Tuesday, February 2, 2010

On books, relationships, and keepin' it real.


That's the number of books I found in, on and around our nightstands while I was cleaning the master bedroom the other day.

Fourteen! And any sane person who looked at all those titles would probably come to the conclusion that someone in this house is a total wreck.

I admit it. I am a sucker for self-improvement books. I devour books that have anything to do with struggles I am facing, or books that encourage me along a path I have chosen. Why reinvent the wheel? If someone else in this world has faced the same issues I am facing at any given time and they have managed to come out alive and stronger on the other side - and then wrote a book about it - I am happy to glean inspiration and ideas from them.

The biggest struggle for me lately is being apart from the love of my life while he is working in another state. I know it is a struggle for him, too. So what did I do? I bought him a book. Heh. OK, I actually bought it for him a couple years ago when he first started working away from home again. I had heard the authors speaking on a radio program and I liked their philosophy on how to handle oneself and protect those important family relationships when traveling for business.

(Uh, yeah, I found the book on the nightstand nearly two years later, with Steve's bookmark stuck in the page where he stopped reading. And he hadn't even gotten to the good stuff. Hmph.)

Well, this week I picked up that book to read it myself. Maybe gain a little perspective. Road Warrior: How to keep your faith, relationships, and integrity when away from home has a pretty strong underlying theme: traveling for work gets mighty lonely. Authors Stephen Arterburn and Sam Gallucci know this from experience.

Now, I'm not going to give you a full review of the book, but I will say it ranks pretty high on my Cheez-o-meter. Self-help books tend to do that because everyone who has a story to tell isn't necessarily a good storyteller. That said, Arterburn and Gallucci offer some pretty solid Christ-centered advice on how to protect your heart and your behavior to keep your integrity and your relationships intact while on the road. I'll give an overview.

First, it is important to remember that all of a road warrior's strengths and weaknesses travel with them - always - and that there is some serious potential for personal temptation when away from home. To ward off those temptations, the authors suggest using internal and external "filters". External filters are the things you do on the outside to protect yourself. The best tip, they say, is to look away (or walk away) from anything that does not belong inside your head or heart. Take pictures of your family with you and display them in your hotel room. Travel with your spouse when possible. Keep a rigorous contact schedule with your family while away. Bunk with a friend. If you find yourself in a work situation alone with someone of the opposite sex, speak of your spouse often (and appropriately) to keep an emotional distance between you and your coworker or customer. Internal filters are what a road warrior sets up to actively and consciously develop long-term memories (by being present at key events in their loved ones' lives), purpose (to be known for something other than the job they do), and relationships (because these are what long-term memories and life's purpose spring from).

They list five key relationships that are important to nurture: God for strength, spouse for intimacy, children for development, friends for accountability, and yourself for balance. Each of these relationships needs special care and attention on a daily basis. Each of them adds something unique to a road warrior's life that he or she needs, but cannot find in a hotel room or an airport lounge. The book goes into much more detail. It's a decent book and one that can be useful for either party - the road warrior or the spouse at home.

Here's how it all translates in the Pipe Life household:
  1. Remember the vows you took in front of God and everybody. They are serious business.
  2. Don't do anything you wouldn't be proud of in the morning; always keep your guard up.
  3. Call home, e-mail home, think of home, and above all come home every chance you get.
  4. Stay in contact with your friends, too. They love you and care about your well being and will keep you accountable.
  5. Keep it real. You might be a hero to your spouse and children, but you are not a rock star.
Having a spouse working away from home or frequently traveling for work is not for everyone. I have seen the devastation it can cause in marriages and families, but I have also seen how relationships can be rebuilt and healed after that devastation. It takes infinite amounts of trust and faith, lots of communication and strength of character for a family to make a go of this lifestyle and remain happy and fulfilled. It certainly is not without its difficulties, and I think we all have our moments when we wonder what the heck we've gotten ourselves into. But in the long run we are blessed with the opportunity to teach our children some pretty valuable life lessons about relationships and communication and sacrifice. Which is good, because I'll take teachable moments over being a rock star any day.