Stretching: Learning and Growing

That’s my son Myron doing one of his favorite things in the world — stretching!

Watching him do this several times each day has got me thinking, what is stretching me?

What’s Stretching Me at the Moment…

Here are a few of the things that are stretching me, causing me to grow and to learn (in no particular order):

  1. School.  I’ve been in school for what seems like forever.  Finishing my PhD has required so much perseverance and patience, the second of which I don’t come by naturally.  If all continues to go well, I should be finished this summer.  *Fingers crossed*
  2. Marriage.  I’ve said it many times that I didn’t know how selfish I was until I got married.  And that statement is as true today as it was in 2002 when I first got married!  The stretching caused by marriage is varied but it is definitely effective!  To me, the hardest part of marriage is choosing each day to put the interests of my wife before my own.  Man, why is it so hard not to be selfish!?
  3. Parenthood.  Since being a dad is so new to me (only one month in!), it feels like the thing that is stretching me the most right now!  I’m learning to live on less sleep, to prioritize differently, and to do things that I hadn’t done often before.  But most of all, fatherhood is teaching me that my capacity for love is much greater than I ever imagined!  When I heard Myron’s first cry, I felt like the Grinch at the end of the book: my heart grew three sizes!
  4. Leadership.  Whether in official capacities or informal ones, being a leader is always a stretching experience!  Not unlike marriage and parenthood, being a good leader means putting the interests and needs of others at the forefront.  This is always unnatural, or at least it is for me!
  5. Spiritual Disciplines.  I’m not a planner.  I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-er.  And with regard to spirituality, spontaneity is not always best!  In my experience, it is best to have some spiritual practices (such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, etc.) which are a regular part of my life.  For me, the one that creates the most stretching in me is daily, devotional Bible reading.  For me this is a challenge because when I read the Bible I constantly think about it either as an academic, thinking about all the grammatical, historical, and theological issues, or as a teacher, thinking about how to communicate the truths found within to others.  It is a daily struggle for me to find personal, spiritual meaning from the Bible.  This discipline helps me grow!
  6. Work.  I’m about to embark on a new assignment at work and it will be a stretching process!  I’m excited to see how God grows me and my community through this opportunity.  But I’m also quite aware that things will be difficult at times and that I’ll have to find creative ways to move forward or to step aside and let others take the limelight.  I’m looking forward to the challenge.


So, what kinds of things are stretching you in your life right now?

Let me know in the comments below!


5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

This blog post is going to be revealing.  I’m going to try my best to be vulnerable and authentic.  My plan is to share 5 ways that relationships can be hurt.

And how can I be sure that these 5 ways to hurt relationships are actually for real?  Well, because I’ve been guilty of them all at one time or another!

Here we go…


Doh! We’re so good at hurting people in relationships!
By: Andrew McCluskey

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

  1. Make Assumptions — Assumptions hurt relationships just about more than anything else.  Part of the reason why is because they are so simple to make.  They take almost no effort whatsoever.  It may just be me (but, dang, I hope not!), but it’s almost as if the human default mode is set to “assume everyone is out to get you.”  When we behave this way within relationships, whether in marriages and friendships or at work and within families, we are guaranteed to hurt people we care about and with whom we need continued contact.  Why?  Because the assumptions we make tend to be really harmful, such as the assumption that someone is lying, trying to hurt us on purpose, ignorant, or stupid.
  2. Jump to Conclusions — A high school football coach of mine once said that the most athletic thing that local sports reporters d0 is to jump to conclusions.  Well, if that’s true, then I should be the Olympic representative for the USA in the category of jumping to conclusions!  The way that it usually works for me (and for others too, I’m hoping) is that I make an assumption. Then I follow the logic of the assumption to the end and get angry about the resulting imaginary conclusion.  Here’s an example: If someone is late to a meeting that we both agreed to attend, I often jump to the conclusion that they are intentionally being disrespectful.  I don’t allow for the fact that I live in LA County, an area know for traffic problems.  And even though I hurt relationships by jumping to conclusions, I certainly don’t like it when people do it to me!
  3. Fail to Apologize — Relationships that were once close but that are now broken for whatever reason, are like a cut powerline.  No longer can the powerline serve its function of delivering electricity where it’s needed and now both of the ends that were once together are dangerous.  Our relationships are not just about the specific people in them.  They are also about all the people connected to the parties within the relationships.  And when we are failing to apologize to one another we are depriving the rest of our relationships our best selves.  Furthermore, when we fail to apologize our emotions are raw and we’re often a danger for other people in our lives too.  It’s time we started apologizing when we’ve wronged someone, owning up to our part in the drama and taking responsibility to move forward in healthy ways.
  4. Fail to Forgive –Not only is apologizing important, but forgiving whomever hurt us is important too.  Relationships in which one person is trying to make things right while the other is trying to stand on the moral high ground by withholding forgiveness are set up for lots and lots of trouble.  In relationships that have lasted for a while, there is no moral high ground.  Since everyone within relationships is a person, then everyone has made mistakes.  No one is perfect, meaning that there’s no room to set on the high throne of judgment.  That a position that is reserved for God alone.  Our job within relationships is to accept apologies and offer forgiveness.  Not only is withholding forgiveness bad for the relationship, it’s bad for us too!  It can create bitterness and bitterness can ruin our lives little by little over time.
  5. Argue While Angry — All human relationships are going to including arguments.  We’re all people and we all have opinions and those opinions do not always line up just so.  And all relationships will also have to cope with anger from time to time.  Anger is a typical human emotion.  We don’t always seem to have control over when it comes or even why it comes.  But anger in and of itself is not bad or inherently sinful.  It’s what we do when we’re angry that matters.  Here’s how the Bible puts it in Ephesians 4.26: “In your anger do not sin.”  And I would probably add to this that arguing while angry is almost never a good idea.  Trust me.  You’ll say and do things that you will regret; things that can’t be forgotten or taken back.  It would be better to attempt to calm down before having a discussion regarding a disagreement.

