Love in Any Language

The sun had just poked its head over the horizon and I had just lifted mine off of the pillow. My slippered feet shuffled across the cold kitchen floor, on auto pilot, headed to the counter where the electric tea kettle–and the caffeine–live. On the speckled granite lay an unexpected message from my husband, hastily scribbled on the back of a discarded envelope:

image

My guy has a true servant’s heart. It’s his spiritual gift, his native tongue. “Acts of Service” are his “Love Language.”

Unfortunately, they’re not mine.

You’re familiar with “The Five Love Languages,” right? Author Gary Chapman writes:

After 30 years as a marriage counselor, I am convinced that there are five basic love languages – five ways to express love emotionally. Each person has a primary love language that we must learn to speak if we want that person to feel loved.”

According to Chapman, the five love languages are:  Acts of Service, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, and Physical Touch. You can read more about them and even take a handy quiz to help determine your love language at: www.5lovelanguages.com.

I believe my primary love language is “Words of Affirmation.” A sincere compliment can fill me up for a week. I love to send handmade cards and write encouraging notes. Words are my friends. (I also like “Gifts.” Gifts are my friends.)

Chris and I read “The Five Love Languages” shortly after the book came out in the mid-90’s. You’d think we’d be fluent in each other’s love languages by now. But we forget. We get lazy. Learning to speak a second language requires focus and determination. And practice.

My helpful hubby got some credit for the handwritten “note” on the back of the envelope that morning. But my heart sank a little when I realized it was only to tell me that he had filled up my car with gas, and not something more, well…inspiring.

Sigh.

Like I said, while I do appreciate them, “Acts of Service” are just not my love language.

And then the Holy Spirit spoke to the pouting child in me. In one of His love languages. The one called “A Gentle Rebuke.”

Ouch.

I’m not very fond of that love language either.

What He whispered to my critical heart sounded something like this:

You can demand that others love you a certain way. Or you can choose to receive the love they offer you in whatever form it takes. Because love is…love. This act of service sprang from a heart of love. Will you accept it or reject it? The choice is yours.

Standing at the kitchen counter at the start of that new day, I made a choice to accept it.

And to thank the Lord for a husband who finds joy in unselfish service. To receive the gracious gift of a full tank of gas. To let the power of those two little words, “Love you,” linger in my thoughts and penetrate my heart.

He loves me.

It’s all that matters.

Understanding our loved ones’ love languages can help us communicate more effectively. But really, I don’t think there’s anything in the Bible that insists love be spoken in a certain “language.” There’s only this:

…love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22b, NIV)

Love deeply. From the heart.

There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” (George Sand)

Just love, and be loved.

So simple, it needs no translation.

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We Build

Hands with ring

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established…
(Proverbs 24:3, NIV)
 

I can still see her, that younger version of me, newly engaged and mesmerized by the brilliance of her diamond ring as it reflected the ballroom lights. It’s a wonder I heard anything at all that first FamilyLife conference, so enamored was I with that ring on my finger, as I held the hand of the handsome guy who had dropped to one knee and placed it there. I was young, in love and starry-eyed.

Six months later and we were happily married, setting out to build a godly marriage based on the principles of His Word. We had been blessed with a good foundation, the best possible start. Six years further down the road we attended another FamilyLife conference, this time as parents of young children. We enjoyed “speaking in complete sentences” and calling each other something besides “Mom” and “Dad,” as we were encouraged to continue building our home on those same, unchanging biblical principles.

The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish tears it down with her own hands.
(Proverbs 14:1, NAS)
 

And then, somewhere in the course of the 18 years that followed, we slowly began to forget, drift. Hurts and disappointments came to visit. Stubbornness, unforgiveness and bitterness took up residence. I did more than my fair share of the tearing down and less than my fair share of the building up. Our marriage was in need of repair.

It’s bigger than we thought. It’s taller than it ought to be, this pile of rubble and ruins.”*

When the opportunity to attend another FamilyLife conference this past weekend presented itself, we both knew we needed to take it. It seemed to me we were each limping a little as we carried our suitcases into the hotel, this older version of ourselves straining under the weight of the rubble we had allowed to accumulate.

As we nervously took our seats in the ballroom, I didn’t even glance at my wedding ring, self-consciously scanning the room instead. The pre-marrieds were easy enough to pick out, all starry-eyed and hand-holding as they were. But to my relief, there were also some couples who looked a lot like us, a bit weary and weighed down. Many were our age or older. There was even one couple sitting near us who had been married for 43 years. All had come seeking encouragement and support.

