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It was reported this week that Jennifer Aniston’s beauty routine costs an estimated $12,000 a month.

Her beauty habits, which include hair-care, skin-care, eyebrow-care, makeup, spray tans, nutrition, and exercise training — run a steep $11,933.97 per month.  That totals $141,037.97 each year.

It was interesting to read how many people lavished approval and praise on the story.  They affirmed her determination and stamina in pursuing a youthful figure.  As a Hollywood actress, she has to stay fit, look young, and eat right.  That is the only way that one can ultimately get the right role in a million dollar movie.  Many compared it to a gym membership for a firefighter.  It’s the price of doing business.  It’s necessary for this line of work.  You expect a firefighter to be strong in order to rescue people from burning buildings.  So, you should expect a movie star to look her best for a role.

As a Christian, I’d like to suggest another way to view the story.  God does not care what you look like on the outside.  It doesn’t matter one little bit.  God places greater priority on our heart, our thoughts, and our actions.  Beauty is determined on the inside.

Jesus directly addresses the issue with a group of Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-28.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus knew that the Pharisees were playing a game.  On the outside, they appeared pretty good to the crowds of people.  But in reality, their hearts and actions showed a very different person.  Jesus exposed the truth about this group.  You can wash the outside of a dish, but the inside is still dirty.  The same is true today.

While our society and Hollywood may only focus on the external appearance of a person, beauty is truly from within.  In a world where teenagers are getting plastic surgery to improve their looks, we have a responsibility to teach people where beauty truly resides.  God wants us to focus on the inside.  We need to share a different perspective on beauty, one that honors God.

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I am often reminded of my mother in the spring.  She loves to be outdoors gardening and tending to the fruit trees on our family farm.  Each March she would take the kids out to the orchard as she pruned the apple trees.  Our job was to pick up the fallen branches and move them to the burn pile.

As a child, part of this was concerning.  Doesn’t this process hurt the tree?  Why would you snip off branches if you want to get more apples?  Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?  Surely more branches would equal more apples.  It turns out that mother did know best, at least when it comes to apple trees.

Wild trees have strange branch angles that cause limb breaks.  This in turn reduces the number of apples and ultimately reduces the life of the tree.  If apple trees are left fallow, you may only get a bushel of apples every ten years.  And that is bad news if you enjoy apple pie like my family.  If you prune apple trees, they yield more apples, provide apples at an earlier age, and live longer.  It turns out that pruning allows the tree to develop a strong branch framework that will support fruit production.

I fell into the same trap of wrong thinking after my deployment to Iraq.  It was difficult to find the off button and relax.  More time with my friends would help my transition home.  More time at work would help my military career.  More hobbies would help me relax.  More somehow looked better than taking time to prune away the unnecessary distractions in my life and in turn be more fruitful.

Many people fall into the same way of thinking.  “I need to have more.”  “More is better.”  “Bigger is better.”  Perhaps a little pruning will do the trick.  Just make sure that God has the pruning shears.

John 15 reminds us that, Jesus is “the true vine” and His followers are the branches.  These branches are already productive, but God occasionally prunes them back so that they can “bear more fruit.”  While pruning may seem wrong to our earthly eyes, it is the best thing that could ever happen.

Remember that more branches will not equal more apples.  Allow God to shape you into a better fruit producing machine.  Continue to abide in Christ and enjoy the season of life that He brings.

 

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My last deployment was very unique.  The mission was conducted by a combined joint task force.  That title may seem complicated on the surface, but it’s easy to explain.  Everyone worked together.  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.  Every Army Soldier.  Every Navy Sailor.  Every Air Force Airman.  And every Marine.  Everyone also included multiple armies from across the globe.  Allies like the British, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and several others comprised the task force.

There were several ways to tell that the task force was different.  You could walk into the mess hall for lunch and see a rainbow of different uniforms.  You could separate the green Army uniforms from the blue Navy uniforms pretty easily.  You could also separate the white dress uniforms of the Japanese Navy from the green French Navy uniforms.  Conversations were another way to show our differences.  The Navy chief from Alabama or the Army Sergeant from Missouri, they each spoke in a different way.  So did our allies.

