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.

A Valentine’s Gift for Him: 14 Ways to Pray for Your Husband this Valentine’s Day

What to get him this Valentine’s Day? Give him the gift he needs most: be an intimate ally.

My Valentine
When I first said, “I love you,” I had no idea that those would be fighting words. But they are. When I said, “I love you,” I took a soldier’s oath to fight for him, to fight alongside him, to be his most intimate ally. When I said, “I do,” I was saying I will volley the doors of heaven for you with my prayers; I will use my every ounce of creativity and reason to strengthen and persuade you to see the light when the valley is thickest with darkness; I will always have your back; I will never go AWOL on you when life looks bleakest; your battles will be my battles, and together our victories will be sweeter.

If love is an action word for you too, would you give your husband what he needs most this Valentine’s Day. Would you be his intimate ally by praying these 14 things for him in the year ahead?

To my Valentine:

1. Mind:  Where you believes lies about yourself, I pray that those would be uprooted. Where your thoughts are plagued with worry, I pray peace. Where you are filled with self-doubt, I pray confidence in Christ.

2. Soul:  Where you feel dry, I pray for refreshment. Where you feel lost, I pray you would be found. Where you sense longing, I pray you would find wholeness.

3. Body:  Where you hurt, I pray you would find healing. Where you hunger, I pray you would find satisfaction. Where you feel weak, I pray you would know strength.

4. Gifts: Where you are gifted, I pray you would find work for your hands to do. Where you find joy, I pray you might find purpose. Where you have been given much, I pray you would be found faithful.

5. Favor:  Where you need doors to open, I pray you would see them swing. Where you need the support of others, I pray you would receive bolstering. Where you put your energy to the things that please God, I pray your work prospers.

6. Family:  Where others look to you for guidance, I pray you would be a good role model. Where there is discord, I pray you may be a conduit of peace. Where you are called to lead, I pray you exalt Christ.

7. Marriage:  Where there is love, I pray you fan the flame. Where there is wrong, I pray you would be quick to forgive and ask forgiveness. Where there is misunderstanding, I pray there may be communication, grace and revival.

8. Work:  Where there is drudgery, I pray you work as unto the Lord. Where there is frustration, I pray you find God’s strength and peace. Where you lack wisdom, I pray you seek Him and find it.

9. Community:  Where you encounter the hurting, I pray you respond with compassion. Where you gather for worship, I pray you also find a meaningful place of service. Where you dwell, I pray you enrich the lives of those who live near you.

10. Finances:  Where you invest wisely, I pray you see a bountiful return. Where God directs you, I pray you would be unafraid to exercise generosity. Where you need guidance, I pray God would grant you wisdom.

11. Friendship:  Where you need brotherhood, I pray you would be unafraid to seek it. Where you find spiritual kinship, I pray those bonds would strengthen your soul. Where good friendships languish, I pray you renew them.

12. Joy:   Where there are days of hardship, I pray you find joy even in the midst of them. Where you feel heavy-hearted, I pray laughter spur you out of sadness. Where days sweetly satisfy, I pray your joy leads you to thanksgiving.

13. Dreams:  Where your heart still hungers, I pray God may guide you. Where your dreams are not in line with God’s plans, I pray you relinquish them. Where you need courage to take godly risks, I pray you would be brave.

14. Rest:  Where work inches its way too far, I pray you place boundaries. Where your mind feels preoccupied, I pray God supersedes and give you peace. Where the days seem too short, I pray you trust in boundaries God has given you and rest.

Will you join me in giving our husbands this gift this Valentine’s Day? Perhaps there is no better way to love him than to earnestly seek his good through prayer. Print two copies of this. Tuck one in a card for him and a second in a place where you’ll be sure to see it and pray for him daily.
Let him know he does not walk alone. Let him know you always have his back.

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The Valentine’s Box: A Reminder That You Are So Deeply Loved

The Valentine's BoxI’m ashamed to admit it but by the age of ten my heart was already aflutter with the thought of boys. My crushes that year had flitted from here to there like a butterfly. And my best friend (Elaina, are you reading?) and I held many a late-night pajama-clad conversation over the cutest or the funniest or the sweetest boy of the fifth grade class. So when it came to Valentine’s Day, my heart was full of hope that amidst those silly Snoopy and Transformer’s Valentines and the chalky candy hearts that there might be one that had a real message, a declaration of profound “like” for me, even me.

