The Gates Are Open

June 2016

A Father With Borrowed Wisdom from God

Posted on June 19, 2016

jack phillipsMy father was 41 years old when he died after having lung cancer for only six months. I was one month short of 17 when he passed. This week, I turn 59 and because it was just Father’s day  and  the preacher this morning talked about his dad in such loving detail, I started thinking about my own dad.

I have now been alive for 42 years after his death. That is longer than he was alive. But years don’t matter all that much–what matters is how much life and love we squeeze into those years. And my dad did love me.

I won’t rehearse the problems my dad had in life. Suffice to say that he struggled with addiction all the years I knew him. But he was a friendly guy who never had problems getting along with others. He could be hard on my brother, sister and me. He expected a lot and he didn’t do a lot to help us work through our problems. However, one time he did help me changed my life.

As a boy, I was easily talked into mischief. One summer afternoon, three of my friends proposed a game I had never played before. We went to the end of our alley and looked out into the busy street. Cars whipped by us going 40 MPH. That’s when my friend Derek explained the rules of the game. Each of us would pick up a rock. We would wait until a passing car came close to us. Then we would throw the rock across the road. The one who came closest to hitting a car–without hitting one of course–was the winner.

The other three guys went before me. Each of them threw their rocks across the road with lots of time to spare. I figured I could easily beat them all. When my car came, I’m not sure what happened. I don’t know if he sped up, if I hesitated out of fear, or if my young brain miscalculated.

But my rock went through the side window of the passing car. At that moment, all of us scattered like shrapnel from a grenade. I hoped the man who slammed on his brakes couldn’t figure out who threw the rock as he saw boys running every which way. But when I looked behind me down the alley, I was the only one he was chasing. He had figured it out. I ran into our backyard, past the babysitter and up the back stairs. As I went by her, I shouted out,

“There’s a man chasing me who wants to hurt me!”

I admit, I left a few details out of that description. The babysitter sopped up her courage and refused to let the man into the house. I watched from my bedroom window to see if he was coming in. The two of them talked for a long time. Then, the man wrote some things down on a piece of paper and gave it to my babysitter. I may not have been that old, but I knew he had written a note for my father.

And just as decidedly, I knew I would suffer severe consequences.

So I hid in the basement. There was an alcove cut out of the wall behind the furnace and it just fit my tiny body. I hid there and waited until dad came home. When he finally did, I sat quietly, listening for the inevitable explosion. After about five minutes, I began to hear the rumble. Dad was tearing apart every room looking for me. He didn’t know my secret hiding spot, so all he could do was search, yell, and voice threats. The more he described what was going to happen to me, the more I decided to say nothing and stay hidden.

At one point, things got quiet. Then my mother started pleading with me to come out. She even began to cry softly. I couldn’t take it any more, so I slithered out of my hole and slowly went upstairs. I won’t describe the initial scene as my parents saw me come out of the basement door. It was complicated.

I went to bed early, without my dad punishing me as he promised. But the next morning, he got me out of bed at 6:30 a.m. This was strange: He never got up early, and this was summer vacation. I never got up any earlier than I had to. But dad told me I had to make a decision. I needed lots of time depending on what decision I made.

Dad had called the man whose window I had broken the night before. He had already paid the man for the window and now it was time for my payback. I was sure a spanking with the belt was involved, but that is not what happened.

My dad just looked sad. He told me how disappointed he was with me. He had expected so much more out of me than I had shown. I cried. I was steeled with resolve to withstand a beating. i never expected this.

Then dad explained my choice. I could pay for the window one of three ways:

  1. I could give up allowance for the rest of the year.
  2. I could do 20 hours of work in the yard over the weekend. This involved back-breaking labor (dad took delight describing all I would do).
  3. I could go over to this man’s house and work for him for as long as he wanted.


I chose number two because I wanted my allowance and I was afraid of this other man. So dad started me in right away with the work. That Saturday, I must have put in 12 straight hours of work. I was so tired, I didn’t even eat dinner. The next morning at 6:30, dad got me up and worked me again. The second day was even harder than the first.

Then something happened after lunch. Dad came out with his work clothes on and began to help me. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So I asked him.

Didn’t you say I had to do all this work myself?

Yes, I did. But this is my punishment and my rules. I can help you if I want to.” For the next two hours, dad helped me do all the chores I had left. Then, when we were done, he told me to have a bath and put on some good jeans and a shirt. When I came out, dad told me we were going for dinner; just me and him.

