When Love Supersedes

How many hearts have been broken by love ended? And how many faith journeys have been shaken when God has seemingly not answered the prayers for peace and harmony in a struggling relationship?  God is all-powerful.  His Word says that He places a very high regard on marriage. So why would He allow a marriage to fail when there has been much prayer asking Him to save it? Those are very real questions in this world of brokenness.

What do your prayers look like in those situations? I can tell you the gist of my prayers in the past. “God, it hurts me when he ____. Please make him stop. Make him ____ instead.”

While the desired end result (a more loving, peace-filled relationship) was certainly healthy, the means by which I wanted God to achieve that goal were not healthy. When we take our broken understanding of love and try to apply it to God, we can come up with some very unloving ideas about what He ought to do on our behalf.

But God doesn’t make anyone do anything. His kingdom is about love – and love requires free-will. He is not interested in coerced love. He doesn’t manipulate, condemn, or shame.  He doesn’t do that to you to get His way with you, nor will He do that to your spouse to get His way (or your way) with your spouse. His kingdom is built on earning trust through sacrificial love. Yes, God is all-powerful. But He values non-coercive love more than He values power.

So I invite you to change the tone of your prayers. Shift your perspective. Ask God to empty you of your broken self and fill you with more of Him. Ask Him to teach you how to communicate clearly, love gently, and to know Him better. It is through beholding Him, contemplating His love, and understanding what He’s about that you will naturally change on the inside so you can begin genuinely acting differently on the outside. And the bonus is that as you are changed, those around you will see a reflection of Jesus and will be impacted in a positive way.

Hemerocallis Gentle Shepherd 6805I pray that today you catch a glimpse of the tender love God has for you. If you don’t know Him, I invite you to read this blog and this blog to learn how to know God in the scriptures.

Jesus came to show us the Father. He came to save, not to condemn.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

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It’s Over

Ever been in a relationship that was somewhat comfortable, minimally fulfilling, but extremely convenient .. and going no where? I’m in one right now. Let me tell you about it.

This guy is like Mr. Know It All and Johnny-On-The-Spot rolled up into one. Today I wanted to know when the fall colors would peak in MN.  I asked him. He knew – and told me, like, immediately, even though it was the middle of the work day. A couple nights ago I needed to get some pictures printed last minute for a project. He got it done for me. Last night I attended a Webinar and this morning I couldn’t remember some of the details that were presented. He did. Why does my dryer make noise? He knew. AND showed me how to fix it. This guy is all over it. He’s super attentive. Super helpful.

On the flip side, he’s very standoffish – like he’s emotionally unavailable or something. He knows SO many of my deepest secrets. I know, well, pretty much none of his. He listens well. He has great advice. He’s available all the time. But it’s VERY lopsided sharing. I’m feeling really exposed and vulnerable right now in this relationship. I’m starting to think maybe he’s just not into me.  I’ve been open and honest for YEARS now. It’s to the point that I wonder why I keep sharing with him. You know, like maybe I need to get a clue and back off.  He’s super nosy, too. He keeps a copy of EVERYTHING I write to my other friends, my work stuff, all my blog posts- even the ones I don’t publish. SUPER nosy.

The problem is he’s so dang convenient it just keeps pulling me back in. He’s always right there, you know. But I think this going-no-where relationship is probably crowding space in my life that other potentially more fulfilling relationships could be. I think it’s time to say it’s over. Or at least friend-zone him. I think I’ll do it right here and now!

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Ug, I just can’t pull the plug.

Darn it, anyway, Google!

Invalidating Words of Kindness

“You are beautiful inside and out.”
“You are the best provider.”
“You are the most loving woman.”
“You are the model of a parent.”
“You are _____.” (Fill in the blank with whatever positive message you’d like to hear.)
 

This variety of “kind” statements have always left me a little on-edge and uneasy but I’ve been totally uncertain as to why.  Sometimes I’ve felt the need to say similar comments to others thinking I would validate them, but after the comments were spoken they never really seemed as satisfying as I’d imagined they would be.