We clear away what was, and make room for what will be.”*

Throughout the course of the weekend, we were reminded of the keys to a successful marriage. We were confronted with our individual failures to follow God’s plan and welcomed the opportunities we were given to confess and forgive. It wasn’t always easy. But God blessedly came, like a bulldozer, and cleared away the rubble.

“The God of heaven will give us success;
therefore we His servants will arise and build…”
(Nehemiah 2:20a, NAS)
 

With fresh but tender hope, we began to rebuild. At the end of the conference, we stood in that hotel ballroom filled with hundreds of couples who struggle just like us, held hands as we faced each other, and in unison tearfully renewed our vows. (We’ve got the certificate to prove it!) It was especially moving and meaningful for us since we will celebrate our 25th anniversary next year.

Our oldest daughter recently got engaged and plans to marry this coming year. At the conference I couldn’t help but think of her and her fiancé, as I remembered Chris and myself as a newly engaged couple and reflected on where we are today, almost 25 years later.

Here’s what I would tell them:

Marriage truly is God’s wonderful design and His beautiful gift. It’s okay to have stars in your eyes right now. But know that when the excitement of a wedding and the novelty of being newlyweds subsides, building a godly home will take hard work, humility and dedication. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down. Keep short accounts and don’t let the rubble pile up. But if it does, invite God to come and help you clear it away. Then you can resume building, with His grace and strength, for His glory.

To my fellow married couples (and myself!) I would say:

Every marriage needs some focused TLC from time to time. View your relationship as a sacred priority. Regularly invest in it. A couples small group or a FamilyLife conference are great places to start. Your marriage is worth it. The marriages of future generations are watching.

And to my husband of nearly 25 years, I offer this:

What I’m trying to say, in some clumsy way, is that it’s you and only you, for always.”*

There is no one else I’d rather keep building with. 18 years from now, if the Lord allows, let’s be that couple, sitting side by side at the FamilyLife conference, who’ve been married for 43 years.

Deal? 

*Lyrics are from “We Build” by Nichole Nordeman. A great video meditation with this song, on the work and commitment of marriage can be found at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9vSoefIrR4
 
For more information on FamilyLife conferences and other marriage and family resources go to:
http://www.familylife.com
 
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Reality Check

“Just pull down his lower eyelid and squeeze a strip of the antibiotic cream onto it, three times a day,” the vet explained.

Riiiight.

She made it sound so easy.  Don’t be fooled.  Innocent looking, 3.2 lb puppies are deceptively strong.  And if applying eye cream three times a day wasn’t overwhelming enough, we had the added challenge of squirting ear drops twice a day to treat an ear infection.  Uh huh.

Just livin’ the doggie dream.

Having a puppy is so much more demanding than we anticipated.  I had pictured all cuteness and cuddles.  And while there is certainly that, a puppy also comes with inconvenience and puddles.  And vet bills.  And other stuff I’d rather not discuss.  (Refer to my previous post.)

I guess I hadn’t fully counted the cost.

It’s easy to glamorize something we desire without adequately preparing for its difficulties.  For example, we focus on planning an elegant wedding instead of establishing an enduring marriage.  We dream of an adorable baby, when what we’re really getting is a child, along with a two-decade long assignment to shape them into a responsible adult.  We tend to be short-sighted, surprised when things turn out to be more than we signed up for.

So what do we do when reality disrupts the dream?  The way I see it, we have two options:

1–Hang onto the dream and develop resentment.
2–Let go of the dream and develop contentment.

I went into marriage expecting something along the lines of Disneyland.  When my reality didn’t match up with my fantasy, I had a choice to make.  I could continue to chase the dream, or accept and love the man God gave me.  (Most of the time I’ve chosen the latter.  Except on Valentine’s Day.)

Parenting has proven to be one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things I’ve ever done.  I love my daughters.  They truly are the delight of my life.  But (surprise!) they don’t always measure up to the ideals I have for them.  Can I let go of control and allow them to grow into the people GOD envisioned, loving them unconditionally along the way?  I’m learning.

Puppies ARE cute.  AND expensive.  AND high maintenance.  It’s like having a baby in the house.  Wrapped in a toddler.  I’m adjusting my expectations accordingly.

