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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Our response is our responsibility


I’m in a period of reflection in terms of what I stand for — what I often write about — and what I actually deliver as a relating human being alive for such a time as this.

I write about high standards and these standards reflect the measure of Christ.  It’s discipleship or living for the glory of God.  But so often in striving to live this way over the past 15 – 20 years, to be just and fair, I’ve not ascended to these heights, and it’s those who know me best who know this.  I’m not as bad as some might have represented me in the past, but equally I’m not as good as many people think I am either.

This period of life isn’t just about navel gazing.  Neither is this article.  There’s something more important at stake for each of us.

The object of life is the integrity of humility — to discharge what we’re personally responsible and inevitably accountable to do.  All we can control in any given situation is our own response, but by the same token, we’re all responsible and inevitably accountable to do just that.

We can’t blame others if we don’t respond well, if our emotions and pride boil over and we aren’t responsible — and we aren’t “able” to “respond” appropriately.

If we don’t personally respond well, we’re accountable for restitution of the matter, and where there’s a pattern of such behaviour it ought to cause us to look more deeply within.  It’s an invitation to humility.  That, or we don’t grow, and we’re a burden to others, and that’s never good.

Now, I know that there are times when others can cause us to be stressed and even to respond poorly, but even in these cases we’re still required to rise above it and respond well.  And if the dynamic in the relationship is such that we feel we cannot — it’s triggering or unreasonable for some reason — boundaries are continually disrespected — our response then is the challenge to change the dynamic.

Ultimately, we’re responsible and inevitably accountable for our responses, and if our responses are ever triggered or reflex or spontaneous reactions, we’re responsible and inevitably accountable for the reparations required — if we’re committed to healthy and appropriate relationship outcomes.  These are simply the standards we hold others to, so they apply to us to.

But our responses are all we’re responsible and inevitably accountable for.  We can never be responsible and inevitably accountable for others’ responses.  We cannot control how others respond.  That is their domain.

Others can never appropriately blame us for their own responses, just as we cannot ever blame another person, like “You made me respond this way!”  The implementation of a boundary, on the other hand, is not an inappropriate or irresponsible response.  But the opposite situation, like “You made me angry, and I will punish you” is gaslighting.

“Cool” responses are not necessarily responsible responses, however.  Sociopaths are the “coolest” people alive.  No, the standards we’re to attain to are those that are fair for others.  This is what we’re responsible and inevitably accountable to provide.

As humility is our guide, all we can control is our response, and once accepted, it’s enough.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Ambiguous loss and complicated grief in a dying marriage


Far too many marriages die.  A casual count brings it to 50 percent of them.  What starts out for many as noble dreams of love and happiness and of a vision of achieving a life’s purpose often ends in the silent catastrophe of discontent and division.

Think about the holy purpose of marriage in these terms:

“Perhaps the greatest social service that can be rendered by anybody to the country and to humankind is to bring up a family.”
— George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)

The purpose of safe and loving family is integral to ordered and good society.

In all terms of gross domestic product (GDP), the foundation of which is family.  It is the absolute backbone of life.  And yet, the dissolution of the family unit through failings of one or both in a marriage — or what would be marriage — bring uncertainty and insecurity into vulnerable lives that need that certainty and security for the development of their very personhood.

I’ve always maintained, through my own experience of marital brokenness, that children can prosper with even one “good” parent who is devoted to their service; to love them in the truth, to allow them to learn and to facilitate and not rescue them from important life lessons, to keep them safe at all costs.

But oftentimes there is the need of a good parent to assist the children recover from trauma exacted upon them by their marriage partner, a fellow parent or stepparent, or other adult caregivers who abused them.  

Tragically there are also so many children for whom no safe and responsible parent or parent-figure exists, but for so many it might be a grandparent that fulfils that role.

For the parent doing their best, their best is good enough, and their service is a godly task, a task they would choose every day of the week.  Their sole purpose is to bring up those lives who will live for the next generations.  It is a holy handing off of a baton, a process taking 20 years minimum.  They who receive no help from a former partner have borne witness to the anguish of their heart, the trauma of the abuse of neglect, where the former partner preferred their own selfish gain than to join the godly task of keeping young lives safe.

