What rejuvenates your soul? What places or activities help you recharge?
I often wish I had more and different hobbies. I hear friends talk about the sports they play and the activities they love. I guess I’m boring in that I don’t have many activities that recharge my soul. If I’m honest, reading and writing fill my tank. I started writing three years ago and I’ve watched it become the best way for me to refuel and rejuvenate my soul. There’s something about creating and putting words together that makes me feel like I’m doing what God wants me to do.
I’m a big fan of sitting in a comfy chair and reading or sitting in a coffee shop and writing. I’m easy to please.
But, if I got to choose one place to go, I’d go to my friend’s lake house. Sitting on the edge of the water, away from technology with a book in my hand…. yes, please. I’m lusting right now thinking about it!
You talk and write a great deal about playing good offense in your marriage. What does that look like?
I just wrote a blog post about this one, so instead of rehashing the whole thing, I’ll give you a couple of bullet points along with a link to the post itself!
Basically, this means that we work ahead of problems coming instead of responding to them down the road in the middle of a crisis. I operate off the principle found in Matthew 7:24-27 - the story of the wise and foolish builders. When you play good offense, you build your marriage on the solid rock foundation of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, so many of us build our lives and our homes on shifting sand. When the trouble comes, the house collapses. Rather, I want to help as many couples as possible build their home on the rock, so that when, not if, the crisis comes, the marriage will be able to withstand the storm because the couple played good offense. To be even more specific, this is why we place such a strong emphasis on ministry to pre-married and newly married couples at Watermark.
Ministry and church leaders across the country sing the praises of Merge. What do you attribute that to, other than the Lord’s faithfulness? Are there certain aspects of the way you guys do pre-marriage prep that you think have led to this?
I’ve thought about this question a lot over the years. We deliver an unpopular message from God’s Word to an increasingly biblically illiterate culture, but people keep coming and keep inviting their friends. We’re thankful for God’s provision of more couples, year after year. Your answer is the right one - the Lord’s faithfulness continues to amaze us.
Beyond that, we believe that if you do something with excellence (honoring God with whatever you have) and if you care for people, then they’ll usually respond well. In Merge, we teach from up front and give couples homework to do on their own. However, I believe the reason why couples keep coming is because we provide them with caring, empathetic, Christ-centered mentor couples. You can find great teaching online, and many books provide quality homework. What you can’t find online or in books is a couple who challenges you and encourages you in your relationship.
You meet with people in difficult situations often. How do you keep it from wearing you down?
I love this question and I’d say I’m still a work in progress. My first full time job was as a physical therapist (PT) at a spinal cord injury hospital in Atlanta, GA. I enjoyed my job but quickly burned out since it was so intense emotionally. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional burden that came along with working with men and women with spinal cord and brain injuries.
My job as marriage pastor is in many ways even more intense emotionally. I thought I would have learned from my job as a PT to not bring the issues and challenges home with me. Yes, it’s gotten better over the years, but I still struggle to leave work at work and be fully present at home. When you work with people and love people (as we should as followers of Christ), it’s difficult to create a separation from one part of life to another.
That being said, I’ve put a few best practices in place:
- As best possible, put my phone away, especially when I’m with my family. I want to be fully present with them.
- Pray on the way home, that I would be able to create some space and be present with my family. I pray that God would remind me that He doesn’t need me, and He’s got everything fully covered.
- I put boundaries in place with couples and let them know that there might be some windows of time when I’m not able to help them.
- I pray and read God’s Word so that I can be conformed more and more to the image of Christ. No one was better able to be fully compassionate with people but also put space in place. As you read the gospels, note how often Jesus retreats to a quiet place.
What are three things that make you cry? Laugh? Sing?
Cry: I’m such a softie. Pretty much everything and anything makes me cry. The show This Is Us tends to be the #1 catalyst over the last six months.
Laugh: I grew up on Seinfeld and Friends. I watch an episode of one or the other most nights as I go through email or write blog posts. They still make me laugh like crazy.
