Merry Christmas From The McGowans

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A few weeks ago, a brave family friend ventured over to our apartment for a little Christmas photo shoot.  Of all the photos she captured, this one is my favorite.  It’s our real life.  Jack is having a great time but teetering on the brink of trouble.  Aidan has figured out how to communicate displeasure.  Emma’s cute and clueless.  And then there’s Laura and I.  Laughing in a “have we lost our minds?” kind of way.  Welcome to our life.

It also reminds me of one of the biggest lessons God’s been teaching me this Christmas: Don’t let the longing for perfect prevent you from enjoying good.

We were made for perfect.  There’s nothing wrong with that desire; it’s from God.  It’s what tugs our hearts towards Him and fuels a longing for eternity.  That desperate desire to be in a problem free, pain free, disappointment free, sin free world will be satisfied one day for all of us who follow Jesus.  We’ll be with the God who makes all things new.  Revelation 21:4 promises, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  I can’t wait for that to be true.

But we’re not there yet.  Kids get sick.  Photo shoots crumble.  Living rooms get messy.  Schedules get trampled.  Work piles up.  Laundry piles up.  And, if I’m not careful, I can get so discouraged that everything isn’t perfect, especially at Christmas.  I so want to create that magical, perfect holiday for my kids.  To be honest, I just want them to want that magical, perfect holiday enough to stop spilling their juice on the coffee table!

But Jesus wasn’t born to admire our perfection.  He was born to offer us His.  He was born to hang on a cross so that one day we would taste perfect.

Between now and then, I want to enjoy the life I have.  I want to see God’s grace in these three beautiful kids, an amazing wife and a church we love deeply.  I want to see God’s goodness in my friends, in His creation and through His Word.  I want to enjoy my reality and not long for someone else’s.

That’s my prayer for you this Christmas.  Don’t let what’s wrong prevent you from enjoying what’s right.  Rest in God’s love for you.  Celebrate life that knows no end.  Perfect is coming.  Until then, there’s grace.

Merry Christmas!

Jesus In The Chaos

quiet-morning

 

Distraction.

More and more, it feels like my greatest battle is against distraction.  The unexpected phone call.  The “quick question” that turns into a 45 minute conversation.  Social media.  Email.  Checking out houses on Redfin even though we aren’t in the market.  Gossip.  A few texts.  Breaking news.  Netflix.

It all adds up and there are days when I wonder if I’ve really accomplished anything.  Busy? Definitely.  Tired?  Absolutely!  Productive?  I’m not sure.  Connected to God?  I know He’s with me but I don’t seem all that aware of His presence.

I know Jesus isn’t intimidated by the chaos of my life.  I know He isn’t running scared.  I know He doesn’t stay home sipping coffee while I go to work.  I know He’s with me.  He promises that in His Word, “I am with you always.” (Mt. 18:20)  He’s not the problem.  I am.  I loose sight of Him and get focused on a thousand other things.

For me, the battle for focus starts long before the sun is up.  I’m learning the more I connect with God in the morning, the more He shapes the chaos of my days.  I know how simple that sounds.  But I also know there’s a huge difference between “doing my quiet time” and connecting with God.  I can have a really well structured quiet time and totally miss God.  It happens more often than I would like to admit.  I power through a devotional book, journal a few thoughts, read some Scripture and pray a few rote prayers.  Quiet time done.  God missed.  And then there are days when those same raw ingredients combine to create a beautiful encounter with God.  His voice is clear, His presence is real, His love is almost tangible.  Most of the times, the difference is found in my expectations – power through or slow down and meet with Jesus?

When I slow down and meet with Jesus in the morning, He’s so much easier to see throughout the day.  He’s there helping me say no, avoid distractions and do what He’s called me to do.  When the unavoidable interruptions of life come, He’s there reassuring me He’s still working even though we’re off my script.  He’s near and real and everything’s better.