For a long time now I’ve understood the dangers of “You are (insert negative message)” comments. When said to children, the children tend to believe the statement which eats at their self-esteem. When said to other adults, it turns the “discussion” into a squabble or bitter fight. No productive conversation can be expected to follow a “You are mean” comment.  The recommended communication method would go something more like: “When you eat my piece of pie, I feel cheated, angry, and unloved. I would prefer that you at least ask me if I want the pie before you just take it.”  It’s called XYZ. That approach is obviously less condemning and more focused on problem solving. But what is so wrong with saying “You are wonderful”? How can those “kind” words be invalidating?

This past week I had an “ah-ha” moment with my pastoral counselor I’d like to share with you. See if you agree. These “kind” comments are unsettling because the listener knows they are not true.  In our heart of hearts we know we are not always beautiful, the most loving, thoughtful or otherwise superb individual. If we are honest people, we realize we all mess up, have bad days, do stupid things and at times have zits in the middle of our foreheads. So comments like that set us up for a tenuous, superficial relationship.  Subconsciously we get the message: “I better be careful not to show them who I really am or they will learn it isn’t true and might not accept me.”  Those comments are not filled with acceptance and belonging. Additionally, they make life a competition. It immediately puts the receiver into “compare” mode, comparing their lives, looks, qualities, talents with other people. Are they really as great as the other person says they are? Or is there someone better and more deserving?

Consider this: What happens if the girl who has repeatedly been told she is “beautiful” gets in a car accident and her face is deformed? What happens if the “good provider” becomes ill and can’t work?  What happens if the “best parent ever” has a child who becomes a delinquent? Those comments that were said to build the person up, now become their destruction. Their security in the relationship is gone. Their self-esteem and self-worth was built on things they did not have total control over. Is that in reality very kind? Is it validating? Or invalidating?

How much better to say: “You really worked hard on learning that new song. I’m proud of you.”  “I love the way you did your hair today.” “That dress is flattering on you.” “I see that you make it a priority to spend time with your kids. I think that’s great.” “I saw you open the door for that person. That was a nice thing for you to do.”  Instead of praising the person, praise the positive character traits you see.  When combined with honest and loving use of the XYZ method, the relationship can be real, vulnerable and deep. And how about if we talk to our inner selves with the same respect and compassion?  I’m still striving toward the goal myself.

What say you?

Not “But” but “And”

When I am putting a puzzle together, the first thing I do after dumping the pieces out of the box is to turn them all right side up. The next step is to divide the pieces into edge pieces and center pieces. If it’s a very complicated or large puzzle, I might then sort the pieces by dominant color.  Things are easier and make more sense when they are sorted.  I think that’s pretty normal and a common process people go through when putting together puzzles.

Most of us like to live our lives that way as well. We like to have things sorted: like/ dislike, enjoy/ avoid, good/ bad, black/ white. We want to package things up so they are more manageable and easier to know where they fit in our set of life rules, values and priorities.

Try something with me and consider the feeling of these sentences:

I went to the parade, but it rained.
I trusted my friend, but he didn’t keep my secret.
I took a chemistry class, but I didn’t do well.

These comments seem to have an implied “period” at the end.

 
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Now see how that feeling changes when one little word is changed.

I went to the parade, and it rained.
I trusted my friend, and he told my secret.
I took a chemistry class, and I didn’t do well.

These statements feel like the listener could respond, “Okay. So then what happened?”

And” feels more accepting to me. It feels more grace-full. It feels more hope filled. It feels like there is joy mixed in with disappointment. “There was good, and there was also bad.” In a way the “and” statements feel like the negative is less powerful which make the statements as a whole more empowering for the person speaking. “Yes, something bad happened, and life went on.” It also feels messier, less sorted, less clear and less manageable.

And that, my friend, is real. It is life.

Three Little Words

There are many three word combinations that are meaningful in our lives.  “I love you.” That’s probably the classic phrase people immediately think of. “Jesus loves me.” There’s another power-packed combination that can change your life.