The book of Revelation shares an interesting phrase when it refers to heaven.  The phrase is repeated in several areas like 5:9, 7:9-10, 11:9, 13:7, and 14:6.  We hear that the assembly is comprised of “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.”  A message like this is repeated several times to get our attention, but also for the simple fact that it is true.

Anyone and everyone can be saved.  That was the radical message of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah.  It was also the loving message of Jesus Christ.  The promise is found in Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  That is an incredible promise.  It says that no one is beyond redemption in Christ.  It says that God cares for me and the African orphan.  It says that everyone is welcome through Jesus.

A mess hall full of people who wear different uniforms and speak different languages can be a great reminder of heaven.  But the real take away is that God loves everyone and they are all invited to make heaven their home.

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No one can deny that Valentine’s Day is almost here.  You can glance at the calendar, hear a commercial on the radio, or you could just walk through any store for a reminder.  The chocolates, Valentine Day cards, cupid figurines, plush animals, and fragrances are everywhere.

I am often conflicted by Valentine’s Day and the message that it sends.  Perhaps you are in the same boat.

A part of me wants to believe that it is a great reminder for couples to show love and affection toward each other.  Husbands and wives will separate themselves from busy schedules and spend time to reconnect as a couple.  Soldiers and spouses will find a way to share their love and devotion even though they are several time zones apart.  Or that our society will look at the calendar and try to improve the day by practicing compassion to family, friends, and neighbors.

The other part of me feels that love is much more than flowers and a box of chocolates.  Unfortunately, the commercial nature of February 14th does more to cheapen true love than to enhance it.  Do our actions and expectations say that mandatory gifts equal affection?  If so, then we turn love into some kind of transaction or mathematical formula.

Love is certainly bigger than Valentine’s Day.  Love is larger than one day on the calendar.  In fact, it is best found in the Bible.

Jesus loved the rich young ruler even though he walked away in disappointment.  Jesus loved the woman at the well.  A lady so ostracized, she wasn’t allowed to gather water in the cool of the day.  Jesus loved tax collectors, cheats, and swindlers.  He loved children, lepers, and blind men.  In short, Jesus loved the unlovable.  He showed compassion to people who didn’t “deserve” His attention.  He demonstrated a perfect love where no gifts or dinners were required.  This love cannot be bought, only accepted as a free gift of grace.

No matter how you view Valentine’s Day, let us remember that love is much more than flowers and a box of chocolates.  Let us also remember how perfect love has been demonstrated by our Lord Jesus.  May His example guide us to show the perfect love of heaven here on earth.

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Military families and military couples frequently ask how they should reconnect once a deployment is finished.  Families and veterans should keep these five stages in mind.

Preparation.  Service members and families make plans for the return home.  Service members are still deployed, but folks begin to talk about their expectations and wants when they are reunited.  What do you want to eat at home?  Do you want a family get together in the back yard?  Can we take a cruise or take the kids to Disneyland?  Discussions focus on your return home and immediate plans.

Honeymoon.  This is just after the homecoming ceremony when your commander yells, “dismissed”.  The beautiful beginning starts when you get to hug and smooch on your loved ones who were waving signs and flags just minutes earlier.  This is the period when everything is right and perfect in the world.  Service members will go home, kick their feet up, and get some rest.  Relatives and friends are just happy to have their veteran home.  Couples frequently ask family to watch the kids so that they can have a romantic get away the first or second week home.  The honeymoon period can last days, weeks, and hopefully even longer.

Disruption.  This is when challenges starts to appear for families.  Arguments take place and voices start to get louder around the house.  Kids may challenge the order and rules that existed during the deployment because your warrior is back.  They may attempt to divide parents and get what they want instead of following the rules.  Arguments take place over new roles in the home.  The niceness and special attention that couples gave each other during the honeymoon period is now in short supply.  The veteran may be asked to perform an increasing amount of chores and tasks that weren’t important two weeks ago.  There is little or no tolerance in allowing your service member to sleep in each morning.  It’s time to get back to business.

Adjustment.  This is the time when you establish new roles, responsibilities, and goals.  Dad may not know about Friday evening walks at the lake, because this tradition started during the deployment.  Who will pick up the kids from school now that Mom is back?  The kids didn’t help fix dinner before the deployment, but it has been the norm for a year.  Will they continue to prepare meals?  Who will make sure that the kids finished their homework?  Who will tuck the children in bed?  All of these tasks were known during the deployment, but veterans may need to relearn, share, or change some household roles.