Now on this blog I tend to write about missional stuff.  So how is any of this missional?  Well, since seeking the mission of God in our world is best undertaken with others and not alone, then we’re going to have to figure out how to hurt one another less.  And since the only real way to share Jesus with others is through relationships, we’re going to have to figure out paths toward healthy connections with other people.

Avoiding these five things is a good start.


What else should be on this list?  Let me know in the comments below!

Little Broken Promises

I’d like to think that I’m a pretty good husband.  I do most of the big things right and I avoid almost all of the big things that I’m supposed to.  I spend time trying to speak my wife’s love language.  I love with abandon and invest like crazy.  I try to put her interests before my own (Philippians 2.3-4).  Usually, I’m pretty good at this whole husband thing.


chefkeem / Pixabay

But I have a persistent problem, a easily-repeated blunder.  I make little promises and then don’t keep them.  Example: We finish dinner and I say, “I’ll do the dishes before I go to bed.”  Then, the next morning, the dishes are still in the sink (like they were this morning).  That’s a little broken promise.

Here’s a doozy from this week: Our dog, who is awesome by the way, is getting old and she needs to have checkups at the vet pretty regularly.  Three weeks ago I said that I would take care of it.  I finally did it…after weeks of saying I would!  The time between the little promise and completion was just full of me breaking that promise day after day.

You may be thinking something like this: Meh, this isn’t a big deal; it is a LITTLE broken promise.  It’s not like you broke your wedding vows or something.  And, you’d be right…objectively speaking.

But subjectively speaking we’re dealing with a different deal altogether.  Each time I break a little promise it erodes my credibility with my wife a little bit.  Rebuilding that trust invariably takes up WAY more time than it would have taken to just fulfill the promise.

And keeping little promises is a sign of respect.  When I actually keep one of these promises it says to Alida that she’s important enough for me to remember what I said and to actually do it.

Luckily for me I have a loving and forgiving spouse.  She gives me the time and space I need to figure things like this out.  But I shouldn’t take advantage of Alida’s patience about this.  I should be more intentional about keeping all my promises, whether big or small.

Here are some pieces of advice (mostly for me):

  1. Make fewer promises.  There’s no point in promising to do things as often as I do.  Maybe if I was more consistent in doing things in the first place I wouldn’t feel the need to make promises.
  2. Accept help if needed or wanted.    A common mistake that I make in these situations is not accepting help that is offered.  If I did, then I wouldn’t need to do whatever it was that I end up make a promise about (e.g., the dishes).  So, if I need help or would rather do something else, when my wife offers to help I should take her up on it.
  3. Keep track of promises made.  I’m not sure exactly how I could do this, practically speaking.  Maybe I could write my little promises down and put them in a prominent place (like on the screen of my laptop).  But an issue for me is that I simply forget.  So I need to facilitate some memory helpers.
  4. Apologize and start at #1 again.  I’m a human so I am going to mess this one up.  When I do I should give a real apology, fully owning my mistake and the pain it caused.  Then I should start back and #1.  Hopefully, over time, I’ll have to do #4 less and less.