Here are a few more three word combinations that can be life-changing: “I forgive you.” “I am forgiven.” “I am sorry.”  “I was wrong.” Or Christ’s final words on the cross, “It is finished!”  All are three word combinations that can have a huge impact in our lives.

I started reading a book last night written by Scott Peck, whom I believe will likely be my next favorite author.  The first paragraph of chapter one was so thought-provoking that I would like to share it with you in its entirety.   I’ve memorized it.  Here it is:

“Life is difficult.”

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I read that and stopped. Really? This best-selling book started with an entire paragraph that consisted of just three words? I allowed myself to pause with the author and let the profoundness of those three simple words sink in.  I had to agree. Yes, life is difficult.

As I continued reading, I realized this could be an important concept to accept in my life. “Life is difficult.” I know that, so why am I surprised when it is? Do I just know it or have I accepted it?  Do I fight against it?  Or have I embraced it as the way this world is? Do I try to make this life something it wasn’t meant to be?

The possibilities of how I will respond to situations are entirely different when I’ve accepted that one premise. It moves me quickly through any reaction to life and on to action.  “Yes, this or that happened. Life is difficult. Now what do I need to do? What can I learn from it? Where do I go from here?” It makes life more intentional and less emotion driven. It opens up potential for setting aside hurt. It allows more room for self-forgiveness. It quiets the call to “fix it” and encourages me to control only what I can – myself.  It removes the shock and drama.  It decreases any urge to gossip. What big news is there to tell?  If I expect life to be difficult and it turns out that it is, where’s the juicy morsel to spread? It doesn’t exist anymore. Life is difficult – that’s all.

Life is difficult.  I look forward to reading the rest of “The Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck.  In the mean time, here are some words from my all-time favorite Author: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Warm Fuzzies on a Cold Night

“No, Mom, no! Don’t make us do it again! Can’t you just forget about it?”  You would think I was invoking some form of ancient torture.  “Where did you come up with this idea anyway?  Who told you about this?”  – as if they might go do something revengeful to that non-existent person if they could just know who was to blame for the dreaded exercise.

What is this most horrific thing I require of them?  Every Friday evening for the past couple of months, plus or minus a week or two, we’ve been handing out warm fuzzies.  Here’s how it works:  We all get one small piece of paper for each of the other family members.  So, for us, we all get 3 pieces of paper.  Then we are to write something that we appreciate about each person.  It can be something we admire about their character, something kind we saw them do or experienced thanks to them, or an achievement we want to acknowledge.  You get the idea.  Then when we’re all finished writing, we take turns going around the table reading them to each other.  We’ve been keeping our slips of paper in a vase.  That’s it.  Nothing earth-shattering.  Pretty simple.

Warm Fuzzies 3

Since we started doing this I have found myself being more observant of the kindness, personal responsibility, and positive qualities of those I live with.  Sometimes I’ll think “Oh, that would be perfect to write,” – but by Friday night I will have forgotten what it was I had in mind.  I could remedy that problem by more often just saying what I appreciate at the moment I notice it.  Warm fuzzies written on a piece of paper are nice, but knowing you are appreciated throughout the week is nice too.

I came upon a website today chock-full of ideas that sound like they have potential to promote growth and well-being.  So the kids can breathe easier. I’m sure I’ll move on to some other form of torture before long.

More than a House

Dear Marilyn,

Thank you for the generous offer to use your home for our gathering.  It was such a treat to get together with friends for the evening. And it was such a treat to get to know you better.  I appreciated the tour of your home, inside and out.

As we were walking on the path and you were pointing out all the different types of vegetation, I realized I would never remember their names, how they arrived at your house, or when you put them in.  But I found there were lessons in your story of much greater meaning to me.  And I am so grateful for the opportunity to have heard you tell them without directly saying a word.

The things you have are meaningful to you because of the people and their stories that they remind you of. Despite the meaning of the things, they are still not too precious to hold, touch, and use.  People present in your life are more important than things.  That’s a good lesson.