And just about the time I’m exhausted and think I’ve had enough, he’ll lick my chin affectionately and plop his fluffy little head down on my shoulder with a contented sigh.

A reminder that I, too, can be content.

Cuddles, puddles and all.

This face. If only it were this easy to keep him clean!

 

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The Nest

Spotting the first robins of spring always takes me back to the spring of 2006, an ordinary robin’s nest, and the simple truths it contained…

We had a front row seat to the miracle of new life.  A pair of robins built their nest low in the branches of our apple tree.  So low, in fact, that my three kids could peer right in, without even standing on tiptoes.  Four beautiful, blue, perfectly formed eggs peered right back at them.  And so the story began.

{Photo by Emily Smith}

I found myself strangely comforted by the sight of the mama bird perched so contentedly on that nest.  Each morning I’d wake up and eagerly part my bedroom blinds for a look out at the apple tree.  There she always sat, regardless of what our unpredictable Wyoming spring weather threw at her.  Sun, rain, sleet, snow, hail, and the ever prevailing wind–she prevailed through it all.

My oldest daughter got on the Internet and informed us that a robin’s egg incubates for 12-14 days.  And sure enough, about two weeks later, we chased the robin off the nest long enough to note that three of the eggs had indeed hatched.  In their place were tiny, hairless little creatures with faces only a mother robin could love.

The remaining egg hatched a day or so later.  Soon all we could see were four golden beaks, pointing up like sharpened pencils, when their mother returned to the nest with dinner.  Within a few days we could also hear those noisy beaks as they celebrated the timely arrival of a juicy worm or some other succulent morsel.

We human mothers have more in common with our feathered friends than you might think.  After all, we say an expectant mom is “nesting” when she compulsively cleans right before her due date.  And how do we refer to the home when the last child leaves?  It’s an “empty nest!”  The Bible also frequently uses the imagery of a bird and its young to illustrate God’s special relationship with His children.

As the drama surrounding the busy nest in our backyard unfolded, I realized I had been granted a privileged spot in a unique classroom.  A humble robin may be an unusual and unlikely mentor.  But as I sat under her able instruction, I watched…and learned.

Lesson #1:  It matters.

The mother robin was a picture of serenity as she rested sedately on her nest.  I was attracted to her quiet dignity as she faithfully fulfilled the purpose for which God had created her. She almost seemed to be holding her head high, proud of her noble calling.

The robin instinctively knows her place and purpose in the world.  But you and I need to be reminded that giving birth to and nurturing LIFE is an unparalleled honor given to us by God.  What could be more significant?  Mothering matters!  It is a reflection of the heart and nature of our Creator.  Like the robin, we can experience peace and contentment, knowing we are in the very center of God’s will.

Lesson #2:  Stay close.

Before the eggs hatched, the robin spent most of her time sitting on the nest.  She would occasionally leave its perimeters in search of a snack or a quick shower in the sprinkler, but she never traveled far and always returned quickly.  Several times we ventured out into the yard to sneak a peek at the nest when it appeared to be unoccupied.  Each time we were surprised to find that she hadn’t abandoned her post at all, but was somewhere in the grass or branches within earshot and eyesight.

When our children are young and vulnerable, they need the comfort of our presence and the assurance that we are never far away.  We may at times, out of necessity, need to leave the nest.  (Time away to preserve one’s sanity is also a necessity!)  But stay as close as you possibly can and return as quickly as you can.

One of the qualities I appreciate most about my heavenly Father is the fact that He is always near, keeping a watchful eye on His beloved children.  Deuteronomy 32:11a describes God this way:  “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young…”  And Psalm 73:28, one of my all-time favorites, states that:  “The nearness of God is my good.”  Let your nearness be the good of your children as well.

Lesson #3:  It’s hard work.

After the eggs hatched, the robin no longer had the luxury of putting her feet up on the sides of a quiet nest.  She spent most of her time then flying tirelessly back and forth across the yard, gathering food and dropping it into four hungry mouths.  As soon as the quadruplets caught even a glimpse of her in the tree branches they would sit up and start squawking for more.  Once they were satisfied, she would wiggle her red breast and then plop it right down on top of them, as if to say, “It’s nap time!”  Surely, it was she who needed the nap!

Parenting small children can often feel like we’re rowing on an endless sea of needs.  I remember many times pulling our van into the driveway with a crying baby needing to be fed, a whining toddler needing attention, melting groceries needing to be put away, not to mention my own full bladder needing to be emptied…trying to decide which of those needs to meet first!  Often we moms feel like we’re last in line and wonder with a sigh, Who is going to meet my needs–and when?

