What Love Looks Like

One of the things I talk a lot about here is that love is a choice. It is more than a feeling. It is not just a grand romantic gesture. It is not always easy. But it is always worth it. Always.

But, really, what does that mean? What does love look like in the day-to-day?

It is solo parenting all day and then at bedtime and then in the middle of the night because your spouse is traveling.

It is leaving the last bite of a shared dessert for your spouse (even if she’s already had more than you, because you aren’t counting how many bites she’s had).

It is the making of a peanut butter sandwich before he leaves for work because it’s a long commute and he didn’t have time to eat breakfast before he left.

It is forwarding a link to a funny video that you know will make him laugh and break up his work day.

It is the late-night run to the store to buy cream for her morning cup of coffee even though you were ready to go to bed. Because you know that milk just doesn’t cut it when it comes to her first cup of coffee.

It is the surprise Mounds bar because you know it’s her favorite chocolate treat and it’s been an exceptionally challenging day.

It is taking over at 4:00 a.m. when a child wakes with a nightmare, then can’t get back to sleep and your spouse has had too little sleep to think straight and besides you were getting up to chase your dream anyway.

It is getting up at 4:00 a.m. most mornings to chase a dream and create a different life for your family.

It is believing in your spouse even when others don’t.

It is holding your tongue when you are tempted to nag your spouse about something trivial (the almost-empty milk carton put back in the fridge, the socks left in the dining room, not refilling the water pitcher; those small things that get under your skin).

It is insisting that your spouse take the day to herself so that she can rest, renew and write.

It is forgiving and not keeping a record of wrongs (in other words, you don’t bring up past hurts or mistakes in the midst of an argument as a means of hurting your spouse).

It is listening to your spouse and not interrupting.

It is acknowledging that you were wrong and asking for forgiveness.

It is not always having to be right or having to prove your point because your spouse is more important to you than being right.

It is praying for your spouse’s specific needs.

It is an encouraging email that you send your spouse that tells him how much you believe in him and how much you appreciate him.

It is letting your spouse pick the movie on date night.

It is sitting across the table from your spouse, sharing an appetizer and a glass of wine and talking about your shared dreams.

It is cooking your spouse’s favorite breakfast foods on the weekend.

It is sitting in front of a cozy fire together, each of you reading a book and simply being in each others’ company.

It is a hundred little things that you do each day.

It is getting up each day and asking God, what can I do today for my spouse that will bring you glory?

It is being willing to serve your spouse in love.

Marriage requires effort. Loving your spouse is a choice. Relationships cannot grow or flourish unless we are willing to nurture them by the hundred little things we do for each other each day.

What would you add to this list? What does love look like in the day-to-day with your spouse?

What He Knows

It is raining. When I look out the kitchen window I see gray and shadowed images. What a contrast this is from the view just a few days ago.

My head knows that nothing has really changed. That the morning light is there. Behind the clouds. Behind the rain. Behind the shadows. But my heart responds differently. Emotionally. It takes on a bit of the gray and the shadows.

I feel tired. I want to wallow in the day’s grayness, my heart’s grayness. I want to dismiss the beauty. I want to laze the day away (or at least read for a good portion of it). I want time to myself. I don’t want to be a mama right now. I don’t want to be a wife right now. I simply want to be.

And I realize that these are not things unique to the rainy day outside.

These are things with which I struggle even on bright, sunny days. Trying to find the balance of me.

Perhaps today’s struggle is influenced by the 4:00 a.m. wake up call from our five-and-a-half-year-old last night. The wake up call that started as a whimper and grew into crying. She was having a dream, a nightmare. She wasn’t even awake. But I was.

And then we all were as I grumbled and groused and growled. In my groggy state, I was irrational. And angry. And desperate. Desperate to be asleep. Desperate to be alone. Desperate simply to be.

Enter my genteel, soothing, rational husband. Who had the opposite effect on me, my irrational anger ratcheting up and now directed at him. As if he has any idea what it’s like to be me. What it’s like to be a mama. What it’s like to be on duty 24 out of 24 hours each day. What it’s like to struggle.

Grrrrrrrrrrrr, I grouch at him. Grumble, grumble, grumble, I shout as I stomp down the hall. Grouse, grouse, grouse, I add as he tells me everything is okay and to go back to sleep.

Like he has any idea.

Except that he does. Because he knows me. Because he knows my needs. Because he listens to my heart’s cry. Even in the midst of my grumbling in the wee morning hours when my irrational brain needs comfort as much as my five-year-old girl’s does. Needs calming. Needs sleep. Definitely, desperately needs sleep.