Do you have a problem with keeping little promises too?  Let me know in the comments below.

Goal Setting in Marriage

Anyone who knows me knows that I almost always rail against structure.  I like to be spontaneous, free, and, frankly, last-minute.  From my biased opinion of my experience, I’m convinced that I work best when these factors are present.  And, by and large, I’ve had some measure of success operating this way.

But the Lord saw fit to lead me to marry my wife Alida.  She’s a planner, a list-maker, and an organizer.  In fact, when she’s in planning mode, she’ll write on her master list which sub-lists she needs to make!  And she’s had a great deal of success living in this manner.

Put the two of us together…well you can imagine the sorts of difficulties we face!  Alida is hoping that we’ll plan and I’m pushing things to the deadline.  I’m hoping to explore random things at the last minute and Alida is thinking ahead to a weekend two months from now.

OpenClips / Pixabay

And for the longest time we just dealt with these tensions.  I’m not sure why exactly, but we never really addressed this issue…for years!  But once I entered into the dissertation phase of my PhD, my life needed to get much more structured.  I needed to research and write everyday, on top of my other responsibilities too.  In order for me to get through this thing in one piece I had to start organizing my life  a bit.  I needed a target to shoot at.

So at first I just tried to do things on my own.  I would watch Alida and try to mimic some of her planning behavior.  This worked kind of well.  But I needed the inside scoop.  My pride, however, prevented me from actually asking for help.  So I waited.

And eventually, after a while, Alida suggested that we do a weekly meeting so that she and I could be on the same page.  To be totally honest, my wife had offered this suggestion many times before, and I had poo-pooed it every single time.  Like I said earlier, Alida is just built this way but since she discovered Michael Hyatt’s podcast she’s been way more goal-focused.  Needless to say,  she was so excited when I finally gave in!

So, for the better part of a year Aldia and I have been having a weekly meeting.  We discuss our schedules for the upcoming week, our workout plans, when our date will be, and any special errands that need to be run.

There’s one more thing we do: we set weekly goals.  We divide these up into various categories, like “personal,” “work,” “spiritual,” and “relationship.”  Our hope is that we can help one another accomplish our goals and check in on our progress in the future.

Now I’d love to say that doing this has resulted in awe-inspiring results.  It hasn’t.  But it has produced positive results.  Here are a few of them:

Setting goals has helped us…

  • …be more intentional.  We both now know what it is that we’re trying to do so that each of us can focus better individually and as a couple.
  • …understand one another better.  By weekly hearing one another’s goals we get to enter into one another’s thought processes.  This has proven to be so valuable for our relationship!
  • …hold each other accountable.  People always say that it’s hard to hold your spouse accountable; and, for the most part, that is true.  But setting goals together gives each of us the freedom to check in on one another.
  • …know how to pray specifically for one another.  While part of our meeting also involves sharing our prayer needs with one another, knowing each other’s goals has helped us know how to pray for one another more holistically.


Is goal setting important to you?  How do you do it?

Thanksgiving Date

werner22brigitte / Pixabay

The fall is the favorite time of year for my wife (Alida) and I.  The weather is nice, you can get pumpkin-flavored anything, and it’s the month that has Thanksgiving in it.  Oh, and I can’t forget about football!

On top of all of that, Alid and I got married in the fall: October 12, 2002.

In other words, we really love the fall!  And one of our fall traditions is our annual Thanksgiving Date.

Here’s what we do: Every year around Thanksgiving Alida and I have a special date.  We try to plan the date as close to Thanksgiving day itself as our schedules will allow.  Sometimes this means that we have this date the day before Thanksgiving and at other times we’ll do this several days early.

Either way, the purpose of this date is simple — we just want to let one another know how thankful we are for each other and our marriage.  So we take turns sharing something we are thankful for back and forth.

We do this twenty-five times.  It’s usually pretty fast and we can do it while eating a meal together.  But now and again one of the things we are thankful for needs a little discussion or is really funny!  Either way, all we want to do during this time is connect with one another and show real appreciation for each other.

This has got me thinking…how appreciative of Alida am I every single day?  Do I say “thank you” enough?  Do I intentionally go out of my way to show Alida how grateful I am for all that she does for me?  Am I consistent in expressing to Alida that simply by being her she has totally changed my life for the better?

Or do I try to stick all that gratitude into our annual Thanksgiving Date?

I know I’m not perfect.  But I do often make an effort to be grateful.  But could I do more?  Absolutely!