Listen to what God says to you in His Word.  “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?”  (Matthew 6:26)  In Philippians 4:19 He promises that He “…shall supply all your needs…” !

You matter to Him!  You don’t have to wait in line for Him to wait on you.  When you look to Him to care for your needs, you will be filled up to care for the many needs of your family.

Lesson #4:  It’s a battle.

The first time we approached the robin’s nest she flew off, frightened.  As time went on she grew bolder in her protection of her eggs and later of her babies.  Once she even chased my scared kids all the way up the stairs of our wooden deck and back into the house as she chirped loudly and flew at them aggressively.

We too need to be bold and vigilant in protecting our young.  Dangers lurk everywhere–from oncoming traffic to Internet predators and everything in between.  The Bible says there are also three enemies of our souls:  the world, Satan, and our flesh.  These threats may seem less obvious but the spiritual danger is just as real.

Prayer is a mother’s secret and best weapon.  I believe God’s heart is especially tender to a mama’s cries on her babies’ behalf.  Despite the myriad dangers, we can rest in His capable protection of them and of us as we pray and “hide in the shadow of (His) wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

Lesson #5:  Stay together.

It wasn’t many weeks before the quads were tumbling out of the nest and testing out their own new wings.  One night, not long after they had flown the coop, my husband and I relaxed outside on our porch swing, enjoying the cool and calm of the May evening.  Against the backdrop of a colorful sunset, silhouetted on the fence, we spied the pair of robins.  None of the baby robins were in view, but there the parents were–still together, a team, lifelong companions.

It is no secret that half of all marriages today don’t make it.  Many don’t weather the storms and stresses of the child raising years well.  Some of my sweet single mom friends can attest to this painful reality firsthand.

But there is hope.  Beth Moore shares in Feathers From My Nest:

We’re making it. And so can you. Only one thing stood between us and a scattered nest. God. Ever loving us, forgiving us, teaching us, restoring us. Redeeming our failures. Reclaiming our surrendered ground. Repairing our broken wings. As Psalm 91:4 says, He covered us with His feathers. And they are all over our nest.”

Precious, hard working mom, like the robin you, too, can hold your head high.  God has entrusted you with the most important assignment in all of creation.  Let Him be the Lord of your nest.  He will enable you to do your job well.  He will so graciously provide and ever so powerfully protect.  Then this will be your grateful song of victory:

  ..You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy. (Psalm 63:7)

Note:  All Scripture references are from The New American Standard Version.

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Old Silver

News of a young couple’s engagement or wedding usually puts me in a melancholy mood.  It’s not that I don’t share their excitement.  I do.  It’s just that the newness of their relationship makes mine feel so…old.  I look back longingly at those early days when all we could see were the stars in each other’s eyes and a future stretching as far as those shining eyes could see.

So when I came across the following quote, it really spoke to me.  I share it not to in any way diminish the glory of young love.  But this is for those who have logged some marriage miles.  Those whose wedding pictures are yellowing with age.  Those whose kids laugh at their bridal fashions and hairstyles that are suspended in time.  If this describes you, then perhaps we could both use a reminder that what we posses has a timeless value and a beauty that is actually enhanced with age.

New love compared to old love is somewhat akin to the comparison of new silver with old silver. Certainly the former possesses a dazzling brilliance. But the latter’s tarnish defines the elegance and artistry of its design. The marks of old silver’s age speak to the history of its service, its significance and its value. Old silver embodies a rich storehouse of memories that gives it a luster which an immature piece of new silver, for all its inherent value and shiny surface, has not yet attained.” (Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse)

Today Chris and I celebrate 22 years of marriage.  Like a fork and a knife, I am thankful for our history of service together.  Over two decades of use may have left us a bit tarnished, but that has only deepened and more clearly defined the intricate details of God’s design.  Our storehouse of memories is filling, with room left for the ones still to be made.  And so I say…

Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.  Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God:  See all, nor be afraid!'” (Robert Browning)

Happy Anniversary to my old love!

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Place of Rest

My cell phone vibrated on the table next to me, and the screen lit up with the name of a dear friend and fellow believer.  I opened the phone (yes, I am still stuck in the Technological Dark Ages) to quickly scan her text:

I have a favor to ask.  Would you state the 1st thoughts that come to mind for each of the following?  *Definition of rest.  *List some reasons why resting may be difficult.

