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.

It Matters Deeply: The Heartbeat of a Home

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Think warm. Think Spring. Think St. Louis. A child is at home with her mother listening to the radio as they go about their kitchen chores. The radio is playing some Gospel music and both mother and daughter are singing along, cozy and deeply happy.

As the music swells: “Mother started whirling and dancing gaily as we both sang about the greatest love in all of life—our sweet Lord Jesus. This love sparkled and was enjoyable and gave gladness. I laughed as I joined in the dancing with a joy that can still bubble up. I’ll always remember this lovely young mother, the atmosphere of the home I grew up in, and that special scene,” writes Susan Schaeffer Macaulay of her mother, Edith Schaeffer, in her book For the Family’s Sake.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this image and about home. And by home I don’t mean the physical four walls and roof. Rather, I’m writing about the atmosphere that creates the feeling of home: the people who create “home” for others and the spirit which they create with words, actions, and attitudes. I’ve been mulling this because I think more than anything this is the life-shaping influence our children or those who enter our homes will remember.

More than anything I want my boys to remember one day a mama who was so in love with Jesus that they could see it on her face, that they could hear it in her voice, and could sometimes even feel it in their bones as she whirled them up in her arms and danced around the kitchen with them. I know that each moment will not be such a spiritual mountaintop experience, but I want my boys to remember a mama who more often than not sang with the love of Jesus on her lips, who laughed with a heart full of joy, and could be in the moment because she could trust her cares to her Creator.

These kinds of memories of home have nothing to do with how well the home is decorated, with the kind of furniture or home one can afford, or whether or not a parent stays home or works full time. They depend on the kind of relationship a mom or dad has with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with one another.

I have lovely memories of my own home growing up. I remember the feeling of being picked up and carried to bed as a little girl by my dad’s big strong arms. I remember my mom comforting me with Scripture when a midnight storm had made me afraid. I remember my dad’s bible open on the kitchen table, and the reverberations of my mom’s upright piano as she played a favorite hymn. I remember games, and laughter, and good-hearted teasing, affectionate parents, and a spirit of hospitality. I remember earnest prayers prayed and answered, and a habitual desiring that others might know Jesus and know His comfort through our family. And I remember most of all being deeply loved and cared for in every imaginable way. As Susan Schaeffer McCauley writes:

“There is so much more that I could tell, for I was taught Bible stories clearly, even in those years when I was six years old or under. So I knew this Lord Jesus by word, by song, by hugs and comfort, by forgiveness and faithfulness and meals all together, blessed with prayer.

A childhood home like this is a very great and godly gift. Such a legacy does not come from perfect parents, thank God. In fact perfect parents could not prepare us for a life that is to be full of our own and other people’s failings. My parents were always open about the fact that they weren’t all that good. Anyway, all children see parents as they are!

How could anyone dare to suggest or say that working at the huge task of making a home and carrying on through years and years of ups and downs is not one of the very few truly worthwhile ways to spend our energies and gifts in human life?”

We create the atmosphere of our homes. And we are largely unconscious of how we make it. But it begins and ends with our own relationship with Jesus. Is it living and vital, not a last year’s faith, but a faith of today, of this right-now moment? If we are unhappy because we have not known what it is to be filled deep down in our souls by the One whose love means more to us than our bank balance, our self-image, or our failures, then our children and those who enter our homes will feel it. But if the hard things—and heaven help us, they are many—are all tempered by the sweetness of the peace we have in our Savior, then those who come within our walls will not remember the circumstance, but rather our peace and our joy in the face of the circumstance.

What a great privilege and duty it is to help set the tone of our homes! How important it is that I find my joy in that which truly satisfies so I can pass that joy to the others who enter my home. I can do my children no greater service than to think deeply and act boldly to create the aspects so vital to developing a rich home atmosphere. How will I work to create an atmosphere where each person matters immensely, where compassion is a muscle exercised often, where books, and music, and art are laid before my children regularly like a feast, where vastly diverse people are routinely welcomed and served within our walls, where conversations rise above the frivolous, where laughter leaves us wrinkled in all the right places, and where Jesus is enjoyed and exalted in manifold ways throughout our days and years.