When I think of such a parent who did their best, their best being good enough, their service a godly task that they gave their life to, I think of my maternal grandmother.  Her husband was an alcoholic gambler who drank and gambled his pay away.  My grandmother had a tough life until my grandfather passed away, and she had twenty more years, where she got to witness her children prosper as parents themselves.  Alcoholism and gambling, as two examples of threats to the family, to a very large extent, died with Grandad.  And everyone who was raised in relative safety prospered.  Yet it was people like me, who for a time picked up the bottle again, who put family in the threatening arms of the enemy once more.  Until AA and God put me right.

Now to finish on the theme of the title: Ambiguous loss and complicated grief in a marriage that dies.

The call of duty to one’s family is a diligent one, often for oneself to go without in order to provide, yet also to watch a partner decline from their duty, to disembark from the sacred task, for the temptation and glory of self.

It is an ambiguous loss because the partner doing their duty watches on as the other remains present yet is lost to their task and have disappeared even though they remain.  This loss is an indescribable agony because the function, the care, the love, the devotion, has become something quite opposite, and pain, confusion, and chaos expunge everything good.

It is a complicated grief because there is a striving to get through, to convince and to convict, to raise alarm, for any good conscience would be roused to godly sorrow and repentance.  But the cries go unheeded, and for many those cries are barred and disallowed, and worst when those cries are viciously silenced.

In ambiguous loss and in complicated grief a marriage slowly dies, though in hindsight was dead long before it was recognised.

~

The service of family is the holiest service of all humanity because it invests in what must be nurtured for a generation or more.  There is no more practical way of serving God than to prefer to serve vulnerable family over being served.  To do such service is its own blessing.

If yours is such a service, though it tires you weary, though you faint in the struggle, though despair threatens to sweep you away, you are a saviour in the shape of The Saviour.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

The cluelessness of grief with death as a thief


4 weeks ago yesterday we last mowed my front lawn, Mum had one week to live, and I was absolutely clueless!  That morning, my 9-year-old son helped mow the lawn, but everything changed at 1:43PM as I was writing in my 30-year-old daughter’s birthday card.  Dad called, desperate because Mum was distressed — none of us saw that coming.  Without wasting a moment, I picked up my keys, phone, the half-written card, jumped in the car and drove the hour to be with Mum and Dad at hospital.

The week between Saturday 20 August and Saturday 27 August is still so surreal.  That week will be etched in our family’s memory for some time yet.

As I got down to grass level to take the photo today, I looked at those blades of grass and said to myself, “When these blades were cut, Mum was still alive, and we had idea her death was imminent.”  We’ve just entered Spring here, and you can see, even though we need to cut it, that the grass isn’t that long.  Yet it feels as if we’ve been without Mum for a quick eternity.

I must have talked with Mum about her death dozens of times, even as I recited Psalm 23 dozens of times, and we thought together what it might be like after she had passed — again... dozens of times.  It never felt like an uncomfortable discussion, and Mum was always ready to talk about it.  Yet somehow her death is still such an incredible reality.  A bit like one of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandchildren commenting on the assumption that she would be around forever.  (It really does feel wrong and not quite real that Elizabeth the Great is dead!)  I don’t think any of us really believed that Mum would die, even if we talked about it occasionally, as if to ready ourselves, but that readying is actually revealed as a farce.

As a family, we’re all bravely getting on with our lives and life in general.  But it’s a bizarre experience when I’m facing the constant reality that I neither saw Mum’s death coming nor did I make the very most of those last few months.

Life got very busy for me on the counselling front in June, and by July we had time away in the country for six consecutive weekends, Northam for a close friends’ wedding I conducted and Sarah photographed, a pastor’s conference, two weekends in the north-west of our State on holiday, a weekend in the south-west for a pastor’s retreat, and then finally, a weekend in the Great Southern on Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) business.  The following weekend, we visited with an elderly friend and attended a birthday party for my son’s friend.  So many missed opportunities to spend time with Mum.  But we were still in daily phone contact, and there had been one hospital stay for a week in July for her while we were up north.