She was working on a Bible study and was w-rest-ling with the topic of “Rest.”  So she decided to employ one of her “lifelines” and phone a friend. Unfortunately I was in the middle of something when the text came through.  I made a mental note to get back to her as soon as I had a free moment, then snapped my phone shut.  (Good thing a million dollars wasn’t at stake or I might be minus one friend.)

Several days (this may be a conservative estimate) later, I remembered The Text.  The one I had neglected to answer.  The one I had also inadvertently deleted.  (I may be minus one friend after all.)

Perhaps I could still respond.  If I could only recall the question.  It was something about “rest.”  Oh yes.  How would I define rest and why is it difficult to rest?

Here is the first thought that came to mind:

Rest is knowing you are loved.

One way I have learned to distinguish the voice of God from my own thoughts is that His voice usually startles me with its clarity and conciseness.  It’s typically something that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.  Like that definition of “rest,” for example.  I also know that He will never contradict what He has already communicated in Scripture, so I went there next.

“May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:9)

This was Naomi’s prayer for her two recently widowed daughters-in-law.  She equated rest with the safety and security found in the marriage relationship.  Because life without a husband in that culture and time would have been anything BUT restful.

One of the sweetest things Chris said to me early in our dating relationship was that he just wanted me to feel “secure.”  I loved the way I could relax in his presence.  I didn’t have to perform to impress him.  I felt completely accepted and unconditionally loved.  In his love, and in the marriage commitment that followed, I could (insert big sigh of relief here) REST.

The good news is that regardless of whether we are currently married, never married, or newly single, we have a God who desires to be that loving husband to us.  He spells out His intentions clearly in Isaiah 54:5:

“For your Maker is your husband–the LORD Almighty is his name–the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.”

I just want you to feel secure.

Like a groom on his wedding day, He vows His love and commitment to His bride a few verses later:

” ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

I love you with an unfailing, unshakable love.

When we know we are perfectly and unconditionally loved we can “cease striving, and know that (He) is God.”  (Psalm 46:10)  We don’t have to perform to earn His love and favor.  We can relax in His presence.  It’s like sinking into the comfort of a warm bubble bath.  Ahhhhhh.

Rest is knowing you are loved.

I feel compelled to ask in closing:  Have you found this place of rest?  Have you entered into a covenant relationship with the One who pursues you with an unstoppable love?  Jesus proved that love by offering His life in exchange for yours.  All you have to do is respond with a heartfelt “I do.”  (And would you please let me know if “you did”?)

No one will ever love you like He does.  You can rest in that fact.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a text message to send.

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Adjust

 I can always tell when my husband has driven my van, because I can’t reach the pedals or see out of any of the mirrors.  Before I can go anywhere, I have to make some adjustments.  Often I’m running late, like I was this morning.  I grumble under my breath at the inconvenience, as I pull the seat up and adjust the rear and side view mirrors.

I think this is a lot like marriage.  Throw two people together, both with unique personalities, different backgrounds and styles of relating, not to mention all the little idiosyncracies and quirks.  And adjustments will be required.  Continually.  Repeatedly.

Chris and I have been married for 21 years.  Please hold your applause.  Because you would think that after 21 years we’d have it figured out.  Don’t get me wrong–we do get along and enjoy each other–most of the time.  But there are still those annoying areas that keep tripping us up, where we have neglected to make some needed adjustments in order to understand and relate better to each other.

Husband and wife counseling team Milan and Kay Yerkovich, in their book How We Love, compare the marriage relationship to a dance, which each partner enters with the dance style they learned from their family of origin.  It would be unrealistic to expect a classically trained dancer and, say, a street dancer to be in step with each other, much less pull off a praiseworthy performance.

So it is in marriage.  We must take two completely different dance styles and backgrounds and blend them into one new dance.  It will take time, effort, and practice.  Toes will be stepped on.  Humble apologies, mutual compromise, and continual adjustments will be necessary.

I looked up the word “adjust” in the dictionary, and was challenged and encouraged by the very first definition I read:  “to bring to a more satisfactory state.”  As inconvenient, time consuming, and uncomfortable as these adjustments may be, the end result will be a more pleasant and satisfying relationship.

So what is all of this saying to me?

Quityerbellyachin.

Make some adjustments.

They will make for a smoother dance and a more enjoyable ride.

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