Would you think about this with me? It matters deeply.

 

Homes matter. And creating a life-giving home is a calling that every adult, single, married, widowed, with children or without, has. Because homes are not only our refuge but our outposts of ministry, we should give thought to the atmosphere we create within them. We should pray that the Lord would make them alive with His work within them.

Want to keep digging deeper and living bolder? Keep exploring with me here at Live Expectantly. I expect God to keep showing up in our lives and in our homes and to keep hearing from Him if we have the ears to hear. Stick around. Let’s see what He wants to tell us. And if you haven’t become a fan on Facebook or signed up to receive these posts in your inbox, would you take a minute to do so? Now that you’ve followed this crumb-trail of words here, I’d hate for us to lose each other.

The Making of a Home: The View from My Kitchen Window

snowball fight

It’s been 3 days since our epic Virginia blizzard and I’m staring out my kitchen window at my husband hurling snowballs at our two oldest boys. He’s pressed pause on his work on this particular Tuesday afternoon to make memories with our 4 and 5 year old boys and what for us is an unreal 3 feet of snow. I’m dawdling over the dirty dishes so I can watch them, finding myself falling in love with this good man all over again.

My oldest son has carved a trench in the snow and he’s been saving up ammunition for dad’s appearing. There’s a big smile on my husband’s face as he ducks and dodges the barrage–friendly fire.

In a few minutes, my husband makes his way to the top of our steeply sloped backyard with the four year old, sleds in hand. I add some more soap to the suds and watch the silent movie unfold.

When you add little ones to snow, you have a wintry mix calling for abundant patience. A child plodding through 3 feet of powdery snow on an upward slope plods slowly—pain…fully slowly—along. Once atop the hill there’s the displaced mitten that needs replacing, there’s the hat that needs to be pulled down again, and there’s the sled that needs to be held in place while the abominable snowsuit clumsily piles on.

I watch this man I married patiently, gently waiting: letting the little one struggle with the things that make him stronger and helping with the things that simply exasperate. It’s a good father who knows the difference. Finally the minutes of patience pay off with seconds of glee. Open-mouthed, hollering glee.

And then they repeat: plod, patience, push, glee. On the third go round, they decide to share a sled. It’s cute: full grown man and little man sharing a two foot disc of plastic careening down a hill, twisting, turning, heads thrown back in laughter. This is the good stuff– the moments kids remember when they shut their tired lids at night. And perhaps just perhaps it’s that earliest memory that somehow makes it into adulthood, the one that grounds you with a deep mooring of being loved and held, and of being caught up in joy and adventure and wildness, of simultaneously being daring and of being protected by someone bigger than yourself. I smile: I get to watch it.

sleddinghappy sled

high fiveI love having a front-row seat to this man who won my heart growing into the kind of father who is winning the hearts of his boys. When we set out on this journey of marriage we both only had vague notions of what the other would be like as mother or as father. That kind of love sees the bud, but it is breathtaking to see the blossom, and I pray and hope that one day will be even more satisfying to taste the fruit of years of faithfulness. My husband wouldn’t like this analogy, I think as I chop the onions for the chili. He’d need something heartier, meatier, more manly. Prospect versus World Series winner: there we go, I think. I’m glad I was a decent scout.

But the truth of the matter is when you set out to build a house, you think about paint colors and floor plans, tile and carpet, but when you set out to build a home, you think about the people that are the weight-bearing beams. Houses are built of timber and brick and concrete; homes are built of heart and vision and faithfulness—and a man who has these in abundance is hard to find.