There were a couple of important short phone conversation chats that we had, one about the sudden death of one of Mum and Dad’s friends on 15 August which shocked us all, and another chat a few days earlier about the fall of a pastor who had abused Sarah and I in my church ministry, where Mum simply said, “Well, justice has been done,” and we left it at that.  (Mum had so much wisdom and grace!)  I’m so glad that Mum got to hear that news because the loss of Nathanael rocked her and Dad very much and losing Nathanael wasn’t the half of it back then — and they rode that journey with us.

The cluelessness of grief with death as a thief is beyond expression.  Even as we toyed with the concept of “palliative care,” it never seemed real.  It’s a concept and our minds work in concepts. Our minds struggle with realities of gravitas.  It wasn’t until there was more mention of palliative care on the Thursday after Mum’s first taste of it on the Monday that we were instantly forced to comprehend an incomprehensible concept.

“Can we get another month for Mum?” I said desperately only a minute or two after others had been ushered out of the hospital common room and the doors closed behind us — six of us family and a doctor and nurse representing Palliative Care.  “That’s too ambitious,” was the doctor’s response.  Wow!  It seemed like only moments later and we were all in Mum’s room with her, as she learned the news — nothing prepares anyone for a moment like that one.  It felt like minutes after that we had an aunt take a photo with Mum, Dad, and us three boys — our last photo with Mum conscious. Less than 48 hours later and Mum is dead.

The cluelessness of grief with death as a thief defies the slow growth of my front lawn grass.  Nobody has told those blades it feels so long ago that Mum passed away, yet it was only 22 days ago.

~ MAKE THE VERY MOST OF YOUR LOVED ONES ~

It’s a harsh lesson to learn that no matter how much you plan for death you can never be prepared for it.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

15-odd steps to a marriage sliding toward its death


In a previous article a few weeks back, I suggested 8 ways a wife might try to get the attention of her husband, to awaken him to the plight of the marriage, because so many marriages die because the husband is either intentionally withdrawn or seemingly unaware of the issues—though the latter is often an excuse when multiple ways have been tried to awaken him.  Indeed, if he hasn’t responded to several overtures, his lack of care is evident.

Oftentimes the threat that “it’s over” is the only thing that will bring him to attention.

Here are 15-odd steps to a marriage sliding further toward its death (these are not mine, by the way) starting after point 8 in the previous article:

9. She writes letters.  She pours out her heart.

10. She goes to counselling alone.  A lot. 

11. She waits years for him to do what he said he’ll do to give him time to change.

12. She prays a lot.

13. She spends years trying to figure it all out.

14. She reads everything she can get her hands on to glean pieces of hope and things she isn’t doing yet.

15. She stays faithful and loves the best she can figure out how.

16. She plays intermediary for him to soften everything for everyone.

17. Then is called an enabler.

18. She was an enabler.  So she stops.  And then is pressured to go to counselling with him and won’t because he hasn’t owned the ongoing issues.

19. And is told she’s unsupportive of his efforts.

20.  She provides all the sex she can because that’s what the Christian books say must be the fix-all (even when she’s crying, and he doesn’t know it).

21. She maps his cycles. 

22. One day she realises his cycles aren’t cycles.  They’re the normal state of being. 

23. She wonders why he doesn’t seem to care. 

24. And one day realises it’s because he actually doesn’t.

25. She posts happy pictures on Facebook desperate to create happy memories.

26. She attends prayer counselling sessions because she has been convinced she is the problem and needs fixing.

27. She sets up opportunities for him to shine.  She tries everything within the creative expanses of her heart and mind to give him a time to shine.

But he refuses to take these golden opportunities...

And I would continue this process to the point that the next step is actually realising that it’s over. It’s taken years to this point to come to the conclusion presented in point 24, and whilst it’s a heartbreaking reality, suddenly it’s also an angering and a freeing reality.  Empowerment comes in, but also so does pressure, when the wife decides she will run the fa├žade no longer.

But that is also a massive heartbreak for her.  To call time on truth is also to call time on hope.  He could have been the hero.  He could have pleased God.  He could have scooped the pool.

If only his heart would change.
If only he would submit to God.

