Two Gifts to Give Before Valentine’s Day

IMG_0547It was summertime. The car was suffocating, but it wasn’t because of the heat. It was because neither of us were talking. If we hadn’t had 3 kids in the car making their own racket, the silence would have been deafening.

The day had started out as a lovely idea—a late afternoon trip to Harper’s Ferry. We’d show the kids where William & Clark laid in supplies for their famous journey; we’d sit out on a patio somewhere and enjoy dinner in the late summer air; and later, we’d walk down to where the rivers meet. But like so many lovely ideas that begin so well in our imaginations, it had ended with us grumpy, irritated, hurt, and frustrated.

It was a series of little things: whiny children, overpriced food, a closed museum, pet peeves, unmet expectations and it culminated in a moment where we both felt the other had woefully missed the mark. It was a narrow sidewalk with cars passing. There was a couple kissing in the sidewalk and a lady taking pictures, apparently an engagement photo shoot. I was trying to keep the kids from stepping out into the road. He thought I was being rude to the couple in their special moment. I thought the smooching couple (who had been there for at least 30 minutes trying to capture the perfect on camera smooch) was being inconsiderate of a pregnant woman trying to keep two kids from oncoming traffic (albeit very slow traffic) and a dad with a baby in a stroller. My husband called my name in an exasperated and embarrassed voice. And I felt like crawling under a rock and dying right there I was so embarrassed. He felt frustrated and embarrassed by how inconsiderate I was being. At that moment, I thought he considered someone else’s bride more important than his own.

Petty. Small stuff. Stuff that looms enormously large at the moment, in the raw emotion of the moment, but which even a few days or months later just seems insufferably inconsequential.

But it’s what we do with this kind of thing that makes marriages either crumble or grow stronger. Do we stuff it down? Do we put on a civil face but inside fume and fester? Do we burrow down in our own little bitterness hideout? Do we bring it up? Snap it in one another’s faces at the most inappropriate times? Do we add it to a list, a list which will come out to hurt and haunt the other at just the worst time or a list which we mull over again and again in a growing pleasure of discontent? Do you see?

What do you do with this kind of stuff?

Before I got married, I took a trip to the tiny country of Rwanda. In a country, hardly bigger than Maryland, in 100 days, close to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutu were killed. I went to interview these brave survivors, to hear their stories and to hear how people who had lost children, parents, a husband or a wife were now radically forgiving those who had hurt them. I heard how former enemies were now caring for one another, helping one another, rebuilding their lives.

Now fast-forward 8 summers later. And there you’ll find me—uncomfortably silent, seriously having trouble forgiving my husband for wanting me to move a few inches over out of consideration for someone else on such a special day. Um hello? Yes, I am this petty. I get caught up in my own self, in my own thoughts, in my own agenda.

But I’m glad that I began my marriage with writing a book about radical forgiveness. Even though it doesn’t keep me from stupid misunderstandings and hurt feelings and unkind words I wish I hadn’t said. It does often harken me back to reality. It makes me say:

“Can we talk about what just happened back there? I want to tell you how it made me feel…”

It’s tough sometimes to swallow your hurt and anger and frustration enough to open up this kind of conversation. But if you can, and if you can really listen, often you’ll discover you didn’t have the whole picture. Often you’ll discover a way to have compassion for each other, a way to have empathy for one another. And perhaps, you’ll find it in your heart for what comes next.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t seeing things from that angle.”

“I’m sorry. I would never, ever want to make you feel that way.”

It leads to me taking the time to get my heart to a place of true forgiveness because I know just how much it matters. It leads to words of forgiveness. It leads to burying the matter in the past and moving ahead together.

Because here’s the thing, when we keep that list—the one where we keep track of the wrongs against us—pretty soon we only see our loved one through the hazy lens of that list. Pretty soon, no matter how hard your spouse is trying or what good things are also happening, every moment is seen through the tainted focus of the list of disappointments and wrongs. And when we stuff it down and can’t talk about the hard stuff, we don’t get to enjoy the intimacy of knowing another better, of loving another with a more intricate knowledge, of discovering empathy.

