, Buckingham & Clifton's Now, Discover Your Strengths.

Some of my natural propensities or "talents":
  • Ask questions! Lots of questions.
  • I'm curious about everything.
  • I love to "tell the story" . . . or, I should say, "retell" the story. Once I have discovered something, I like--I really enjoy--telling others.
  • I don't create stories. But I enjoy telling them. Real stories, that is. I'm not at all good at fiction.
  • I love to edit. It's fun. I feel like I'm playing the sleuth: "How can I make this communicate more effectively?"
  • I love communication. I love engaging in it. I love thinking about it, theorizing about it, working on it.
  • I love (future post!) Fierce Conversations. (Reference to a book by Susan Scott and, far more, for my purposes, to a concept.) So I'll engage in such conversations. Naturally. I will either start them, whenever possible, or I will gravitate toward them when I hear one occurring.
    • I want the truth. I hate pussy-footing around tough subjects. Let's just "wade right in" and "mix it up" intellectually. (I detest physical combat. I am talking about a form of intellectual battle.) Speak the truth. Live the truth. Tell me what you really think, because you may be sure I will tell you what I think. . . . Hopefully "seasoned with grace," as it were (Colossians 4:6). But I'd rather get the truth and apologize later for having hurt someone's feelings than, out of concern for feelings, never get the truth! Yes,
  • I'll "step in it," "put my foot in my mouth," say something less than perfectly gracious, etc. and then later apologize . . . just to get the conversation moving. It's the communication that counts. Not being considered "a nice guy."
    • I want to be a nice guy, too. But conversation first. Let's talk. Apologies, groveling, forgiveness, "please forgive me," etc. can come later. Avoid the costs associated with apologies and groveling, etc., and the conversations likely will never come. . . .

More later.

Wants #2: Finances/Material Possessions

So I'm continuing to think about my "wants."

McCarthy's list of eight areas:

  • Physical/Health/Recreation

  • Finance/Material Possessions

  • Family
  • Vocation/Career

  • Social/Community

  • Spiritual

  • Mental/Intellectual

  • Other

I've been able to get rather specific in the area of Physical/Health/Recreation. I find it tougher to define wants in the other areas.

But let me try.

Finance/Material Possessions

First round. (Don't get bogged down in attempting to define a final, "perfect" list, John!)

  • I want to have enough to live modestly.

    Some negatives:

    • I want not to live "above my means."

    • I want not to "live rich"; I want to cap my consumption . . . so that I might have something to share with others.

    This matter of having something to share, of course, also depends on my next want:

  • I want to earn enough that I might have an abundance out of which I can give. (Ephesians 4:28: "Let him who steals, steal no longer. Rather, let him work . . . that he may have something to share with those in need.")

  • I want to live wisely with what I have so that I can fulfill the "good" spoken of in Micah 6:8: "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

  • I want to conduct my affairs in such a manner that I do not hurt others . . .

    • That I pay my bills on time at the latest.

    • That, if or when I borrow, I do so, if at all possible, while possessing assets with which I could pay back the loan immediately. --Actually, this has a dual purpose. Not only does it protect my lender from possible default, but it protects me from engaging in the kind of loan into which the truly desperate--the profoundly poor--enter and, thus, become servants or slaves (Proverbs 22:7). [NOTE: Yes, I am convinced there are different types of loans and different forms of borrowing and some are wicked and some are wise. But that belongs somewhere else.]
The following is a tough one. I am having to overcome very strong "habits of mind" instilled in me from when I was very young:
  • To live generously, not stingily. I find this showing up in such areas as

    • Tips . . . to waiters and waitresses, cab drivers, porters, etc., etc. --I really struggle with this kind of stuff!

    • "Picking up the tab" when I'm with someone. --It is so easy to "let the other person do it."

    • Providing really nice food . . . at a potluck, say, or . . . whenever.