Yes, there are ways to manage distractions.  But it’s not like they’re going away.  And it’s not like Jesus is going away.  I’m just much more focused on staying connected with Him during the day.  And I’m finding that my best shot at connection during the day is connection before the day gets started.

Family Meeting

Family Meeting

Every once in a while, Laura and I stumble into something that ends up being a tremendous blessing to our marriage.  As boring as it sounds, a weekly “family meeting” is one of those things.  For the record, the boys don’t participate!  But we both do and we’ve come to see it as a hugely valuable part of our week.

To be honest, we see the value so clearly because of the years of marriage we had without this kind of regular touch point.  We were chronically over scheduled, setting up conflicting meetings or not having enough time for ourselves.  There were times when Laura felt like she really didn’t know where we were financially because I do the majority of that work around the house.  It never felt like we had space to discuss major decisions – and, no, trying to work everything out in a series of texts throughout the day doesn’t count as “discussing.”  It was a recipe for frustration.  Even worse, those conversations would often spill into “date night.”  So, what should have been a fun, romantic chance to connect turned into a planning meeting!  Not cool.

In an attempt to regain control of our lives, work more as a team and help each other make better decisions, we started setting aside one hour a week to sit down in the evening after the boys are asleep (well, at least in bed!) and plan out our lives.  We pray together and then we hit on three major points:

  • Our finances.  This is usually just a quick update.  But it’s also a place to discuss unexpected expenses, larger purchases or adjusting our budget.
  • Our schedules.  This is the main event.  We’re constantly working to protect white space, to ask ourselves if we’re living out our priorities and setting realistic expectations for our week.  We both have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew – this is a little forced accountability.
  • Other decisions.  This could be anything from finding a pre-school for Jack, to thinking about a vacation, to checking in on how the other is doing spiritually.

I know many of us have an instinctively negative reaction to meetings.  You do your best to avoid them at work and now I’m trying to get you to add one into your home!  I get it.  That’s how I felt for a really long time.  But, the cost of not having this kind of regular check-in is so high in terms of wasted time, energy and emotion.  If nothing else, try this for a month and see how it goes.  My guess is it’ll become a regular part of your week and marriage.

51 Hours

IMG_3058Last week was a big one for the McGowan’s.  Laura enjoyed some much needed time to rest and replenish with one of her closest friends in Raleigh.  That meant Jack, Aidan and I enjoyed a little guy time around the house.  When I say a little, I mean 51 hours.

To be honest, I loved getting that time with the boys.  We had a lot of fun, ate a lot of pizza and played for hours.  I will also say I developed an even deeper appreciation for my wife and all those who spend their days caring for children.

A few random observations:

  • When I was in college, they sold caffeinated water on campus.  We used it to make coffee.  I haven’t seen that product in a while (and it’s entirely likely the FDA has banned it).  That’s too bad.  They should sell that stuff by the gallon at Buy Buy Baby.
  • There is literally nothing a 2.5 year old boy will not try to climb.  See photo above.
  • Just because a 2.5 year old boy can climb up doesn’t mean he can climb down.  Also, see photo above.  For the record, Laura, when Jack tells you he was not being safe, got stuck and scared and that Daddy rescued him, this is what he’s talking about.  Of course, he may also be talking about trapping himself in the shower in the basement.  But there’s no photographic evidence of that one.
  • The amount of strategic planning required to plant, fund and lead a church is nothing compared to the planning it takes to use the bathroom or shower with two little kids around the house.
  • Bathing two kids at the same time leaves you as soaked as sitting on the 3rd row at Sea World.

Here’s one final one:  I love being a Dad. 

I know so many single guys who fear settling down, growing up and taking on the responsibility of a wife and kids.  I totally get it; I was one of you for years.  And, yes, I now consider 10pm staying up late and can have an in depth conversation about sleep training an infant.  But I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  So, guys, don’t fear what will be one of the greatest blessings in your life.