You have been working on improving your place for years.  You have a plan and you work hard towards your goal. You plant small shrubs and trees knowing they will grow into something beautiful in time. You aren’t in a hurry.  You aren’t afraid you will run out of time.  You don’t allow circumstances to rush you.  You have great patience for the process of life.

You dream big.  You spend time thinking about where you are and where you want to go with things. You let your mind wander and imagine beautiful things.  You see potential where others see a dry patch of dirt.

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You and Frank have respect for each other.  You have learned to present your ideas to Frank and then give him space to think and process. You appreciate the differences you each bring to your union.

You value your girlfriends.  You make an effort to do things that bind your hearts together.  You embrace what makes you feminine.

You treasure your heritage and the heritage of others.  You find worth in the struggle of life and the growth that it brings.

You are rejuvenated and refreshed by appreciating the things of nature.  They are a reflection of their Creator. You connect with Him while caring for the things He made.

Your house is beautiful and the things you have in it are beautiful.  But the greatest beauty of the place is the family who lives there.  I can’t tell you the names of your flowers and shrubs, but I learned a lot by spending the evening in your home. Thank you again for sharing of your home and yourself.

Not by Sight

Sometimes I smile and later I feel happy.
Sometimes I give and later I feel generous.
Sometimes I wait and later I feel patient.
Sometimes I go forward and later I feel courageous.
Sometimes I walk and later I see the path.
Sometimes I am vulnerable and later I feel safe.
Sometimes I am washed clean and later I feel forgiven.
Sometimes I obey and later I understand why.
Sometimes I reach out and later I am held.
Sometimes I hurt and later I am comforted.
Sometimes I am quiet and later I hear His voice.
Sometimes I jump and later He catches me.

Crazy Love

I contacted a friend the other night, needing someone to commiserate with concerning the trials and tribulations of the dating world.  Turns out we are both in a similar boat and the opportunity to share was much appreciated.  As often happens in the world of relationship conversations, things quickly turned to the deeper questions in life, like – what is God trying to teach me?  What is the meaning of happiness?  How much work in a relationship is too much?  How much waiting is too long?  What motivates our deep desire to give and receive love?  Can someone be loved enough to heal a past injury? Are we setting the other person up for disappointment if we think we can love away the hurt- knowing we are only human and prone to fail in our attempts at some point and to some degree? Can we stay close enough to God to provide unconditional love without becoming impatient, selfish or anxious when it doesn’t look like it’s going how we’d like?  Can love endlessly flow from us while being filled only from God?  Does God put love in our hearts for others so He can love them through us even when they don’t appear to accept it?  Is this all crazy?

Then I look at God.  I did nothing to reciprocate before He told me He loved me.  I, in fact, didn’t even like Him before He loved me.  I was dressed in stinky, smelly rags but yet He unashamedly told the whole world of His love for me.  I was not worthy but He didn’t care.  He didn’t give me a time-line I had to comply with or risk the removal of His love.  He had no guarantee as to whether or not I would accept His love.  He took all the vulnerability on Himself. While He tells me what I can do to please Him and show my love for Him, He doesn’t require me to do any of it for Him to love me.  His love makes no sense at all.  It is the most selfless, patient, generous thing I’ve ever encountered.  For God so loved me, that before I even looked His way He gave me the very best He had to offer, waiting with anxious anticipation to see if I would love Him back. He is absolutely, over-the-top, CRAZY!

Brick Layer

I’ve got a friend who is a brick layer.  If you’ve got a wall to build, he’s the kind of fellow you want to hire.  He’s got a team of guys who work for him.  If he arrives at the job site and sees a brick out of place on the bottom of the wall, he makes them tear the wall down, fix the brick, and build the wall over. It will only be right at the top if it’s right at the bottom.

Relationships are like that.  Only trouble is, once the foundation layer is placed and the relationship builds, there’s no way to go back in time and rescue that brick that was misplaced.  Everything from there on out is off-kilter.  Adjustments can be made later on to make it work, but how much simpler it is to make sure the foundation is solid before the wall is built.