15 Lessons My Saintly Lion Taming Ninja Warrior Wife Has Taught Me

Since we met in 1997 no one on earth has had a bigger impact on me than Jill Erin O’Hara. 

Seventeen short months later we were married. Life hasn’t been the same since that wonderful day, November 28, 1998. 

We’ve served together across the country and around the globe, lived in household with over 70 young adults, been blessed to be foster parents to 13 little ones, and honored to call 4 of them sons as adoptive parents. 

Jill is an unwieldy mash-up of wisdom, grit, beauty, holiness, athleticism, and awkward. I love her to pieces. 

She is my best friend and the greatest wife-mom-magician I’ll ever know. And in honor of Mother’s Day (and our fifteen years of marriage) I wanted to share the 15 most important lessons that I have learned from her, so far. 

1. Love acts. I can hear her thinking “Ryan, your words are nice, but actions speak much much louder. Do something already!”

2. Saving is sexy. She is one frugal son-of-a-gun. And I’m so grateful. 

3. Giving is sexier. She has taught me the joy and freedom of giving generously.

4. A hug is always better than a handshake. Hug and kiss the ones you love, often. 

5. Dare to do great things for God. From sharing the Gospel door-to-door to lifelong ministry to Christian community to foster care and adoption, Jill has challenged me out of my comfort zone. 

6. Ask God for small things too. God is aware of every last need - no matter how insignificant.

7. Fear is for fools. She is absolutely fearless and calls me on in this area big time.

8. Love unreciprocated is just that. She has taught me to love others (especially our sons) regardless of their response. 

9. Don’t over-relate to your emotions. She has taught me that emotions are unreliable indicators of most everything (except what you happen to be feeling at the moment).

10. What someone else thinks of you is their problem. She has taught me that people pleasing is for suckers.  Still working on this one

11. Worrying is a big waste of time.  Her question: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” always changes my perspective.

12. If you really want to do something, have the courage to be honest and talk about it. She has taught me not to be a passive aggressive punk. 

13. If you are in charge, be courageous enough to lead (or get out of the driver’s seat).  She has encouraged me to lead with confidence and trust the authority that’s been given to me

14. It’s better to go deep with a few friends than shallow with many. She is a friend’s friend.  She’ll give an arm and a leg to those she is closest too (me especially). 

15. People before screens. Our devices are a means to an end, not an end unto themselves. 

Which of these lessons do you need to heed? What lessons has your spouse taught you? Share in the comments section below. 


Answers Drool, Questions RULE! Three Virtues Motor Mouths Might Miss

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Recently I was driving my 12 year old son around and he was getting annoyed with my line of questions.

They weren’t rhetorical questions like: When are you going to grow up? or harassing ones like: When are you going to grow up?

Just simple, ‘help me understand what’s going on in your life kind of questions.’ School, friends, preferences, sports and the like.

This has been a recurring challenge, as my almost teenaged son holds many of my inquiries with much more suspicion than he used to.

I let the dust settle.

After a few minutes of quiet I broke the silence with “Do you know why I ask you questions?” He replied back “because you don’t know the answer?” I said, “that’s true, that’s the practical reason, but there’s more to it. I ask you questions because I love you.”

Asking good questions is a great way to demonstrate to anyone that you really care about them.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and it’s a one-way street heading right back to them. This can be really frustrating.

When the bible says “love one another” unfortunately it doesn’t then rattle off thousands of real-life examples. Much of the application of this verse is, in each and every moment, putting someone else’s needs before your own. In conversations with someone else, good questions can do just that.

I could be the exception, but I’m really blessed by the effort someone makes to ask a good question about my life. Assuming they want a real response from me, it is a very simple, practical way to be supportive as life bears down. It often helps me to uncover what’s really going on inside.  

Thinking of and asking good questions of people we care about (or even people we don’t too much like) is an exercise in virtue. We become better people when we do it. When I choose to ask and listen first and expect to talk second I grow in humility (putting others first, me second), empathy (imagining life from their perspective) and magnanimity (great hearted, generous, warm and welcoming).