Deep down I knew I wasn’t even close to the prettiest girl in class. My brown hair cut in a bob with bangs that curled around my too baby-like face. (I was still a baby after all). How glad I was that those same brown locks covered my rowdy ears and that my dimples somewhat distracted from my teeth that begged for braces (thank you Mom and Dad).

And so the stage is now set: a tender heart full of hope, an awkward girl poised on the brink of all the changes that would catapult her from a girl to woman, and a class of utterly clueless boys (and rightfully so—ah were we young).

Now enter stage right: my mom.

I opened my eyes that Valentine’s morning to something that totally surprised and delighted me. My mom had wrapped the lid and the bottom of a shoe box in bright red wrapping paper. Then she had carefully cut out the most exquisite array of delicate white hearts and arranged and pasted them all over the outside. Finally, she’d cut a slit on the top for a “mail opening.”  It might not sound extraordinary, but I’d never seen anything like it before and to me, it was the most beautiful, thoughtful gift I could imagine. My heart swelled with pride at the thought of carrying it into class. I loved that box from the moment I laid eyes on it and saved it long after Valentine’s Day had come and gone.

Once I got to school, the details of my memory grow fuzzy. I vaguely remember my disgust at receiving a “Garbage Pail Kid” Valentine (anyone remember those?) from someone who I had my eye on at the time. Other than that, all I can remember is the feeling of disappointment and however vaguely of not being chosen. Whatever message of favor I’d hoped to receive that day didn’t make it to my mailbox. But while, I left disappointed with the contents of my box, I still held my chin high. After all, I had the loveliest Valentine’s box of the fifth grade class.

As I think back on that now, I realize how much that mattered. I was so full of my mother’s love (and my father’s too—I could tell you about the Daddy-daughter Valentine’s dance he took me to or the place of welcome I always had in his arms) that I didn’t feel the full sting of that “empty” box.  I was loved; so well-loved that my mom knew my tender heart and stayed up late decorating a pretty little box for me, delighting in surprising her little girl.

Now just a few years into motherhood, I’m seeing what a big part of the job description this is: filling our kids with our love so that the stings of this world don’t have the full venom. I’m not talking about stuffing them with candy or toys or over-the-top praise. The box was special because my mom had paid enough attention to the stage of life I was in, to know how to fill me up. It was special because it had cost her of her time. It was special because she’d created something of beauty because her love for me was (and is) something of beauty.

And as I think of that beautiful Valentine’s box and the love I was filled with that day before I ever walked through the school doors, and I think about how great the Father’s love that He lavishes upon us (1 Jn. 3:1). I know my parents’ deep love for me; I know the love of an amazing husband; I know the ache of tenderness my own heart swells with for my husband and two sweet boys—but these are but droplets compared to how our Father in Heaven gushes with love for us. He delights over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17). He cannot bear the thought of giving us up (Hos. 11:8-11). And He showed the extent of His love for us in the most costly, extravagant gift anyone could ever give (1 Jn. 3:16).

He pours out His love for us. It is a never-ending spring (John 4:14), a waterfall, a flood (Isaiah 66:12-13). If we allow Him to fill us, how can we ever truly feel empty? It’s my job to open my eyes this morning and see the gifts of His Son, of salvation, of presence—with the pure delight of that ten-year old heart. By His grace, I want to wrap my mind and heart around the depth of His love for me so that no matter what comes my way, I walk with the confidence of a girl who is deeply loved, of a girl who has received that special message of favor from the One who matters most. I want to remember that He didn’t scrawl His love on a Valentine of paper, but on arms pierced and stretched wide. My name is graven on His hands (Isaiah 49:16). Let His love be always graven on my heart.

Dear Reader, do you walk with confidence as one well-loved? Have you spent time lately filling yourself with the knowledge of His deep love for you? Let it soak in.

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