Love never fails…but I do

loveneverfailsHow many times have we heard it at a wedding ceremony?

Reread it during a sermon or a devotion?

Purchased a greeting card or a decoration adorned with it?

Love never fails. It is the culmination of the Bible’s love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

How many times have I really listened to it?

How many times have I understood its meaning?

How many times have I written it on my heart and applied it to my life?

~

This morning was another instance of a “Love Chapter Sermon.” I admit, at the start of it, I was listening in somewhat of a rote way, if that is possible to do. The speaker was engaging and the message was strong, but I didn’t feel like I needed to apply it. Life is fine. Marriage is strong. Kids are good. Friends are friends. Parents are called daily. I got the love thing covered.

And then I heard a particular point being stressed for a third or fourth time.

Love is not a feeling.

Feelings lie to us.

So this morning, when I had been trying fitfully to sleep since 2am, and my husband awoke me with a less than sympathetic attitude at 6am, I wasn’t feeling love. And when we disagreed about why our 7-year-old had been up since 2am and how to handle it, I wasn’t feeling love. And when she tried to talk me into a day off school, even though she’d spent the last two hours giggling on the couch while watching Zack & Cody, I was not feeling love.

But I had to show love anyway, because God put them in my life to cherish.

Some days, my love is shown in extravagant ways: heart shaped sandwiches, special outings, extra attention, complete selflessness. But most days, because we live in a busy, attention-dividing world, it’s much more mundane –

– the lunch is packed
– the kitchen in cleaned
– the homework is checked off
– the groceries are stocked
– the bus stop is manned

…even if I don’t feel like making my 12-zillionth peanut butter and jelly, and I do feel like leaving the dishes in the sink and the crumbs on the counter…even if I think the homework is unnecessary or we should just eat noodles for dinner all week…or I secretly wish everyone would just leave me alone for a day…

I wonder what Jesus felt like –

when His friends abandoned Him.
when His family doubted Him.
when His fellow rabbis chastised Him
when His followers forgot Him
when His brothers denied Him
when His father turned His back on Him

And yet…
He loved them all enough to die for them.

When I ignore Him, belittle Him, disobey Him, show Him ungratefulness, compromise Him – He loves me…enough to die for me.

Love is not a feeling.
And love is not what we read about in novels or see in movies.
Love is not even what we felt on our wedding day or when our children were first placed in our arms.

Love is God… and God NEVER fails!
I choose Him.

 

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Putting Love Where My Mouth Is

I have a parenting confession to make. I could probably ease into it a little to make us all more comfortable, but I’m just going to go ahead and write it.

I’m a yeller.

Now, let me clarify… I’m not the crabby-mom-in-Target kind of yeller. I’m more of a closet yeller. You know, the kind that is typically in control in public and maybe even for a decent part of the day, but as soon as the stresses start to pile up and the children act like—well, act like children—the frustration continues to build until finally I blow. And let me tell you, ladies, it isn’t pretty.

Listen, I know we all have those days, and we all yell at some point. I also think discipline is important. But I also know that there needs to be a balance, and, lately, there is not a lot of balance around here…just a lot of harsh words and a whole lot of regrets.

I honestly don’t remember when and how I got here. I distinctly remember my 30-year-old self patiently explaining to my 3-year-old Emma why we must brush our teeth as she kicked and screamed and spit toothpaste in my face. I even remember my Mom, whom we were living with at the time, telling me how impressed she was that I managed to keep it together.

But that was five years and two kids ago. Somewhere in the middle of nursing baby #2 and putting toddler clothes on baby #3, the volume got turned up, the filter got turned down, and the tone was set at “crabby” and “annoyed.”

The truth is, behind our closed doors, I often hate the sound of my own voice. It is a voice I would never use in pubic and yet it is a voice that is starting to set the tone of this household. I hate that even more.

So why I am telling you this—one of my most shameful parenting struggles?

Because I want to change. And maybe you do, too.

I recently read this sobering parenting article from The Wall Street Journal, and let me tell you, for days I felt like someone punched me in the stomach. Every word felt way too close to home—way too close to our home. My heart ached as I thought about the effects my behavior was having on my girls…

on an 8-year-old trying to develop her self confidence…
on a 6-year-old who deeply desires words of affirmation…
on a 3-year-old who “corrects” her big sisters in a voice that is all too familiar…

My mouth—the one that has uttered thousands of I love yous and endlessly kissed chubby cherub cheeks—had somehow become an agent of shame, a bully of sorts, tearing down the very ones I wanted to protect from this harsh world. My home—a place that should feel safe and full of love—had somehow become a battleground, a place where only the loudest one is heard, ripping apart the very threads of the relationships I treasure more than anything else on this earth.

As the reality of this all hit me, the guilt crushing my spirit, I pleaded with God for help. I knew I needed to change—for real this time—and so instead of running to my usual parenting blogs, the piles of books on my nightstand, or even the advice of family and friends, I went straight to the Source of Love Himself.