Like he has any idea.

Except that he does. Because he is the one who is calm in spite of the early hour. Because he is the one who is gentle even though his day was as long, longer actually, than mine. Because he is the one who planned to be up at 4:00 a.m. anyway in order to chase his dream.

Like he has any idea.

Except that he does. Because I see him struggle. I see him struggle to be the best man he can be by the choices he makes. I see him struggle to grow stronger in his faith and be a spiritual leader. I see him struggle with new challenges, with the unknowns of tomorrow, with the priorities of today.

He has plenty of an idea.

These are my thoughts as I watch the rain falling outside the kitchen window. So instead of dismissing the beauty, I choose to embrace it. To seek it out. To discover the beauty that comes with the rain. I watch the way a single raindrop hits one glistening leaf. I watch the way puddles form along the driveway. I watch the rippling rings from each drop grow and overlap. Rings form and grow and fade.

And instead of wallowing in my heart, I pray.

Dear Jesus, I whisper, thank you that you are God and that you love me. Thank you that you reveal beauty even in gray and shadow days and in wee morning five-year-old nightmares. Thank you that you do not abandon me to myself, to my emotions. Thank you that you gifted me with a man who is gentle and kind and convicting. Thank you for a man who reflects your Spirit in our shared life. In the early morning moments. In the daily emails we exchange. In the way he looks at me, the smile he offers, the joy he provides.

As I draw my attention to the things of today, the rain echoes with my gratitude. And my heart responds differently. It reminds me of joy.

This Moment

Questions, questions and more questions.

How can we make more money?

Are we making the right parenting choices?

Where should we live?

Why is it so difficult to connect with like-minded people?

How can we simplify our lives? our home?

What is God’s plan and purpose for us? as a family? individually?

What I want are answers. But what I uncover in my attempts to discover answers are more questions. More unknowns. And unknowns make it challenging for us, for me, to focus on what I know. The unknowns make it too easy for me to forget. To forget that I’ve overcome challenges, some even bigger than the ones we face now. To forget that nothing lasts forever, not problems, not circumstances, not successes. To forget that I am stronger than I know because the Spirit that lives in me is greater than any challenge I face.

I know that I want answers, but I wonder if I need them.

I know that as a child of God, I am meant to live by faith and not by sight, but I want to see where I’m going. Not just today, but tomorrow. And next week. And in the coming year.

I know that God is faithful, so I wonder why I worry and doubt and wrestle for control.

I know that I want to simplify my life and our home, but I struggle with letting go of stuff.

I know that I want to live richly and simply, but I have difficulty letting go of past hurts. Of grudges. Of insecurities.

I know that I want to trust God deeply, but too often I take my eyes off of him.

I know that God cares for me, and I wonder what that really looks like.

And as I consider the things I know, and I search for answers to the things I don’t know, I am reminded by a still, small voice, that God holds all of it. I am reminded of his promises. That he knows when I sit down and when I stand up. That he knows what I will say before I say it. That he knows my heart’s desires. That if I delight in him, he will give me my heart’s desires.

As I heed that still, small voice, I know that I have a choice.

I can focus on the questions and attempt to figure things out on my own. Or, I can focus on God. And if I choose to keep my eyes on him, I can be like Peter. I can walk on the water in spite of the storm and the crashing waves.

I can focus on my circumstances, my ever-changing circumstances. Or, I can focus on God. And if I choose to keep my mind on Jesus, I can be like Paul. I can be content no matter what happens to me. No matter if I have plenty or I have nothing.

I can focus on what I am not and what I cannot do. Or, I can focus on God. And, if I choose to focus on what God can do and step out in faith despite my fear, I can be like Moses. I can speak truth and stand strong and embark on God-sized adventures.

So, in this moment, I choose to focus on God. I choose to give up my desire to know everything right now. I choose to have faith. And even though I know that tomorrow, or even in an hour, I will have to choose to live by faith again, and again, and again, I choose to live in this moment.

In this moment, I step out of the boat. In this moment I thank God for everything, even my circumstances. In this moment I begin a God-sized adventure.

And I am thankful. No longer worried. No longer fretting. No longer fearful.

But thankful. Yes, thankful.

Living on the Promises

I look around and groan inwardly. There are so many tasks that demand my time, my attention, my energy. None them include meeting the needs or being engaged with our two little girls. Life, it sometimes seems, is as cluttered as our living room strewn with toys and little girls’ artwork and art supplies and books. Some days the effort to clean up, organize, declutter the stuff is like an uphill climb, pushing that boulder like Sisyphus.