  • When I give, to give wisely and purposefully. Not to be controlled by foolish sentimentality. . . .

First round. . . . To be continued.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Strengths & Talents: Finding one's life mission or purpose

Some meditations, now, inspired by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton's Now, Discover Your Strengths.

We should probably note the title: Now, Discover Your Strengths. Buckingham and Clifton focus on that word strength or talent. You are strong in an area, they say, if you can produce "consistent near perfect performance" (p. 25) and you "can fathom yourself doing [that activity] repeatedly, happily, and successfully" (p. 26). "The acid test of a strength is that you can do it consistently and near perfectly" (p. 56).

The authors define talent not significantly differently from how they define strength. Talents, they say, are "naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied" (p. 48). They make a big point of the idea that these are naturally recurring patterns.

Put talent and strength together and you begin to see that they are somewhat like "handedness": you are "talented" or "strong" in one hand or the other; you are either "right-handed" or "left-handed."

And while it is possible to compensate for the loss of one's dominant hand, if you have both hands, why not use the one whose competence comes naturally?

Similarly, while it is true that with enough practice almost anyone may be able to acquire a certain skill, that doesn't mean they can do it naturally, repeatedly, near-"effortlessly."

So, Buckingham and Clifton urge us, pursue your talents: "Look inside yourself, try to identify your strongest threads, reinforce them with practice and learning, and then either find or . . . carve out a role that draws on these strengths every day. When you do, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful" (p. 21).

They make two additional, and pertinent comments:
  • "[Y]ou do not have to have strength in every aspect of your role in order to excel. . . . [E]xcellent performers [are] rarely well rounded. On the contrary, they [are] sharp" (p. 26).


  • "[Y]ou will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same as saying 'ignore your weaknesses.' [Successful people do] not ignore their weaknesses. Instead, they . . . [find] ways to manage around their weaknesses, thereby freeing them up to hone their strengths to a sharper point" (p. 26).

Well. With this in mind, I began to try to figure out my strengths and talents. What are my natural propensities--my natural habits that, as Buckingham and Clifton say, "can be productively applied"? If the authors are correct--and I believe they are--these should help me become more "productive, fulfilled, and successful."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Catalogs solve problems you didn't know you had . . .

From Saturday's paper. A few glimpses from a longer article well worth enjoying.

On occasion, my husband and I are reduced to tears, imagining the poor schlub
charged with writing a compelling copy block for the "festive coffee scoop that
doubles as a bag clamp" and other gadgets the catalog company couldn't give away
any time of year but Christmas.

Below, a seasonal sampler:

• Popcorn.

The Popcorn Factory has packaged this humble exploded seed so many ways it needs 47 pages to display them all. . . .

My favorite is the Peace on Earth Popcorn Tin, accompanied by this message: "The first step toward world peace is bringing people together. And what better way is there than to share sweet and savory treats?"

Who knew? We could have wrapped up the Hundred Years War in three days with Orville Redenbacher on our side. . . .

• Snowman Kit. "Everything you need to dress Frosty in his finest, except the snow." Includes coal, carrot, buttons and pipe, all made of wood and mounted on skewers. $14, Restoration Hardware.

Correct me if I'm wrong. The fun in making a snowman or woman or dog is individualizing it, going to the garage and finding a few charcoal briquettes left over from two summers ago and scrounging around for a ratty hat and dated sunglasses.

Snowman kit?

Perfect for the plastic surgeon on your list.

• The Carbib . . . from Solutions may look like an ordinary kitchen apron, but don't be fooled. This is a special apron designed exclusively for people who eat in their cars.

"This 'apron' covers your upper body and lap, directing any spills and crumbs to the floor for easy cleanup."

Additionally, "A front pocket keeps fries or cell phones accessible."

If you're like me, you saw the Carbib and thought to yourself: "Darn! All those times I traveled I-25 with one hand on the wheel and the other wrapped around a big, juicy slice of watermelon. . . . What I wouldn't have given to have known about this product years ago." . . .