New Normal.  This is when changes are still being negotiated and are slowly becoming patterns.  The roles may not be the same as before the separation, but the military family is back in action.  Remember that every deployment is different and the time to adjust will vary also.  Your first deployment was different from your second.  Try not to compare the reunions with each other.

Again, every military couple and family will adjust to reunions in a different way.  But keep these stages in mind when warriors come home.  Soldiers should take the time to rest and relax from that long combat tour.  Don’t sell your leave.  Take it and enjoy the down time at home.  Couples should rekindle the romance that stood the test of time.  Try to catch a Strong Bonds marriage retreat.  And kids deserve some quality time with their warrior as well.  Make each moment count now that your warrior is home.

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I want to share some veteran resources that continue to strengthen both soldier and spouse.

The Combat Trauma Healing Manual is a great book for individual reading or a small group setting.  The author, Chris Adsit, brings out Christ-centered solutions for combat trauma.  He is practical and telling in his approach. While many authors may simplify PTSD solutions to coping strategies, changing behaviors, and cognitive therapy, Adsit shares that more is available.  God wants to bring about restoration, stability, and healing.

I feel that this book is written with an attitude of gratefulness for veterans and a desire to bring peace to military homes.  It gives an appropriate spiritual approach that veterans need to hear.

This is the companion book for military spouses.  It is written with the same amount of care and concern.  Each time that a warrior comes home, the time and type of reunion is different.  One constant is the spiritual comfort that God can provide to military families.

PTSD will complicate how couples reintegrate at home, but military spouses will find stories, suggestions, and learn how to deal with new situations.  The book is also wrapped with advice from the medical and counseling community that is extremely helpful.  The personal stories and recommendations make this book worthwhile for both veterans and spouses.

You can find both books and additional information at http://www.militaryministry.org/.

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Marriage is difficult.  Few people would argue with that statement.  The divorce rate in America is near 50%.   People spend more time preparing for job interviews than a life-long commitment.  People spend more time at work than at home with their families.  Our culture encourages sexual images on television, cohabitation, and ignoring our marriage vows.  It’s easy to see all of these factors and feel like the deck is stacked against couples staying together.  Now consider the additional difficulty of living in a military marriage.   Your spouse is frequently deployed, gone on training missions, or working long into the night.

Military marriages require devotion and work to succeed.  You can help turn the tide by strengthening your marriage.  Take time to reconnect after a deployment.  Take time to focus on one another.  Take time to get away and renew the love you have for each other.

Toward the end of my first deployment, my wife suggested that we attend a marriage retreat.  I didn’t know how to take the suggestion at first.  My boots had not even left the sand box and she wanted to work on our relationship!  It turned out that her idea was just a suggestion on making our marriage better.  It was not implying that something was broken or jacked up beyond repair.  In fact, it was a great idea.  We attended a faith-based “Festival of Marriage” event and we learned some new ways to improve our marriage.  Anytime a military couple makes the effort to improve their relationship, they are on the right track.

Attorneys, doctors, social workers, and yes, even chaplains, are required to get a set number of continuing education hours each year.  This is encouraged to keep professionals current on the latest ways of helping their clients.  We should show the same devotion to stay current in our marriages.

Take time to attend conferences, presentations, marriage retreats, and faith-based marriage enrichment workshops.  Any nugget of knowledge that you find may help your marriage or allow you to encourage another military couple.

One upcoming event is focused on sexual purity.  Feel free to check out Men of Valor, Women of Virtue, or Youth 4 Truth at http://afa-ksmo.net

Know that military chaplains also offer Strong Bond events for married couples and single soldier events.  You can find a military marriage retreat near you at http://www.strongbonds.org

Find a way to strengthen your military marriage today.

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Veterans have unique issues that can easily overwhelm family and friends.  We often avoid sharing stories to shield our loved ones from ugly events that happened down range.  Sometimes we fear sharing our experiences because we need to appear strong and reliable.  Other times we just want to bottle up our emotions or forget bad memories from a deployment.

Great healing can take place when we share our stories with the right person.  The specific battlefield, combat zone, or country doesn’t really matter.  Finding the right person who will understand you and your situation does matter.  It can make the difference between seeking help or just marking time.  Veterans can now find that reliable battle buddy who also walked in your combat boots.