He took me to a diner across the street from his work. It was great food and we had a fantastic time together. He told me about all the things he got in trouble for as a boy . He warned me never to tell my siblings or my mother about that conversation.

At the end of dinner, we just sat in silence for a while. Then dad looked at me and said, “I’m proud of you son. This was worth the broken window to see you work like a man.”

I cannot think back to that day and not feel the weight of his love. It still sits on my shoulders.

You May Never Get It Back

Posted on June 13, 2016
gone foreverTrigger Alert. Trigger Alert. Trigger Alert.
Someone will be triggered by just about every line in this short essay. It is designed that way. Don’t read on if you have made a vow to never be triggered by anything again.
I teach, counsel others, and write. I see the mucky, degraded side of people’s lives often. I occasionally get to see beauty too. And I know the God of Creation who loves me and others. But I still see muck.
During this last week, I have witnessed three dead marriages. I don’t mean divorce, I mean people who are still married and hate each other. One couple gives each other permission to cheat because they don’t give a crap any more. I heard about a child who was sexually groomed and controlled by a youth pastor. His church–my church–hid this reality from the public for years. I read, with you, about the massacre of people in a night club. I helped a friend prepare a funeral for a teenager. I talked a person out of running away from their spouse and children. But the voices inside their head won’t stop saying “run away”. I sat with two alcoholics who had tried to be sober and couldn’t do it. I spoke with a woman who kicked her sister out of the house for using meth for the 1,000th time. She loves her and hates her.
Should I go on, or are you depressed enough?
I want to speak to those who believe in Creator God for a moment. I believe God will remake this earth and give us a Forever Life that is mind-exploding. I know Jesus will never leave me. I am certain I am forgiven, loved and accepted because of what Jesus did for me.
But I also know this doesn’t change the things I’ve lost–or what you’ve lost. Some of those things are never coming back. Think about this. Did Job really get everything back at the end of the book? Yes, he was eventually blessed with twice as many possessions as he had before, but they weren’t the same possessions. It was now a different house. And knowing how his wife responded, it may have been a much different marriage than he had before. And certainly, his children didn’t come back. His dead children stayed dead. And though we are told the daughters of Job were the most beautiful in the land, the memory of his dead children would never have left him. There probably wasn’t a day that he didn’t long to hold one or more of them.
Don’t you see? Even though we have hope going forward, there are things that are gone forever. There are people we will never see again in this life. There are dead marriages that cannot come back to life. You can claim all the promises in the Word of God you want, but it won’t happen. I can assure you. That friend will probably never apologize to you. That lost opportunity is never coming back. You can’t go back in time and have dad un-abuse you. There are no “born-again virgins”. That ship has sailed. You can’t un-see the time dad hit your mother. You can’t un-remember the time Mom called you the filthiest name any human has called you. You can’t change the person you killed with your car after a night of drinking with your sorority sisters. Those things are gone.
If you walked out the door and abandoned your children, even if you go back, it will never be the same. If your laziness meant you could never go to college because you punted every year in high school, there is no going back and fixing that. You can apologize for sins and mistakes–and you should–but it won’t change them.
People have robbed our joy, lived their selfish goals out at our expense, crapped on our dreams, ruined our plans, lied to us, hurt us, mangled us, taken our possessions. And we will never get any of that back. Even the parents whose stolen children miraculously come back to them realize they didn’t actually get their children back. They find a sad facsimile of those kids, who spend all their lives trying to heal.
Why is all this important? If you’re not getting these things back, why are you holding onto them so tightly? What would happen if you let go of needing those things? The answer to that question is the answer to the rest of your life.
Jesus said it clearly, “He who seeks to preserve his life will lose it. The one who abandons his life will find it eternally”. What he means is this: If you pine away for all the lost things, you will never live today. If you have a bonfire of memories and throw in all the things you can’t have back, all of a sudden you begin to live again.”
Remember Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle?” He wasn’t living on that houseboat. He was simply existing. Even his 10 year old son knew that.
What would happen if today you let go of that which you can never get back? What would happen? If you have a gut answer to that question, then ask God for his perspective on it. God’s answer will set you free.
But for all of the garbage you have had to endure, you will never get those days and things back. You just won’t.

Phantom Affairs

Posted on June 10, 2016

phantomAuggie and Tami felt the emotional distance between them. They fought, made up, fought some more, made up less often, fought more vigorously, didn’t make up any more. They didn’t know what the other was angry about, but constantly replayed their own story of hurt in case anyone asked. No one did.

Tami filed for divorce first, but Auggie was willing too. They settled their legal differences amiably and spared the world the bother of having to listen to their public complaints. A year later and they legally didn’t have to contact each other for any reason.