I’m draining the grease off the ground beef when I see my husband dart over to the trench my five year old is continuing to secure. The little one’s face is contorted in pain, tears stream down his face while daddy bends down to comfort him. That tenderness, that love–there it is again. In a few minutes, the tearful clouds have passed and they return to their play.

helping

By this time the baby has stirred and so I stop my dinner prep to tend to him and then to the toddler who’s awakened from his nap. A while later Dad heads back to his home office for a bit more work before dinner. He must pay the toll before passing, however, and I thank him for being such a good daddy as he places a snow-cold hand on my back and gives me a kiss. He doesn’t know I’ve been spying on him from the window, thanking my sweet Jesus for gracing me with this man.

Soon boys stomp snow covered boots on the back steps. And then there’s a flurry of wet socks, snow pants, jackets and mittens piled into the laundry basket and a mess of half-clad boys clamoring for hot cocoa. I tend to them and then to dinner.

After dinner, I find myself back at the kitchen window, washing up the chili bowls and thinking again about the view I have on the man I love.

Kitchen Window

There aren’t many people in this world that we get to view up close. I’m thankful that the man I get to see each day is the one who faithfully shovels the snow out of the driveway, who works hard providing and bears the heavy burden of planning for our future, who plays well and laughs often, who hugs and wrestles our boys and loves me with the kind of love God knew would make me flourish. I’m glad that whether or not I’m there watching, he’s being faithful, not perfect but faithful to love us well.

And as I’m looking out that back window, for a moment, I get the feeling that perhaps God is watching me from the other side of this same window. I sense that he sees the dishes washed, the onions chopped, the boys fed, dressed and re-dressed, the baby held, the tantrum soothed, in other words, the quiet ways I’m trying to be faithful too. I sense that perhaps he’s smiling at me, the other weight-bearing beam in this home being built on love.

I’m thankful that God is the foundation of this home. The solid rock which still stands even when we falter and fail, because we don’t always love well or parent patiently. And I’m also grateful that even though my husband’s not perfect, that God gave me the perfect man for me. I pray when he reads these words he’ll catch a glimpse of the view I see through my window.

 

If you’re reading this, chances are there is someone whose faithfulness comes to mind for you too. Perhaps you’ve seen the faithfulness of your spouse, or your own mother or father, or a daughter or son as they grow into a loving parent. If so, would you share this with that person and thank them. Tell them what you see through the special window God has given you and thank them for the way you’ve been blessed because of it.

The Winter of Our Discontent: Finding Joy in the Season

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I can close my eyes and see it: the perfect blue of an autumn sky framed by the flaring colors of maples and birches ablaze as my boys and I poked along the river road one late September day looking for wonders. If I try, I can feel the warmth of the summer sun on my bare arms as we picked buckets of blueberries in the fullness of June. And I can remember rolling down the windows one May-day as we crept up the steep mountain road to breathe in just a bit more of the sweetness of blackberry blossoms that crowned spring days in hope. But winter—ah you are much more difficult to love.

Sure there is the peace of a world blanketed in snow, there is the wonder of Christmas and the magnetism of New Year’s promises, but then there are days upon days of the darkness settling in too early, of the cold and wind being intolerable for outdoor walks and play, and the hassle of bundling everyone in layer upon layer to go anywhere at all, only to catch colds if we dare to venture out. It is easy to begrudge winter after her first charms are enjoyed.

But not this winter, and not me. I’m borrowing a notion or two from Norway, I’m mixing in an idea or two of my own, and I’m going to give it a try. This winter I refuse, yes, I refuse to let this be the “winter of our discontent.” Here’s what I’m thinking:

When I set my clock back earlier this fall, I read an article about The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter and I made up my mind to give it a try. While Norway has winters with some of the shortest stretches of daylight found in any habitable place, they also rank unexpectedly high in the usual surveys on gross domestic happiness. How do they beat the winter doldrums? Well, it seems that rather than resent the long winter months and dark skies, they celebrate them.