But it is in those moments when I am tempted to grumble or, worse, ignore it, that I am choosing to pause. To be still. To whisper a prayer. To whisper a prayer inviting Jesus into that moment. That moment of messiness and clutter. That moment of frustration or ambivalence or weariness. Inviting him to transform that moment from one of frustration and messiness into one of thanksgiving and worship. Letting him take the chaos and the tasks and give me his peace.

It’s not exactly a fair exchange. But if I take the time to pause. If I choose to seek him, to seek his face, he is more than willing to take my cares and concerns, to carry them so that I don’t have to. He is more than willing because he is faithful to his promises. His promise that I can cast my cares on him because he cares for me. His promise that when I am weary, if I come to him, he will give me rest. His promise that I can have not just life, but abundant life.

An abundant life. A life in which the ordinary is beautiful, the mundane is holy, the here and now is something to celebrate. A life of richness nurtured by an attitude of thankfulness.

And so this morning I choose to develop that attitude. I choose to be thankful. I choose to celebrate the life we have. The life we share. I choose to celebrate you and to share with you what I appreciate about you, what I thank Jesus for about you, what I think about but may not always tell you.

I am praying for you. Praying about your job with Hobart, praying for your music, praying for your heart’s desires. That you would discover your heart’s desires. That I would encourage you in your heart’s desires. That you would receive your heart’s desires.

I am proud of how hard you work each day. Not only at Hobart, but at your dream. That you get up at 4:30 in the morning to pursue your dream, to write music, to sit with God.

I love watching you read with the girls. The way that you naturally encourage their love of story. The way you engage them even if you have read that same book twice already. The way that they snuggle into you. The way that your face radiates love and joy.

I am thankful that you are a morning person. That you can interact with our little morning lark when she rises too early for my sleepy self. That you let me sleep. That when I finally greet the day you make me my first cup of coffee and allow me to ease into the chaos of our life.

I am grateful that you brave the buggy basement in order to do the laundry. You may not always fold the clean clothes, but knowing that I don’t have to face the dank, musty, unfinished basement makes up for any pile of clothes awaiting folding.

I love that you get so excited by things you enjoy: trains, the Foo Fighters, sports, birdwatching, spending time with me.

I appreciate that you encourage me, as a writer, as a mama, as a wife. That you encourage me in my faith, even when I am struggling to hold fast to God’s promises. That you encourage me when I try a new recipe and it doesn’t turn out well. That you praise me in front of the girls.

I am thankful that you listen to me. That you work hard at giving me your undivided attention because you know how much that matters to me. That it is part of my love language.

I like that you desire to create unique experiences for and make special occasions memorable. I still remember the scavenger hunt birthday you put together, the card hints you made, how much fun it was to figure out and celebrate with you.

I like that even when our finances don’t allow for big gifts or extravagant nights out or weekends away, we can find joy in talking about what we will do when our circumstances improve. And we find joy in remembering trips we’ve taken and moments we’ve shared. LIke that rainy hike in Kentucky and that Subway sandwich that was better than any five-course dinner at an expensive restaurant because we were famished.

I like that on Fridays I feel a sense of anticipation simply because you will be home on Saturday and we will spend time together. That we will do life together. Taking care of little girls, tending to chores, smiling across the table. That we will laugh together because I love the way you can make me laugh.

When I look at my life, these are the things I want to see. The abundant life surrounds me. Surrounds us. I don’t want to groan or grumble about what a day brings, what I don’t have, what I think I need. I want to appreciate the day. I want to appreciate the blessings. I want to appreciate that God gifted you to me because he knew that we could refine each other and encourage one another. That we work well together.

I want to live simply and richly. With you. Always with you.

Morning Light

I am not a morning person. I think we can both agree on that. But as I look out the kitchen window, it is clear that God is. He is an obvious morning lark. He is of course a night owl and a midnight refuge. But the work of his hand overnight is more felt than witnessed. But in the mornings? The work of his hands, his very presence, is so obvious. If you slow down and wait. And watch.

It is in the early morning moments, with my eyes still heavy with slumber, with my brain still foggy with the dreams of the night before, with my senses slowly awakening, that I experience all things made new. That hope is renewed. Awakened. Restored. Standing in the quiet of the kitchen, a glimmer of gold catches my eye. It slows me down and invites me to be still. To be still in spite of the chaos of two little girls up and into their day. To be still in spite of the long list of things to do to get the day started. To be still in spite of my tendency to dive into busyness.