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Love Languages: The Gift of Gift-Giving . . . and Receiving

It took me 22 years to realize I needed to make plans concerning gifts for my wife. We had another major "talk" about gifts just this past week--29 1/2 years into our marriage.

Here's what's going on--or what has gone on in the past!


First, let me tell you the story of how I was raised. That might help to explain a few things. But there is more--a lot more!--that follows. Give me a few minutes of your time. I think you will be well-rewarded.

When I was growing up, it was the standard in my parents' family that we kids got underwear and socks for Christmas. Not much else. Not much else, anyway, that I can remember! Our friends all got fancy toys. We did not.

When we kids got old enough to buy Christmas gifts for one another or for Mom and Dad, it was the "norm" to go out the day before Christmas--i.e., Christmas eve--and see what you could find. That night, you'd do your wrapping. Everyone in my parents' family did his or her wrapping on Christmas eve. Many times, Mom . . . --Oh! I remember one gift she once gave me that wasn’t socks or underwear! She once made me a bathrobe! . . . On Christmas day, when we opened our presents, Mom gave me a box with a promise that she would make me that robe. . . . I think she may have included the fabric inside the box. . . .

Anyway. You get the idea.

Christmas gifts were pretty much an afterthought. We didn't buy them till the last possible moment. Sometimes they didn't even exist yet. Maybe they weren't even wrapped. They were "thoughts in the mind."

Birthdays weren’t much better.

To this day (my mom died 20-some years ago), I don't think my dad has ever sent Sarita and me even a Christmas gift much less a gift. (When I talked with her about this the other evening, while we were having our "talk," she said she could count on one hand all the gifts my parents--either my dad on his own, or my dad and mom together, for the eight years she was still alive after Sarita and I got married. I thought maybe she was being ungenerous. --Not having any mind to remember any such things, I knew I was dependent on her memory for such things. . . . Well, she had to think very hard, but she did come up with five items, going back to our wedding.)

Anyway. If Dad sends us a card, it is an e-card . . . at the last minute. . . .

So. That was how I was raised. Gifts are "nothing."

Sarita, meanwhile, was raised very differently. A good illustration of exactly how differently: The first year we were married, we were (I probably should say, mostly, she was) finished shopping before the end of August. We were married in mid-June. We were done Christmas shopping before the end of August!

Then, in her family, they opened gifts on Christmas eve (so we could go to a Christmas service at church on Christmas morning). So that night, after we had opened our presents, as we climbed into bed, Sarita said, "So let's write our Christmas list for next year!"


"Oh! You could see what people wanted by the way they responded to the gifts other people received. . . ."

"You could?!?"

"Yes! . . ."

So we wrote out our list of probable gifts for the following Christmas. . . . "That way, if we see anything on sale throughout the year, we can pick it up. . . ."

So that's what we did.


Fast forward many years. I continued in my bumbling ways. Sarita was constantly disappointed. Not because I didn't want to get her things, but . . . I just "didn't think of it."

Then, sometime about seven or eight years ago (I remember, at the time, I said to myself that I was astonished it took me 22 years to learn this!), I woke up to the fact that I really needed to make plans to get her gifts in advance. Like: "Whenever you're together and she says she likes something, Buy it. You don't have to give it right then. . . . Stash it away for 'use' when the proper occasion presents itself."

So that's what I began to do. And Sarita would help me by actually "even" telling me things she would like as gifts. --Not just a month or a few weeks before her birthday or Christmas. But "whenever." As I say: maybe while we were on vacation somewhere and shopping together. (I don't do much shopping in stores that carry the kind of stuff she enjoys receiving! Indeed, I hate shopping malls. If I have something specific I want or need to purchase, I will venture inside just far enough to retrieve whatever-it-is I need. But, in general, don't ask me to 'go shopping,' in the sense of aimlessly wandering through stores to 'see what we can see.' . . . Only on occasion--maybe while we're on vacation, or during some other brief period when I'm in a strangely brain-dead moment--should you ask me to join you on such an excursion. . . . Or maybe you shouldn't. Maybe we should be out on a date or something and I should simply discover afterwards that, for some reason, we happened to find ourselves wandering the mall. . . .)