So, here’s the question: Do you let the people in your life who are important (e.g., spouse, kids, parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, etc.) know how much they mean to you?  When’s the last time you looked one of those people in the eye and said “Thank you for being you.”

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Say “thank you” a lot, so much so that it feels like too much.  It would be way, way better to err on this side of things than the other.  Become known and the thank-you guy or woman!
  2. Plan a meeting/date/hangout during which your sole purpose is to show appreciation.  So have a meal with someone and prepare a few things to tell them you are thankful for.  Getting reciprocation is great but even if you don’t get anything back, it’s still worth it to invest in the life of someone else.
  3. Send some of the most important people in your life a handwritten, thank-you note through the mail.  No one gets real snail mail anymore!  Our mailboxes are just stuffed with junk mail, ads, and printed invites.  Your hand-written note will really bless the socks off whoever you send it too!
  4. Thank the people most important to you in public ways too.  A private thank you is paramount.  Nothing can replace that!  But there’s something special about showing appreciation for someone important to you in public (e.g., while speaking in front of a group, on Facebook or Twitter, or even just in conversation with someone else).  I distinctly remember many of the times when I was thanked publicly — each one made my day!

Can you think of some other ways to be thankful?  Let me know in the comments below.

Priorities in Relationships

It’s sad to admit but several times in our marriage my wife, Alida, has had to remind me that my priorities are a bit skewed.  She always seems to find the right time and space to let me know this too.

First, she doesn’t wait until she’s so angry that she’s going to explode.  Instead, if she sees me veering of course for long enough, then she’ll speak up.  Things get a bit more complicated when my lopsided priorities impact her directly; but even in those situations she has always done a great job of loving me and showing me grace.

Second, when she has determined that it’s time to have the “come to Jesus” talk with me, she boldly says what’s on her mind.  She doesn’t beat around the bush and qualify her feelings with ten thousand sickly sweet statements.  She simply tells me how she’s feeling, what’s she’s seeing, and the impact she’s observing.  I am so grateful for this!  The last thing that I need to be left hanging in the wind!

Third, in virtually every single instance that Alida helps me get my priorities straight, she’s been sure to check back in with me in the future.  Usually the next day she’ll initiate a conversation with me in which she wants to make sure that I’m not hurt or confused.  Then, later on when old habits start being reestablished, she’ll lovingly remind me that I said I wanted my priorities to be different.  In fact, one of Alida’s mantras is “Don’t complain about something unless you have a plan for it to succeed.”  So, when she points out something in me that needs molding, she understands that as a call for her continued participation in my development.

And because of the example that Alida has set for me, I have learned how to do the same for her.  Full disclosure: I’m not nearly as good at this as she is!  I often wait too long, which means that I tend to be too angry, hurt, or annoyed to infuse a priorities conversation with grace and love.  Like Alida, I tend to get straight to the point but since I am naturally so confrontational this often comes across as being argumentative.  And I’m not nearly as good on follow through as Alida, though I am learning and growing in this area!  Needless to say, Alida has set the bar high for me!

But as I think about the times that she has brought my messed up priorities out into the light it’s always been for one reason: I’m selfish.  Now I know for a fact that I’m not the only selfish person out there!  My wife is selfish, my parents and sister are selfish, my pastor is selfish, Billy Graham is selfish, the pope is selfish, Mother Teresa was selfish, the Apostles were selfish, etc., etc.  Looking out for number one, unfortunately, is just part of the human predicament.

How does the problem of selfishness rear its ugly head in me?  Pretty straightforwardly: I get uber-focused on me and my stuff.  I talk about me and my stuff.  I invest my time and energy in me and my stuff.  I try to convince people of the value of me and my stuff.  I seek out input on me and my stuff.  I want validation for me and my stuff.  Me and my stuff.  Me and my stuff.  Me and my stuff.

Notice the problem?

When my selfishness is in full bloom, where is my concern for the interests of others (Philippians 2.3-4)?  Where is my self-sacrificial love (1 John 3.16)?  Where is my care for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, etc. (Isaiah 58.9-10)?  Where is my commitment to transformative community (Hebrews 10.24-25)?  Where is my love for God that requires all of who I am (Matthew 22.37)?  And where is my drive and desire to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20)?

I must surround myself with people who can help me see when I slip further and further into selfishness!  I’m blessed that I live with one such person but I’ve had and now have many others in my life too.

Here’s a twofold challenge: 1) Find someone to help you see when your priorities get a bit out of whack; and 2) Be the same for someone else!