In the grey of the dawning day the sun’s touch ignites the tip of a leaf, a sliver of bark, a cardinal’s red wing. Slowly the world outside our window is infused with light. Golden light. A light that passes quickly. A light that if one is not still, will pass unnoticed. Its beauty lost to the day’s full, saturating light. And so I pause.

I have become mindful of these early morning moments. That the darkness creates this opportunity of beauty. That the shadows of the world make the perfect backdrop for these golden sparks. There in the wooded backyard, life begins anew. Each morning, all things new. New mercies. New grace. New beginnings. New choices to make.

And second chances. Yes, even second chances. Especially second chances. Because that’s how God works.

I stand and watch the light bring forth the new day. And as light and hope slowly bathe my world, I whisper a prayer.

dear Jesus, thank you. Thank you for mornings and for moments of stillness. Sometimes, Jesus, I act like everything is under control. That I am in control. That everything is just fine and there are no problems, no concerns, no obstacles. That there is no darkness. Thank you for reminding me that even in darkness there is beauty. And hope. And light. That you are able to create beauty from ashes. The ashes of our lives. The ashes of our relationships. The ashes of broken vows and hurting hearts. And struggling marriages. The ashes of my hurting heart and my broken relationship with David.

Thank you that you can redeem our darkness. Thank you that your light knows no darkness and that you are a God of second chances. dear Jesus, there are moments when I doubt. When I doubt your promises even though I believe they are true. When I doubt that you are big enough to address the mess we have made even though I have seen you work in my life so many times. When I doubt my feelings, my convictions, my marriage even though I believe you brought David into my life and that you gifted us to each other in your goodness and with your blessing.

It is in the morning moments like this one that I remember. That I recover the hope that can only come with you. Through you. When I abide in you. And I thank you, dear Jesus, that you are in control and that I belong to you. That David belongs to you. That he is not mine to control or change. There is incredible freedom in such surrender. And I am thankful that when I wrestle you for control, as we both know I will, Lord, you provide gentle reminders of your presence and power in these morning moments.

In a small shaft of golden light on a single leaf. In the peace that surrounds me in the chaos of the day’s beginnings. In the whisper of each breath I take.

And because of these gifts you give so freely, I am able once again to appreciate the gift you gave to me in David. And walk with you toward hope. Toward grace. Toward him.

Yes, toward him.

Navigating Choices

One year ago today, we were driving from Massachusetts to North Carolina with our two sweet girls and the idea that life was starting anew. We were finally heading to the place we’d talked about moving when our oldest was but a babe of nine months {she is now five-and-a-half years old}.

Now we are here. Our sweet girls are becoming who they will be according to God’s will and purpose for them and their lives.

And we have the opportunity of discover the same for our lives.

One year from today, where will we be? What will we be doing?

If we allow the voices of those who are practical and limited in their view of what life can be, we will remain where we are and continue to struggle and try to squeeze our square peg lives into round holes….

But, if we allow the voice of Truth, the voice of Jesus, to permeate our souls, we will live a life that is beyond what finite minds and hearts can imagine.

We get to choose. Starting today, we get to choose. Which voice will we heed? Which voice will we believe?

dear Jesus, thank you that you are God. That you claimed us and our lives with your precious, healing blood. Thank you that you love us more than we can fully understand. Thank you that you care for us and that you remind us in your word that you care about the details of our life. You know the number of hairs on our heads. You have a plan for each of us. You have a purpose for each of us. Help us, dear Jesus, to uncover that purpose. To work with you and not against you or in spite of you. Help us, dear Jesus, to seek you first and to let you lead us. Thank you that you are in charge and that we belong to you. When we feel overwhelmed, remind us to cast our cares on you because you care about us. Deeply. Intimately.

Speak to us in the moments of our day with your truth. Wrap us in your grace. Remind us that we are bold and confident in you and that we can do all things through you and with you because you are our strength. Remind us that nothing is impossible for you. When we doubt, dear Jesus, let your Spirit whisper your promises to our hearts and to our souls. As we train our minds to think you, speak to us, dear Jesus, that we may hear your voice and recall your promises. And claim those promises throughout the days we are given.

dear Jesus, I can only begin to imagine what life will look like a year from now if we chase you and seek you above all else. If we listen to your voice and act according to your will. dear Jesus, help us to be who you designed us to be and who you are calling us to be. thank you for loving us and for calling us to a life we have yet to imagine but that we can know through you and with you.

in your precious name. Amen.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;

establish the work of our hands for us –

yes, establish the work of our hands.  {Psalm 90:17}