So, before you get to this Valentine’s Day. Could you do yourself and your spouse a favor? If you’ve been keeping a list, or keeping score, or burrowing with the hurt, could you deal with it?

Here are two gifts I recommend that we all could give:

In every relationship—be it marriage or friendship or parent-child, we will all play both the part of the offended and the offender. Two little words—“I’m sorry”– wrapped ever so carefully, ever so sincerely, these words can begin a trajectory of restoration. They can begin a conversation of healing.

Three words can be given as a gift even before they are spoken. “I forgive you.” True forgiveness—sincere forgiveness–not only is the key to unlock our own prisons of bitterness, but it is also a gift that can change someone else’s heart. It can start to work its miracle before a cold heart has even acknowledged a wrong. Forgiveness thaws. And once that thaw begins… winter’s grip is never again so strong.

So, I’ve taken a moment to be vulnerable with you. Would you take a moment to be vulnerable before God? Would you be honest with the ways you’ve been petty? Would you be honest with the things you aren’t forgiving? Would you be honest with the ways you’ve wronged the one you love?

Flowers, dinners out, chocolates, or cards mean little if there is an unhealthy relationship just below the surface. Why not give some better gifts this Valentine’s Day? Before you speak a word to your spouse, talk to God about these gifts. Ask God to show you how you’ve wronged the one you love and ask God to give you the grace to forgive the ways in which you’ve been wronged. Ask Him to help you to turn conflict into opportunities for growth and intimacy. And then ask Him what next. Chances are this gift won’t be quite as easy as flowers and candy, but there’s a guarantee that it will be sweeter.

 

(By the way, just in case you were wondering, my husband was in 100% agreement with me sharing this post. He’s awesome like that. ) 

And if you’re new here, I’d love for you to find a friend here in this little corner of cyberspace. I’m reaching out trying to encourage myself and others to live a deep and fearless faith. Hard things like forgiveness are part of it. Radical things like joy are too. Sign up to have these posts delivered to your inbox or follow me on Facebook. I’d love to walk this journey with you.

Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

momfail

The other day I lost it with my child. I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich my four year-old was resolutely refusing to eat. Yes, you read that right: I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich. He was hungry; I was angry. Both of us were firmly sticking to our guns (like mother, like son—stubborn is as stubborn does). I felt justified. After all, it wasn’t like I was asking him to eat pickled herring or creamed brussel sprouts on toast. This was a simple and standard lunch, enjoyed easily enough by children all across America. Why could he not put an end to both of our miseries and eat the blasted sandwich! For the record, I didn’t curse, but  I did huff and puff and blow a few cabinet doors closed as I glared at him across the kitchen. He cried. I felt horrible. In the end, he went to bed at naptime with sandwich still untouched. I was left with a plate piled high with frustration and a heaping side of guilt.

It took me longer than it should have, but later I pulled him aside and apologized. I asked his forgiveness and he freely offered it. He sealed the solemn moment with a kiss, a tender mercy I didn’t deserve, an unexpected grace to a faltering parent.

Friend, it’s hard for me to be this vulnerable with you. But I want you to know that sometimes I fail my children miserably. And I want you to know this because I know you do too. All of us do. And the more honest we can be with our own shortcomings, the better we will be able to lead our children. Here’s why: Our children need leaders who can sympathize with them in their weakness. Our children need leaders who can call their own selfishness, pettiness, discontentment, control-freakishness, and pride by name and who more than that are willing to wage war with it just like we are asking them to do.

Do we look from on high commanding our children to share, return good for evil, consider the needs of others, not complain or argue and yet not admit to them that we struggle to do right in all these areas as well? Which of these would inspire you to follow: “For the last time, Noah, share the crayons with your brother! Can’t you do anything I ask you to do?” Or if a mother took you aside and in confidence said, “Noah, I know it’s hard to let your brother have some of your favorite crayons. Even though God gives me plenty, I often don’t act like what I have is enough either. But when I give to others and see the joy it gives them, it makes me realize that doing the hard thing is worth it.” The mother might even offer to pray with him and ask God to help him choose the hard, but right thing.