But no matter how much “work” he did, his heart would not change, and that is nothing short of a devastating tragedy.

A husband’s heart that “makes love” to his wife


Men and women often view sex and intimacy differently.  There’s nothing revolutionary in this statement.  The truth for both husbands and wives is there’s so much more to effective and enjoyable marriage than sex.  There are so many other ways of “making love”.

Early on in our marriage, Sarah and I agreed one Christmas to “make” each other’s Christmas present.  We had about three months and an expansive budget of $10 each to produce a stunning masterpiece.  I got sneaky and decided to “interview” Sarah’s grandparents (all four were still alive then but since are all no longer so) so they could give me a short story of her life and I made an illustrated book.  I spent about $9.  Sarah also produced a book called “Love Is,” inspired by 1 Corinthians 13.

In her book, Sarah was assisting her “husband with potential” (me) to truly understand the heart behind the love a wife needs, acknowledging that the terms “heart” and “love” are absolutely pregnant with possibility.

The term “heart” is all about motivation.  It’s all about the reasons (the WHY) we do the things we do.  “Love” is action-oriented and nothing really to do with simple affection, though the heart is evidenced in love that acts passionately with conviction.

The examples Sarah gave me can seem mundane, but they demonstrate how simple and doable “making love” can be for husbands motivated to love their wives.  There is a simplicity in what a wife wants, and it’s really not that hard, but it does require a heart motivated for the right reasons.  Every action from a husband’s heart committed to making love to his wife in these ways is destined to bless her.

His heart keeps her safe, proves he is worthy of her trust and respect, and commits to being faithful as she is faithful.  He sees her as she sees him.  Simply put, he returns a commitment he made to love her, a commitment she readily fulfils from her heart.

Love is:

§  Tickles and laughter (where it’s appreciated)

§  Cooking dinner, doing the dishes, or both!

§  Helping each other out

§  Playing and spending time together

§  Hugs and kisses

§  Foot and back massages

§  Unexpected gifts

§  Sitting quietly together

Love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 . . .

§  Love is patient

§  Love is kind

§  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude

§  It does not insist on its own way

§  It is not irritable or resentful

§  It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth

§  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

Love most especially doesn’t:

§  Control other people or situations that affect others in any way

§  Refuse to acknowledge wrongs, apologise, and repent of wrongdoing

The heart that loves submits to a service that resembles the love of God which is a love of others. The heart that loves does so consistently well.

The heart that loves understands the role of trust and respect.

I might add that the man in my life that epitomises the best of a husband’s submission to serve his wife is my father who loved my mother for 60 years and one month.  I’m so thankful for his example and for his devotion to our precious and dear Mum.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Acknowledging the anxieties created by coercive control


Anxiety within the relationship context is an internal sign that indicates a level of feeling unsafe within the relationship.  As these words are read, there may be some thinking for the first time that their anxiety could be caused by a certain person or people or relational dynamic or situation in their lives.  Others will have already identified this as an issue.

Coercive control is a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviours within a relationship — any relationship.

Any time there is a case of feeling controlled within the context of the relationship, where certain actions are required, where a person is isolated or monitored, where there is gaslighting, where a person’s reputation is sullied without justification, there is the controlling of the person and a manipulation of how they operate.

Anxiety is not always evidence of feeling unsafe in a relationship, but just as the body does keep the score, anxiety is the body’s own evidence that it’s on guard for a sound reason.

Anxiety is the sign that a particular person or situation is either present or absent.  Depending on the circumstances, even a particular person’s absence can be anxiety evoking, and the body has a way of finding the target of its stress, be it past, present, or future, or a combination of these.

The very presence of an anxiety evoking person, and even their absence in some situations, will create a sense of hypervigilance in the person under coercive control.

It’s important to identify and acknowledge the impact of a person’s coercive control.  It’s important to face that truth, to acknowledge that we’re not just “weak” or “over sensitive” because of the treatment mete out to us.

We’re fortunate to live in a day of reconciling these truths, because in bygone eras there was a pathologising of people for their reactions to such abuses.  In our world today, there is more understanding than ever, and the term “gaslighting” (for one instance) is well known these days.