He gently brought the following verse to my mind—a verse I have heard hundreds of times and had read at my wedding—yet this time, it was living and breathing and making a change in the depths of my soul:1_corinthians_13

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

As I sat in His presence, I couldn’t help but think, Love? Is it really that simple? It can’t possibly be that simple.

And then I realized, yes…yes, it is.

Love is patient…even to the child who is begging to write out her Valentine’s Day cards as you are trying to get dinner on the table.

Love is kind…even to the child who wants wear the same pair of jeans on ALL OF THE DAYS.

It does not dishonor others…even when a child makes a poor choice in front of her siblings.

It keeps no record of wrongs…even when that child continues to make that same poor choice over and over (and over) again.

This, He was reminding me, is what love should look like. In the midst of the everyday stresses of this life, I had forgotten the most basic parenting job I had—to love them the way He loves them. The way He loves me.

I realized that for the last few years, I have been using my hands to love my girls, something that happens naturally when you make meals, zip up coats, tuck covers in tight, and wipe away tears. But the more I loved them with my hands, the more I forgot to love them with my mouth and, instead, I used words as an outlet for all of the exhaustion, all of the worries, all of the stress. It is a very human thing to do, I know, but that doesn’t make it right. We are called to love after all…with our hands and our words.

I can honestly say that since this realization, the tone has started to shift around here. I have been using some of the strategies suggested in that WSJ article — and they are helping me stay on track — but I know the real difference started with a fundamental change in my heart and in my priorities. God has gently reminded me that my job first and foremost is to show my kids what love looks like, but just as importantly, I need to show them what it sounds like. Yes, I want my girls to see Jesus through me, but I want them to hear Him, too.

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When you already have a room

For every person who has ever told my husband Rod and me, during some polite PDAing, to get a room or something to that effect, I can only say this:

You want a happy union? LOVE each other.
You’re not receiving love? GIVE it…and TALK about it.
You don’t ‘feel‘ the love? CHOOSE it.

Rod is my best friend. I always want to talk to him. I always want to be with him. This doesn’t mean I don’t greatly emphasize and enjoy other relationships in my life, but it does mean that ours comes first. Always, and even before our kids (obviously not before God).

We still hold hands in the car. We still say ‘I love you’ on the phone, maybe more than once. We still talk several times a day on the days we aren’t together. We intentionally seek to make the other laugh, to show affection, and to Get IN the Room we already have.

You can’t ignore a relationship or take a person for granted and expect that relationship to flourish.

~
Recently, I was talking to a friend at the beginning of a serious relationship. It still feels odd to be the one giving advice, but I realized that I have a lot of experiences to draw on at this point. I mean, we do have it together, mostly, but there is always room for improvement. There are nights we don’t kiss before drifting off to sleep. There are days we say ugly things to each other. There are weeks when we just can’t seem to connect.

But we always want to be together. And it’s good to get some more tools in our arsenal to assist us during hard times,

A few years ago, I ran across a list – one of those, I know, that highlights wonderful ideas on how to love your husband. I’ve linked it here, but I am also adding:

loveyourhusband
1. Meet his physical needs. This doesn’t make you a slave, but it does make you an obedient Christian woman and a good wife. (and by the way, it doesn’t have to be a chore…) I recommend rekindling a love for kissing. I read an article in my beloved Good Housekeeping a few years ago that suggested kissing good night for no less than 6 seconds. Try it. Seriously.

2. Look your best. Chances are he doesn’t care that you don’t look how you looked on your honeymoon, or before the pregnancies. But he does notice if you wear something flattering, put on some lipstick, and smile because you feel good about yourself.

3. Do not trash him to your friends (in person or on social media) or disrespect him in front of your children. Sometimes I am guilty of interrupting him when he corrects the kids. Sometimes we have different opinions on how to discipline them. I need to wait… thereby showing my kids to respect their father and authority in general.

4. Do something he likes to do, or listen to him talk about it. Ask me about Big Blue basketball.

5. Listen to him. Granted, most guys don’t want or need to talk as much as we do, so when he is stuck on a subject, even if it’s one that bores you (bus engines, politics), incites you (some politics), or grosses you out, listen. He is talking to you because he trusts and values you. Stop what you’re doing, tell the kids to wait, look him in the eye, and support him with your attention.

6. Pray with him. For no reason other than ADD, or perhaps laziness, this is a tough one for us. It’s not that we’re unwilling to pray together; it’s just that we don’t take the time to do it.

7. Dream with him. When our kids are grown, I’d like to move to Europe for a year and write. I would also like to drive across the U.S., ending my trip at the Muir National Park in California. We’d maybe like to “retire” to Orlando and work at a theme park. I can’t imagine doing this without him, and I don’t want to.

I’m not a marriage expert, but I am an expert on my marriage. Next month we will celebrate eleven glorious years of a marriage that statistics, common sense, and at least half the people we knew said would never make it. The only reasons we have made it are because God, in His amazing grace, blessed us, and because we are extremely careful to take care of our marriage. I’ll spend the rest of my life being grateful, and passing on what I’ve learned.

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