Let’s take it for granted that neither of these comments may elicit the desired result (after all, our children are born with free and vibrant wills of their own; they are not robots that we can control with the right words). But even so, which of these conversations is more likely to plant a seed which will grow into a tree of generosity? Which is more likely to help the child realize that you are on his side—an ally in the common battle of becoming better than our own selfishness? Which suggests that you respect him, sympathize with his weakness, and believe that with God’s help he has the power to leave the world better than he found it?

A good leader does more than police the boundaries. A good leader inspires her followers by continually planting ideas of greatness as she walks among them. Ideas lead them. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to see the smile on your brother’s face when you let him have the first turn.” Or what about: “I like the way you are speaking so kindly. Did you notice how your sister is following your example too? Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage one another!” Aggressive authority bruises bent reeds. It snuffs out smoldering wicks. It leads the already dejected to further despair. Those who follow the example of the gentle Shepherd lovingly fence the boundaries, inspire the stumbling to press on to the heights, and carry the weak in their arms.

I’m not always that good shepherd, but I know the One who is. If even in my weakness, I can point my lambs to Him, the perfect shepherd, the One who purely wants their best, the One who tenderly leads them, the One who does not let them lack for any good thing, then I am leading them well. All of us will fail our children. The question is will we use those failures to model repentance, will we use those failures to show them the One who leads and loves them better than even we can?

 

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The Passion of Christ

cross2Typically, when we hear the phrase, “The Passion of Christ,” we associate it with the suffering of Jesus during Holy Week. And certainly, this is right. But when I hear the term, my mind goes first to the great love of Christ which led Him to the cross.

When God grabbed hold of my fourteen year-old heart in a deeper way, He did it primarily by speaking to me through a passage in Hosea 11. A workbook I had from a retreat asked me to substitute my name for every place where the passage read Israel. Try it with your own name as you read along in this New Living Translation of the text:

“When [_______] was a child, I loved [her] and I called [my daughter] out of Egypt. But the more I called [_________] the further [she] went from me… . I myself taught [________] how to walk, leading [her] along by the hand. But [she] doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of [her]. I led [______] along with ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from [her] neck and I myself stooped to feed [her].

“But since [________] refuses to return to me… [her] enemies will crash through [her] gates. They will destroy [her], trapping [her] in [her] own evil plans. For [__________] is determined to desert me. [She] calls me the most High, but [she] doesn’t truly honor me.

“Oh, how can I give you up,[_________]? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you … or demolish you…? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. I will not completely destroy [________], for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.

“For someday [_________] will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion and when I roar, [_________] will return trembling from the west. Like a flock of birds, [_________] will come…. Trembling like doves, [________] will return…. And I will bring [her] home again, says the LORD.” (Hosea 11: 1-4, 6-11)

For the first time in my life, when I read these words I heard the passion of my God for me. I heard His tenderness for me, I heard my betrayal, I heard what I deserved, and I heard how He would not give me up. I could see Him like a lion on my trail, unwilling to relinquish His pursuit. I could hear in His haunting, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” the cry of a lover who would not let the beloved go. And His words melted me.

I did come to Him trembling. I came with prodigal hope. I came with a thirst for home, a true home with Christ.

Now, as I read about Christ weeping over Jerusalem, stumbling underneath the heavy burden of a wooden cross, flayed by whips, pierced by a mocking crown, and crying, “Father forgive,” as His lungs burned for air, I hear the haunting questions of Hosea. “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?”

To me, His suffering and His passion for His bride—the Church, will always go hand in hand. He suffered because His love compelled Him not to turn back. He suffered because He wants us. He desires to be in relationship with us. He created us, He nurtured us, and He will not bear to let us go. But we must come.

We must hear the roar of His great love for us, and turn. We must hear of what we in our sin deserve, and see what in His grace He has bought us, and come running back to Him.

Does His love make you tremble? Does it make you come running? It should: no love has ever been as strong. No love has ever gone to such great lengths. This is not a love to be taken lightly.

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