Yet for some reason, they kept in close touch. They met for lunch and endlessly dissected the reasons why their marriage fell into the toilet. That’s when and why they came for counseling. They didn’t desire to resurrect their relationship, but they wanted me to do a post-mortem with them on the corpse that was their marriage.

After meeting three times, I discerned the basic reason for their marriage failure and I shared it with them. At first, they were both confused. Then they denied it was true. It was almost a year later Tami came back and admitted I was right. I don’t know if Auggie ever agreed with me.

Here was their problem. They both had someone else. They both had chosen another person over their partner.

Yet neither of them had a physical affair. Neither of them had met in clandestine circumstances to give their love to another person. But they had still chosen someone else. Once they began doing that, it was inevitable it would ruin their relationship.

We wrongly assume that affairs have to actually involve knowing and interacting with the other member of the tryst. Today, there are multiple warnings about emotional affairs, relationships between married people that do not result in sex. These can be devastating of course. As Laura Berman observes,

Emotional cheating (with an “office husband,” a chat room lover, or a newly appealing ex) steers clear of physical intimacy, but it does involve secrecy, deception, and therefore betrayal. People enmeshed in nonsexual affairs preserve their “deniability,” convincing themselves they don’t have to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong. If you think about it, it’s the breach of trust, more than the sex, that’s the most painful aspect of an affair and, I can tell you from my work as a psychiatrist, the most difficult to recover from.

However, neither Auggie nor Tami were enmeshed in emotional affairs. They did practice some of the alternative ways one can tie themselves to another person anonymously. Let me outline the most common ways this is done:

Old Flames: A healthy person continues to process their memories long after they have experienced the original event. This must be done to remain emotionally grounded. We need to understand what has taken place in our lives so we don’t develop the wrong ideas about our history. But when we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about past romances–and especially when we do this to replace time spent thinking about our spouse–we conclude that those days were better than these. The current troubles always pale in comparison with these idealistic memories.

Romantic Novels and Movies: One wouldn’t think you could form attachments with fictional characters, but psychology has proven that this is not only possible, but widespread. Yes, there are women who imagine themselves in the arena with Peeta, or men who see themselves as Danaerys’ companion. This explains the almost fanatical appeal of some fan-bases. This practice intrudes on a marriage when the spouse replaces their affection and admiration for their partner with the character they have obsessed upon. People can also imagine celebrities and read every article about them, taking time and mental energy away from their spouse and pouring it into a famous person.

Pornography: Most people assume porn is all about taking affection away from a spouse. Actually, that reason is not  as common as with the first two examples. Most men use porn as a mechanism to deal with relational pain, especially when they use porn to stimulate themselves.

But there are indeed some men and women who picture themselves with the people in the videos. This causes them to make constant mental comparisons between the porn stars and their partners. As I said, this is not the most common use of porn–it is most likely a pain manager–but it does exist. When a person uses porn to mentally replace their spouse, it can destroy a marriage.

Co-workers, neighbors and professional acquaintances: Throughout life, there are people who treat others well, affirm their value through words and deeds, and give  comfort to the emotionally distraught. A neglected or mistreated spouse will place great value on the person who is willing to give them these things.  Doctors, nurses, teachers, pastors,  therapists etc. all have to set careful and obvious boundaries so clients do not expect to have inappropriate relationships. But just because there are boundaries, the person receiving help can fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a deep intimate relationship with their help-giver. Perhaps neither party acts upon this and the two of them maintain a professional relationship. But the one person still wishes for a deeper bond. This also can be done with people at work, neighbors we have come to know more than casually, and family friends.

Horror stories are told of people who assumed someone else felt as strongly as they did in the relationship, only to find out the affection was completely one-sided. The mind has the ability to fill in both sides of the relationship, assuming the kind words and actions are proof of an intimate connection.

Auggie and Tami both had these phantom affairs and had maintained them for a long time. The upshot of this error is that every mistake their spouse made was compared to these phantom ideal people. In their minds, the phantoms would never have treated them this way.

In Auggie’s case, he obsessed about old girlfriends. Tami focused on a man who lived across the street who appeared to treat her with the respect she had always longed for from her husband. Neither of them sought out a romantic partner outside of their marriage, but the phantom partners provided the manure for all of their resentments to grow.

Strangely enough, a year after divorcing, Tami dated the man across the street. After the second date, she realized he was a jerk. Coming home that night, she cried over her lost marriage. She began to see how great a mistake she and Auggie had made.


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