I tried to "wake up" more to the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) hints Sarita would throw my way about things she'd like for a birthday or Christmas gift.

And I have done very well, for the last seven or eight years--she will tell you so, herself-- . . . when it comes to Christmas and birthdays.

But I have continued to fail in another, deeper manner.

One day someone recommended Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages. We got a copy and I went through it. Neither Sarita nor I had any question that my love language is Touch . . . and/or Closeness. (Chapman doesn't say anything, specifically, about a "language" of Closeness. I'm making that up. But I correlate the two. It means--and has always meant--a great deal to me that no one--no one, not even any of our kids, even when they were exceptionally young--should "get between" Sarita and me. If we were sitting in church: no one sat between us. Ever. It was simply understood. The symbolism was too great, too meaninful. So, yes, "Touch" is vital--I'll just about sit in her lap if she would let me--but "mere" closeness is "good enough." . . . But don't get too far away or I'll start thinking--being sure--that "something is wrong" between us. She's angry at me. Or something. . . .)

But what about Sarita? What is her love language?

I was convinced it is Gifts. (After all, I reasoned, gifts mean something to her. Deeply. She cries when I do a lousy job of giving her gifts. Of all the languages, it's the only one that "makes sense.")

But, for some reason, Sarita denied that Gifts are her language. (Maybe she was afraid of looking graspy, selfish, more interested in things than relationship?) I have no idea why whe said what she did. It didn't make sense to me. But that's what she said. She couldn't tell me what her language is. She just said Gifts are not it.

For some reason, I felt myself let "off the hook" for her love language, since she couldn't (or wouldn't) tell me. So I permitted myself to "simply" give her nice gifts at Christmas and her birthday. . . .

But then, just this past week, we had to have a little "come to Jesus" meeting. And somehow, now, she admitted Gifts probably are her love language. The fact that I don't give her gifts makes her feel unloved, unappreciated, as if I never think of her.

"I know," she said, "if I don't touch you, if I don't kiss you first thing in the morning, if I don't hold your hand or put my hand on your thigh while we're driving: you don't feel loved. I don't have any need for that kind of touch. I don't touch you like that for my sake. I do it for you. It's a conscious, deliberate decision on my part to do that for you. . . . So why wouldn't you reciprocate for me by giving me a little gift once in a while? It doesn't have to be big. Just a little something that says, 'I've been thinking of you.' . . ."

Well . . .

I had to confess I have a lot of "baggage" to work through.

For example, I asked: "What if you don't like what I pick for you? --I mean, if we're shopping together, I know there are times when you will pick something completely different from what I would choose. . . ."

Or: "Y'know, we've been in Costco and I've asked, 'How about if we get a bunch of those beautiful flowers?' --I think they're gorgeous and I'd love to get them for you, but you say no, you don't want them. . . ."

Or, "A few weeks ago, we were in the store and you were looking at something and I knew you really wanted it and I wanted to get it for you, but I could just 'hear' you reprimand me: 'We can't afford that! Why'd you buy that!?!'" . . .



I think I've gotten--at least temporarily--a better "handle" on things.

At this point, certainly, we are in a much better financial position than we used to be a few years ago. We're not in need, financially. So I'm sure, even if she were to complain that I "shouldn't have," I wouldn't actually be placing ourselves in any financial difficulties by acquiring whatever-it-is that I got her. . . .

But . . . It is true that those little negative comments at different times about things I have gotten her or that I wanted to get her: they have discouraged me. . . .

So we have worked through some of the issues, talked them out, strategized: "Here's what you can do, John. . . ."

