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.

Creativity: The Heart’s Cry of Hope

artist at work

It’s the end of a long day and the floor is strewn with toys. I’ve wrangled the boys to bed and have come downstairs troubled. I’m mulling over the display of attitude I saw in my two-year old, who has learned to sigh loudly when he’s frustrated with my commands, something which he learned from the four year-old, who learned it from me when I’m irritated and frustrated with them. It’s unsightly and unsettling to see my own ugly behavior walking around in front of me.

A phone call interrupts my self-reproaching monologue: a friend is calling to inquire about one of our family members who found out last week he is facing cancer. We talk of the unknowns in hushed tones and more aches and anxieties fill my mind, as well as a quiet confidence that the Lord is up to some goodness in the midst of all this hardness.

I’m sure my little life is not much different than yours: daily drudgeries, frustrations, sinful patterns—our own and those of others. On top of the mundane drip of these daily fatigues, there are the cold harsh realities of sickness, and brokenness, of bitterness and even mortality. And all these wear us thin and threaten to starve our souls.

As I hang up the phone, worn down from all of this life I’m living, tired from my day’s work, I find myself with this strange and almost overwhelming urge to go and make something. And I’m being quite literal when I say I’m overcome with a desire to get out my easel, canvas and acrylics and paint. Something or perhaps more aptly, Someone, is drawing me to splash some loveliness around, to soak in the brightness of color, to create something of beauty, and symmetry. I’m beckoned by the thought of standing back from my finished work and feeling that flash of satisfaction, that “It-is-good” moment.

And this overwhelming urge to create simply does not compute with how tired I am. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a non-sequitir of sorts. Why have I gone from the hardships of the day to a desire to make something new? And all I can figure out is that somewhere deep inside of us, all this brokenness and frustration and hardship calls out for a bit of beauty and grace. We long for a little plot of land, some small piece of territory where shalom—a sense of wholeness and rightness and goodness—can abound. I think God made us this way. And I think creation is not only good therapy, but somehow an act of defiant hope.

When we carve out a space in the midst of our overwhelming, broken-down world, to create something, we raise our fists to the chaos and declare that it does not have the final say. Beauty, wholeness, and order exist. They have existed eternally with God, and while they may or may not become a reality in our hearts and homes today, they will most definitely exist in the world to come. “All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”

Creation may look different for you: maybe it is gardening, woodworking, building a website, sewing, coaching, decorating, cooking, strumming, inventing, or photographing. Maybe you share it with others; maybe you don’t yet. But whatever it is, it is not merely a passive act, but an active one of creating order from chaos, of bringing something of goodness out from the nothingness.

Maybe you say you are not a creative person. I say false. All of us are made in the image of God and we all like Him are born with some desire to participate in creation and cultivation. The manifestations of that creative impulse will look very different in our lives but the God-given urge is the same.

If you’ve been stifling that creative urge, calling it frivolous, or numbing it in more passive acts of pinning, liking, and channel-surfing, don’t shortchange yourself. There’s an important place for enjoying the work of others. But that’s not all you’re made for. God has made you in His creative image also. You are more than a spectator.

Maybe you’re worried that what you have to offer somehow won’t be good enough. Do yourself a favor. Turn off the critic. Give yourself permission to be a learner and to make mistakes. God doesn’t want your perfection. He wants your participation. He wants you to rally your soul in bold hope by participating in some small act of creation.

 

Did you enjoy this post? Consider subscribing to get more thoughts like these delivered straight to your inbox. If this is your first time here, I hope you’ll stay awhile, read a few posts, and find out more about me and my books and writing. And of course, if you liked this post, would you consider sharing it?

Less Than Picture Perfect

 

time out

It is the end of the day with my three little ones and I am spent. It hasn’t been a bad day, or even an unusual one for that matter. In fact, perhaps it is the very sameness of this day from the day which went before it which has me worn so thin.

So many words have left my mouth today: a litany of “Stop!”, “Don’t touch that!”, “Be careful!”, “Obey!”, “Listen.”, “Come here!”, “Be still,” and “Leave your brother alone.” Along with them comes a steady stream of reminders to say, “Please,” and “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, and “I forgive you.” There are reminders to pray, reminders to wash, reminders to share, reminders to brush, reminders to flush, reminders to show kindness, respect, and care. There is explaining, defining, and demonstrating. There are attempts at humor and times when the words come too hard or too soft.

And in case your days go blurry like mine with a dizzying torrent of no’s and stop’s and listen’s, let me just remind you that the fact that your days are full of words like these is not an indication that you are failing as a parent. But rather it is an indication that you are doing the hard business of training and instructing, correcting and paying attention to the details of raising small humans into (hopefully) responsible, loving, and generous adults one day.