Vets 4 Warriors is a recently created peer support hotline.  It allows veterans to connect with fellow veterans, no matter where you may live.  Every single peer counselor is a veteran.  The beauty in this approach is allowing Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to connect and find understanding through each other.  The hotline is available 24 hours a day, toll free, and confidential.  Community resources vary across the nation, but this program is worth sharing.

You or a veteran you know can contact Vets 4 Warriors at 1-855-VET-TALK (1-855-838-8255) or by viewing http://www.vets4warriors.com.

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Christmas gifts and cards have long been a part of celebrating our Lord’s birth.  Even though Christmas is just a few days away, you can still share the celebration with a deployed servicemember.  Share the season of Jesus by sending an e-card to a veteran’s inbox.  There are multiple websites that make it easy for families and friends to connect.  Find one that is right for you and your loved one downrange.

Holidays are always tough when you’re deployed.  I’ve spent two Christmas holidays downrange.  Each one was difficult.  Reminders from home make a huge difference while deployed.  Take time today and send a Christmas reminder to that Soldier, Airman, Sailor, or Marine who couldn’t be home.  Share to remind them that they matter.  Share to remind them that they are not alone.  Share to remind them about the birth of Jesus, God’s perfect gift to us.

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Life is difficult for military families.  There will be a time when your loved one is called to duty away from home.  Active duty missions come in different shapes and sizes.  They may be for long training exercises that have been on the calendar for a year, an immediate call up to provide support during a natural disaster in another state, or even a deployment on the other side of the globe.  In every case, it means your service member will be gone.  Here are some tips on how you and your family can weather the storm.

Surround yourself with positive friends.  Job just isn’t another book in the Old Testament.  It shows the importance of how we deal with adversity and the power of good friends.  While Job had friends, they were not heavenly focused, nor did they give good advice.  We all need friends who will give support and encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  While it will be tempting to isolate yourself at home, get out of the house and make time to fellowship.

Create or keep a routine.  Do you have time for that new swimming class?  Are you interested in becoming a volunteer?  It’s okay to add a couple of fun items on your calendar.  Just know your boundaries and stick to your schedule.  Don’t let a deployment disrupt the rhythm of your family.  Maintain your devotion time, morning or night.  Keep the patterns that worked well prior to the deployment.  If you had a family game night on Thursday, then keep it on the calendar even if Dad is gone.  The kids also need that stability and steadiness of a routine.

Stay within the family budget.  Deployments may cause a jump in your income.  Extra money in the checking account is a blessing, but don’t yield to the spending bug.  Talk with your service member about the new income level.  Make a spending or saving plan that will honor God and your family.  Focus on your priorities.  Can you support a local homeless shelter?  Can you pay off the second mortgage or a credit card bill?  Will you need to save for a new vehicle?  Perhaps to want a romantic getaway once the deployment is finished.  Will the funds be available?  Discuss your options as a couple and stick with your plan.

Join or start a Bible study.  You have a great opportunity to strengthen your faith during this deployment.  Is there a topic that you’ve always wanted to study?  Is there a book of the Bible you just can’t make time to read?  You are not alone.  We all have questions regarding God’s Holy Word, so connect with a group of believers and dig in.  Depending on the group you join, this can be another way to connect with military spouses and family members.  Find a church or organization that offers Bible studies to military families as a specific ministry.  They are available.  Some even provide meals and child care.

Decide to strengthen your marriage.  Yes, deployments create long-distance relationships, but you can still connect with your spouse.  Have a communication plan with your spouse prior to departure or once he/she arrives at the new duty station.  Can you communicate once a day or once a week?  What time of day will you communicate?  If you are eight time zones apart, try to respect sleep schedules at home and overseas.  Webcams and video chatting make it easy to see and talk with your loved one while overseas.  These options are not available in every overseas location, but utilize the technology that will work on both sides.  Don’t forget to write either.  Nothing is like getting a letter from home during a long deployment.  It’s a keepsake that service members treasure and can carry in their uniform for frequent reminders of home.

There is no such thing as an easy deployment, but military families can utilize these self care suggestions while your loved one is gone.  Continue to pray for one another and model the love of Christ at home and abroad.

 

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