Sarita told me of what my sister-in-law once told her about a conversation she (my s-i-l) had with my brother. (He's got the same weak gift-giving background I do!)

According to Sarita, my s-i-l realized it was helpful if she gave my brother a list of possible gifts that she would like to receive. (Sarita has been doing that with and for me, too. In fact, she has made that a discipline and habit for our family: "Tell me what you would want within this kind of budget: $____. --I am willing to spend up to $____, total, for all your gifts." --The kids will give us a list that includes stuff that, if we purchased it all, would definitely go over the stated total; but they and we know that no one needs to be surprised or disappointed by false expectations. And Sarita and I know best what to get them--what they would enjoy--and they know we're not going to get them "the moon." . . .)


Back to my s-i-l.

She told my brother about something she had seen in a particular store (and what store it was, etc.). She then said, "Do you want to know which one?!?"

"No, thanks," he said. "I want to choose the one for you." --And he did. And it turned out to be the very one that she wanted. . . . Very satisfying for both parties.

Kind of along the same lines: I love to get Sarita jewelry. But I have very strong preferences in what I want to get her. I am very unexcited about diamonds. I love brightly-colored semi-precious stones instead.

I think Sarita has agreed to let me choose--usually with her, but occasionally not--what jewelry she would enjoy but that I really like. That way, I feel special pleasure in the giving--I am really and truly excited about the piece--but/and she is excited, too.


Oh. And one last thing.

I really do have a stash of [more expensive] presents that I can pick from when the "big events" come. By the time I give them to her, she has more or less forgotten about a lot of them. (Actually, unlike me, she actually does remember almost everything we ever buy. But, she has no idea when I'm going to give her whatever-it-is. That way it is a surprise for her.)

And for the "little things" that I have, just this week, realized I want to give her (because I know they mean so much to her and I love her and I want her to know it--just as she knows how much her touch means to me and she loves me and she wants me to know it!) . . .

--She suggested, when I'm at Home Depot, I could pick out a flower for her. . . .

So I had to go to Home Depot yesterday. And I looked for a flower.

What a joy!

I spent about 15 minutes mulling over exactly which succulent I wanted to buy her.

And then--actually, this was a few minutes before I went to Home Depot--I was at the grocery store. (I often--about once a week--eat a sandwich at the grocery store. So I was at the store and ate my "on my own" lunch.) . . . I had to pick up milk and a couple of other things. While I was there, I saw that avocadoes were on sale.

I, myself, could care less about avocadoes. I don't dislike them, per se. But I have no hankering for them at all.

But I saw they were on sale. And Sarita loves them. So I bought a couple for her. --A "gift."

And I know she loves Granny Smith apples (which I don't enjoy). I knew we were out of them. --I decided to buy her a bag. Another "gift."

That's not the way I think. But I am, just now, beginning to realize that's the way she thinks. Gifts--even little things, like avocadoes and Granny Smith apples--tell her I've been thinking of her. And that means "the world" to her.

I didn't make a big deal out of these things. I just "threw them in" the mix of stuff I picked up at the grocery store.

But I figured she'd "get the message" that I had been thinking about her.

And, especially after our conversation this past week, I figured she probably wouldn't "chew me out" too much for having "wasted" money on her by buying those special things.

And guess what? She didn't "chew me out." And she did notice. --A perfect "win" all the way around!

I love giving Sarita gifts. I just haven't felt very "free" about it.


I hope maybe something of what I've written here might be of help to someone.

Old habits of mind ("We're too poor!" "We can't afford that!") and old "tapes" ("Why did you get me that?!?" "No. I don't want any cut flowers.") take a long time to overcome. . . .

If, therefore, you're someone who has the Gift love language and your spouse does not, you probably need to talk about these issues. And you will need to talk about them more than once. You will probably need to provide your spouse a bit of coaching. But I'm sure s/he will "come around" . . . if you give him or her a chance.