Somehow, though, I think we all are surprised by the constancy of this need for discipline and training. We think we must be doing something wrong, or must have much more difficult children than so-and-so because our days are spent this way. When we come to the end of the day and we have had to reprimand them, repeat ourselves, and explain basic principles of decency and decorum, we feel at our wits’ end when really this is just the business of parenting.

Have we really been hoodwinked into expecting children to come out of the womb already kind and courteous, thoughtful and sensitive? Do we think somehow that doing the right thing and the hard thing (sharing, completing chores, stopping fun things to do challenging or laborious ones, leaving friends, listening to our body’s need for rest) should somehow come easily to them when it is often just as hard for us?

All of us are born bent and broken. And we don’t straighten out on our own. We need training, discipline and instruction. Change is not easy for any of us, and perhaps it is especially not easy for our little ones.

The point, and its simple, my friend, but worth re-stating: this constant need for discipline and instruction is the normal state of parenting affairs, especially when parenting very little ones. Don’t add to your burden by thinking you are failing, or that your children are, or that such repetitive need for instruction simply should not be. Our days are hard enough without unnecessary weights of guilt, inadequacy or shame.

Perhaps if we could stop thinking our days ought to be full of one pastel-filtered Instagram moment after another, we would be less ruffled by the normal childishness of our children. Perhaps if we could accept the rawness of our real moments, we’d find more satisfaction and less frustration in the importance of our roles in shaping that raw material into men and women of godly habits and character.

So don’t be flustered by your children’s misbehavior; seize the moment as an opportunity to explain what is right, good and true, as an opportunity to do the very hard but important job you’ve been called to do: parenting.

Did this post encourage you? Subscribe and get Live Expectantly delivered straight to your inbox. Looking for more on parenting? Check out some of these posts or get a copy of my book Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a devotional journal.

 

Parenting: This. Is. Hard.

LUKE JAMES 1MOTwo months ago, our sweet baby boy decided to make his debut a month early. A slow leak of amniotic fluid meant a heightened risk of infection for baby and me, so much to my dismay, the nurses hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin one Wednesday night in early October and induced a labor I wasn’t expecting that day or for nearly another month. (I told them that it wasn’t a give-birth kind of night—more of a movie-and-popcorn kind of night, but they disagreed and hooked me up anyway.) Thankfully, our sweet boy is a fighter, and he came out kicking and screaming. One short NICU stay later, and a few jaundiced trips back and forth to the hospital, we had our precious James Valor home with us for good.

Since then we’ve been slowly getting accustomed to life with a 3.5 year old, nearly 2 year old, and newborn. Did I mention all three of them are boys? Energetic, sometimes mischievous, hard-of-hearing boys…yes, that’s the kind we have. They are also sweet, adorable, can’t-help-but-kiss-their-precious-little-cheeks kind of boys. That kind. I love them to pieces, despite the fact that the two oldest are currently keeping each other awake upstairs rather than napping. I’m choosing to ignore this so I can write a word or two to you because God has put something on my heart to say. And here it is: this isn’t easy.

I know you know it, but sometimes I think we as parents tend to think that we are the only ones who feel this way, that perhaps somehow everyone but us has it together, that perhaps other people’s children are innately better-behaved, or other parents are just better than us at balancing it all. Well, I want to say that it just isn’t so. Sure, some of us are better organized. Some of us have more experience with little children. But none of us get a free pass. Everyone who is privileged enough to be a parent has the incredibly hard task of raising a little one from complete dependence to independence. Every one of us is given a child whose heart is bent away from God and towards selfishness. And all of us must pray and parent diligently to turn their hearts toward Him.

So in case you’ve seen me on a good day, when my hair is combed and make-up is actually on; in case, you’ve assumed that because my children sometimes can be super-sweet that I’m one of those have-it-all-together kind of moms, well, just in case you thought that about me or some other mom you know, then let me set the record straight. Parenting is hard. It’s hard for me and hard for all of us.

Here’s where I feel like I’m supposed to offer you some great pick-me-up, some biblical principle that makes what I’ve just said all better. I don’t know that I can. I know that the struggle is worth it. I know that the love I have for these little guys is bigger than the frustration I feel on a daily basis. I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me even in my weakness, even on the hardest of days. And I want you to know that too. But I don’t want any of that to eclipse what I’ve just said. This isn’t easy.

And if you don’t hear it or feel it from anyone else, I want you to know dear, sleep-deprived friend; I want you to know dear, when-will-he-ever-potty-train-wondering mommy; I want you to know sweet sister in the can-I-throw-one-of-those-tantrums-too trenches that I hear ya, I feel ya, and I understand. This. Is. Hard. I’m right there with you and so is God. (He has some pretty obstinate children also. At least that’s what I hear.)

 

Were you encouraged by this post? Share it with a mom you know who needs encouragement! Don’t miss a post: sign up in the sidebar to receive these posts to your inbox. Or consider checking out my devotional for expecting moms, a perfect Christmas gift for that new mama you know. Find out more here: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting.

Buy the Book


×