Apparently, there is a saying in Norway, “There’s no such thing as bad weather only bad clothing.” Norwegians continue to get out and enjoy winter’s charms even in those months of the year when the sun barely bothers to rise each day. Skiing, sledding, brisk walking, Norwegians keep going out despite what winter brings. So I’ve been trying it more and more. It’s hard to get a two month old out in the cold, but I’ve rallied my 2, 4, and 5 year olds for soccer scrimmages in the backyard while I let baby snooze just inside. I’ve bundled up my boys and cuddled the baby in his carrier close to my heart and said, “Let’s head for the park.” While our times outside aren’t quite as long as in other months, we come in refreshed and ready to enjoy the comforts of indoors with a new attitude.

The other idea I’m borrowing from Norway is wrapped in a word not easily translatable. The word is koselig and to Norwegians it is an idea of coziness, of warmth, not just physical but interpersonal. “It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress,” writes Laura Vanderkam. “People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets. There’s a community aspect to it too; it’s not just an excuse to sit on the couch watching Netflix.”

Lorelou Desjardins, a French woman living in Norway, further elucidates the concept of koselig over at her blog, Frog in the Fjord. She explains, “basically anything can (and should) be koselig: a house, a conversation, a dinner, a person. It defines something/someone /an atmosphere that makes you feel a sense of warmth very deep inside in a way that all things should be: simple and comforting.”

As I’ve thought about this more, I’ve come up with my own takeaway. What could be a better way to spend winter than by creating warmth in my own home? Candles, and fire and good music, yes, these things are nice and go a long way toward making people feel welcome. But the most important take-away for me is that winter is a time of welcoming and making others feel warmed in the light of an attentive presence. There are many other months of the year for getting out and enjoying the great green world. But the winter months lend themselves to hospitality in a special way: these are the months where others are likewise cooped up and inside more than they’d like to be, and where a friendly invitation, a good meal and a lively game or conversation can help us all weather our storms.

And of course, it doesn’t all need to be outward. Let me celebrate the quiet joys of those winter days when we are cooped up, and there is no one around but us. Can the idea of making others feel warm in my presence extend quite simply to my own? Can I make my children feel the warmth of my love in special ways on these winter days? Can I lavish extra time on them: playing that too-long game they love, going to extra lengths to make an epic fort from blankets and chairs and imagination, or setting a special candle-lit meal replete with the fine china just for them? As Susan Schaeffer writes in For the Family’s Sake, “Today, we talk a lot about how elusive self-esteem can be… but if as a child you know you are a person that matters so much that great care is put into making your meal, then you to matter to yourself properly too!” Whatever the table or food may look like, simply put, home is the place where a child first knows what it means to be welcomed, wanted and warmed.

Winter can be a time of setting another log on the marriage home-fires as well. Why not turn off the tv and snuggle up together with your spouse and a warm drink and a blanket. Welcome him back into your heart. Laugh together. Share your heart and your hopes. Many a marriage would blaze again if a little more time were put into stirring the coals with the same simple kindness, courtesy, and attention we might give a guest. Make him your guest and give him your attention. Chances are he will return the kindness by seeking your heart.

Finally, may I set the table, light the candle, and wait with expectation for the One who made the winter as well as the fall, spring and summer. May I welcome my Savior in in special ways on these long cold days, reminding Him that I lack nothing in His presence. And as we welcome Him, may we remember that we can do so because He first welcomed us. The long winter of our discontent was first broken by the light and the warmth of His love—a love that made us feel, safe, and celebrated and home when we were cold and alone, a warmth that felt like a thousand splendid summers thawing the coldness of a desolate heart.

 

Note to my dear readers: I know it’s been awhile since you’ve last heard from me. I hope you can forgive me. I promised myself when I began this blog that I wouldn’t write unless I felt I had something truly worth saying. We all get enough dribble clogging up our inboxes. And what can I say? There have been some months of writer’s drought. But I hope when you receive this you’ll feel like you’re opening a letter from an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while. I hope you’ll feel glad to hear from me again and that we can pick up where we left off. While we’re catching up, check out my about page for an updated picture of our family. One of the things that has had me busy is our beautiful Beau: baby boy number 4. Time flies… And if you are new here, I hope you’ll take a look around, check out my devotional, Waiting in Wonder and sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

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