Here’s a good cheat sheet to help you grow in humility, empathy, and magnanimity the next time you find yourself in conversation (like, say, tomorrow):

  1. Keep questions open-ended. Ask questions that can’t be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  A simple example would be “What do you like about your job?” versus “Do you like your job?” The first question keeps the conversation flowing the second one might not.
  2. Ask questions about what you’ve talked about before. The more you practice this the better you will become at remembering important events, milestones, concerns in peoples lives. This might raise the creepout factor for you, but I’ve been known to write things down from conversations I have with people to make sure I don’t forget the details of what they shared with me. I write it down because I care.
  3. Ask about what you don’t know, but would like to. What do you want to know about the person? It doesn’t have to go super deep. It can be anything from interests/hobbies/preferences to current trials/challenges all the way to hopes and dreams. Take your pick. Ask something open ended like this and you’ll be surprised at what might be stirred up right then, right there.

Has this been your experience? How has your life been impacted by good questions? What’s another virtue that comes by asking questions in conversation?


People Pleasers Rarely Lead Anyone Anywhere Worth Going.

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Most of my parenting in public is done for the sake of me not looking like a bad dad.  My reputation, not the reality of what’s best for my kids or preserving my relationship with them, takes center stage.

If my boys were old enough to pick up on this a conversation between two of them might go like this: Boy 1 says “What is dad freaking out about?” Boy 2 responds “Oh he is just worried about what those people over there think about him. It’s how he makes all of his parenting decisions when others are watching.”  

You’ve probably heard the saying “who you really are is on display when no one else is looking (or something like that).”

Well, who I *think* someone wants me to be is on display whenever that someone is looking.

What you think of me matters a lot, probably much more than it should.

Life sometimes feels like a performance, a competition even, to win the admiration and praise of any and all passersby. This is really dangerous place for me to be for sure, but it must also be a real headache for my sons who may not know that dad acts one way with them when no one’s watching and another when life is on display.   

I first learned that I was a people pleaser when someone asked me, about twenty years ago, “how do you define success?” I thought about it for a minute and responded honestly, but sheepishly: “making as many people as happy as possible.”  

The person who asked me the question smiled graciously and helped me to see that this approach to life might work for Barney (that purple dinosaur), but not for someone who wanted to earn the respect and trust of people he was called to lead through difficulty and challenge in his home, in the Church, and in the world.

There had to be another way forward.  

His suggestion was Mother Teresa’s famous line: “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.” This resonated with me as true, even desirable, but dearly held ideas (especially false ones) are not remade overnight. 

If I’m honest I’ve never gotten past the tendency to act first according to others expectations. Thankfully I have seen this motivation die some important little (and big) deaths over the years because of a few important lessons like the following: 

  1. People pleasers exchange short-term pain for long-term problems. While it might be comforting to avoid that difficult conversation in the moment the reality of any situation eventually shows up. My experience has been that problems often multiply, rather than subside, when avoided. What I am left with then is an even more cumbersome challenge later than when I began.

  2. The hard conversations others had with me changed my life. The most helpful talks that others have had with me were those conversations that a people pleaser would’ve avoided. Other men have confronted me regarding purity, being disorganized, even dressing down for Mass. When my own Dad challenged me to wake-up to the the fact that I was wasting life away in college on bad beer and bad relationships, the ‘contract’ he signed with me changed the direction that my life was headed.

  3. The truth sets everyone free. What I often benefit from least, as a people pleaser, is the freedom that the ‘truth’ brings. Rather than crushing others, it is the truth and reality of where things actually are that helps people move forward. Wouldn’t you rather know where you can grow and then choose to make a change, than persist passively and ignorantly in a less than optimal position? I sure know I would.

Do you consider yourself a people pleaser?  What truths and experiences have helped to move you away from this often unhelpful approach to life?