As there is the phenomenon of cause and effect, we can see that anxiety is an effect of coercive control.  Where that anxiety is accommodated for long lengths of time the effect is toxic and trauma can and does take place.

Monday, September 12, 2022

A husband who controls his wife, sabotages his own happiness


It’s infuriating how basic this is, and yet there are so many husbands (and the occasional wife) who insist on having their marriage on their own terms to the chagrin of their wife (or husband) and children.

Nine times out of ten these dynamics play out where the husband is the control agent, and perhaps one time out of ten it’s the wife.  Whoever engages in manipulation and gaslighting, existing to control and coerce, wreaks havoc and ultimately destruction.  I’m hoping to speak to the husbands (or ex-husbands) who use their families as pawns.

The message is this: you obviously have such a self-interest it causes you to control those you ought to otherwise love.  The irony is your controlling people will only put your happiness further away than ever.

A husband can control his wife in so many ways, and the most common of those ways is financial, emotional, overbearing physically, socially restrictive, spiritually, and through plain neglect, often in ways where he withdraws his affection.

Such a husband uses the resources he has against his wife, his time, his money, his attention, and his affection.  Such a husband never realises that the more he hates her, the more he hates himself.  And the more he seems to hate his own children, the more he despises himself.  The key test of these relationships is what the wife and children say when they’re allowed to be honest.  When a man wants things on his own terms and insists he is right, he has no chance of turning those he hurts around to trust him.

A husband who controls his wife 
sabotages his own happiness.

It’s the same rule right throughout life.  We must give away what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose.  The more we give away in material terms, the more we stand to gain in spiritual terms.  The more a husband submits to serving his wife (or ex-wife) and family, the more he will reap in joys beyond him otherwise, and the more he will be a hero to them.  Indeed, this service is his leadership role — he leads through serving them.

There is a place of heart where a person is most satisfied in having the least.  When there’s nothing to fight over, there is great joy because nothing can be taken from you.  They say joy is an inside job, and that is exactly what I’m talking about.  We can never control people and feel happy about that because we only breed angst.

Every husband would be blessed if only they had the knowledge of wisdom to give away what they insist upon, to relinquish control because they saw the folly in it, and to work with those in their lives harmoniously.  But of course, this is a place of the heart, and the heart either sees or it does not see.

When a heart sees its wrong, 
the heart repents, and 
what results is beautiful!

A heart compelled to give to another person in the submission of service is a heart that generally wins back the cherished gift of trust.  The only way to win the trust of a person who does not yet trust us, or who has stopped trusting us, is to find ways of serving that person.  When they know in terms of the relationship that we exist to ensure they are satisfied, trust is built or rebuilt.  They must be able to see our heart is FOR them.  This is a heart motivated to serve the other person — and that’s the essence of love.

The biggest test is for those husbands who have already lost their marriages.  If they don’t learn how to submit to serving their ex-wife, they will fail again in serving a future wife.  When an ex-husband continues to blame their ex-wife, he not only hurts his children, but he also hurts himself, and he will go on living a very disempowered blameworthy life.

The wisdom of life is in relationships, harmonious relationships.  The folly in selfishness is its short-sightedness as a plan.  It always backfires.  It always not only leads to misery for those who are controlled, it leads to misery for the controller.

~

All this applies to all relationships where there are dynamics of control.

Bosses or workers at workplaces, leaders and members of churches, administrators and players of sports, etc.

Wherever people relate with people there are those who naturally feel threatened and feel the need to behave in threatening ways as a result.  They need control, because to allow another person to exist on their own terms requires far too much vulnerability.

The sign of a controlling relationship is those being controlled feel unsafe.

The message is clear to most of us who would read this, but those who need to heed this message probably won’t.

What a miracle it is when a person can see their own heart, and their need of repentance, because that brings life.

The greatest irony of all is that 
those who give away their control 
end up being the freest people alive.

NOTE: this article is NOT saying that it’s only men and husbands who do the controlling. You will find these dynamics of control working against the person engaging in the controlling behaviour in both men and women, husbands and wives.  Anybody who engages in control over their partner wreaks trauma on those who are controlled.