Sing: Good worship music. For instance, as I type this I’m listening to Glorious Day by Passion. Somehow I’m singing, dancing, and typing all at the same time!
When did you discover your love for writing?
I certainly didn’t grow up thinking I would write. In fact, up until I turned almost 40 I don’t think I had a bone in my body that wanted to write. I’ve always loved reading, and I think my love for books helped create my love of writing. At the same time, I had all of these ideas running around in my head. I found that typing them out helped clear some space in my brain. I found that I was thinking more clearly and was better at articulating my thoughts when I started writing.
A few friends encouraged me to write, and I actually found that I enjoyed it. The more I do it, the more I love it. Sometimes it’s hard work, but most of the time I just enjoy the process of sharing my heart through writing.
You said that your love for reading helped create your love for writing. How important is your ongoing reading to your writing? Are you reading any good books at the moment?
Ah, I love this question because I love reading. If it’s possible, I probably like it too much! In fact, at times, my desire to read can pull me away from friends, family, and from writing.
That being said, reading a good book fills my cup, especially when I read good writing or read something that challenges me. I like to read across a wide spectrum of topics and genres (business, memoir, history), but mostly spend time in the Christian section of the bookstore. As a marriage pastor, I’m always reading at least one book about marriage, either for my own walk with Jesus and relationship with Kristen, or to better help and equip the couples I lead.
I just started reading Parenting, by Paul David Tripp, and so far it’s been fantastic. I recently finished Contagious, by Jonah Berger, Befriend, by Scott Sauls, and Cherish, by Gary Thomas. Three very different books, but each are among my favorites I’ve read so far this year. I could go on and on about books, but that’s a good, brief list!
What's your greatest challenge in writing? At work? In leading your family?
Challenges abound in all three of these areas.
My greatest challenge in writing is related to my approval of man issues. Sometimes I’m more consumed by likes, shares, and tweets than whether or not I’m faithful in writing. I struggle with comparison, insecurity, and people-pleasing.
At work, I most often struggle with insecurity and comparison. I want the same opportunities as others, and when I don’t get them, instead of celebrating others, I covet their opportunities.
At home, my biggest challenge is my selfishness. I have my own agenda, every hour, every day. I want to put my needs first, and as a result I can at times prioritize my schedule and needs over the family. To make it practical, this means at times I will choose work, email, or TV, instead of helping my wife or spending time with my kids.
The one consistent in all three of the above is me. I am my biggest challenge in wiring, work, and with my family. My selfishness. My agenda.
You are the most honest and open person I know. I love that about you. Has that always been part of who you are? Or is it something you grew into? Can you walk us through the impact you’ve seen this level of genuineness have on your work, life, etc.?
Thanks, Preston. I appreciate the encouragement. For years, I hid my problems and sin struggles and didn’t want to invite others into my secrets. I believe this changed for two reasons:
- As a single guy who lived in Atlanta, I confessed my pornography struggles to a group of men at my old church. When I shared, I found a group of guys who loved me and encouraged me. They didn’t mock me and instead helped me fight my sin battle. When I shared and found love and not rejection, I started to realize I could invite others into my dysfunction.
- The second biggest factor was when I came across Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15. Paul writes, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” I believe when Paul wrote these words, he claimed to be the chief sinner because he knew the depravity in his heart. When I read this verse, I instantly connected with Paul. I know the level and depth of my sinful thoughts and behaviors. I enter into every situation assuming I’m at least partly responsible for the problems we face. While I know I’m the worst/chief sinner, I also know that "God demonstrates His own love for us in this, that while were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). If God would be willing to send His Son to die for me, in the middle of my sin, then I know there’s no need to hide or pretend. His love for us frees us up to open and honest.
One last thought on this question. I’ve learned that when I’m open and vulnerable with others, it’s one of the best gifts I can give to people in my life. It frees them up to also be honest and vulnerable. When we’re vulnerable in our relationships, it builds a bridge that allows us to better connect with others.