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.

Fearfully, Wonderfully Snowed In: God in the Blizzard

snowfallAs a Florida girl living in Virginia, right in the bullseye of Jonas, I keep looking out my window utterly amazed. The snow is up to the roof of my children’s playhouse. I see the little chimney of it poking out with a pile of snow on top, a little frozen smoke puff. I know friends further north have seen more, but for this girl, this is the most snow I’ve seen in my entire life. And I keep having two simultaneous thoughts: how beautiful and how terrifying. As these thoughts keep colliding in my mind, I can’t help but think that all this snow has something to teach us.

The snow has made a new world out there. Everything is pristine, blanketed in purity. The trees are bedecked as brides. The limbs shimmer with powdered diamonds. Even the wind is in on the party, tossing sparkling confetti on the festal firs. As far as the eye can see there is the blinding brilliance of white. And just as when a bride enters the room, there is that reverent hush of a world watching in stillness and in awe.

snow in trees

And yet even as I stand back admiring this lovely world, there is another part of me that is afraid. The snow is so high; it’ll be days before we carve our way out. It is so soft and comes so lightly and yet it has the power to smother, to break, to bend, to bury. Even our toughest machines get caught in its drifts. Even our might is no match for this light beauty, should it continue to fall from heaven.

And as I feel the weight of wonder, I’m moved to remember a God who is simultaneously all-loving, all-good, all-beautiful and yet all-powerful, almighty, a force with which no man can reckon. Love the Lord. Fear the Lord. The burning brilliance of holiness is both something which compels our eyes and causes us to fall on our faces.

Like the awesome Aslan of Lewis’ Narnia, we might wonder with Lucy, is this lion safe? “’Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” This world blanketed in white is a reminder of both aspects of our good and mighty God.

So what are we to do with this beautiful and yet fearful God? Like the snow, we better be prepared. For those well prepared, the snow holds no terror. But for those who have shirked its power, there is fear. God is good; but God is also coming and He is a mighty, beautiful force with which to be reckoned.

So how do we prepare for His coming? By confessing that we are utterly unprepared. By falling at the feet of this terrifying, beautiful God and pleading for His mercy. Repentance: I am undone by your holiness, Oh God. Belief: You alone can save me.

And here’s the wonder, He has and He does. God has turned that whole crushing weight of His wrath on His own Son, Jesus, on the cross. He was smothered, crushed, buried, that I might not be. The weight of this heavy load fell on Jesus that I might only feel the light cloak of righteousness on my shoulders. Oh weighty wonder. Oh heavy lightness! Let me remember both as I stare out my frosted window.

 

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Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

shelter-from-the-storm-

I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

Beau sleep

I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

Beau fire Beau Grin Beau Smile

The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

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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