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photo-1518568814500-bf0f8d125f46With the approach of Valentine’s Day, I’m giving you permission to love. Which is weird, I know, but maybe it needs to be said. Because let’s face it, love can be a little tricky. Mostly because people are tricky and do all sorts of things to make themselves unlovable.

They push love away with their meanness, their messiness, and their thoughtlessness. Maybe it’s a result of their baggage, their wounding, or not knowing any better. Which is sad, because even in the pushing away they really wish to be pulling in. But vulnerability is scary and takes courage, yet without those, love precariously teeters on pretense. To invite love in means to risk rejection or the ache of a broken heart. But love is the very thing our hearts need most.

As much as love can tear us asunder, it can just as easily heal.

Despite love’s glorious complexity, we need to learn to how to love, actually discipline ourselves to love, and chose to love under all circumstances. Every day we’re faced with opportunities to love so there’s no shortage of practice.

Part of love is respect. It’s listening to another’s viewpoint even when we don’t share it, extending kindness to the person whose choices or worldview you disagree with, and not tearing another down needing to prove your point.

Part of love is action. It’s refusing to turn a blind eye to need. It’s serving the stranger, listening to the lonely, and caring for your family.

Part of love is sacrifice. It’s the giving away of all you thought you didn’t have to give. It becomes tangible in the sharing of such things as time, money, or other resources that you could easily withhold.

Part of love is getting dirty. It’s refusing to remain on the sidelines of others’ lives but instead climbing into the trenches with them.

Part of love is bearing with one another and forgiving. It’s choosing to let go of hurt, blame, and shame. Quite often, we even need to learn how to love and forgive ourselves.

As we learn to love unconditionally, we become impervious to the ungracious acts of others. We discipline ourselves to not take offense, or grow upset or bitter, when treatment is less than admirable. And when we do that often enough, we grow loving.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Colossians 3:13

But it’s more than respect, action, sacrifice, getting dirty, putting up with, or forgiving.

Love has to do with faith. Not in the people around you, who you are learning to love, but in the One who first loved you and sacrificed his life in place of yours. Without Christ, and the help of his Holy Spirit, I’d be remarkably unloving. My forgiveness capacity: borderline zero. Even with him it’s a daily struggle, because I prefer not to be mistreated, disrespected, or neglected.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. ~ 1 John 4:18

As God nestles into our hearts, as we draw closer to him, there becomes room for miraculous, perfect love. I say miraculous, because apart from him, there would be little chance of fear-fleeing love. Christ suffered mistreatment, disrespect, and neglect himself. Through him—and the healing nature of his love—we learn to love fearlessly, courageously, habitually, and independent from others’ treatment. What they do, or fail to do, ceases to matter as much, and that protective wall we keep up—just enough to peer over but not let others penetrate— crumbles.

God’s love heals, purifies, strengthens, and perfects. But first, we need to let it in.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

~ Mark 12:30-31

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  1. Have you received God’s offer of love?
  2. What is your greatest barrier to loving God or others?
  3. Ask God to help you love creatively and courageously today.

 

 

 

 

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My husband and I learned how to fight. This seems like a bad idea, but there are some substantial advantages to mastering techniques for conflict resolution. By virtue of being human, there will always be possibilities for disagreements with others. It seems marriage is full of such opportunities.

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Ralph and I have been married for twenty-six years, but while dating, we had to overcome contrasting upbringings and approaches to conflict. I was raised in a polite British philosophy where I often heard, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” In theory, this is rather lovely, but when applied to conflict resolution, it results in generous amounts of “sweeping things under the rug”.

My husband’s family is German. They got things out in the open, forgave, and moved on. During a conflict, my silent treatment, or disappearance from a tense room, shut down communication. Eventually, I saw that my tactics were ineffective, and began communicating by facing things head-on. Generally, for most things to improve, it takes undoing poor habits and mastering new ones. Such was the case for fighting well.

Whether a spouse, family member, colleague, or friend, we will be confronted with opportunities to fight and forgive well. When we face disagreements, or experience hurt at the hands of another, it’s easy to become offended and get angry. The key is to not grow embittered, carry that wounding around with you, or worst of all, shove it under the rug.

Fight for relationships that are worth fighting for. Instead of withdrawing or rebutting with silence, develop the habit of forgiveness. This doesn’t mean we excuse the behaviour or pretend it didn’t happen. We acknowledge the wrong done, communicate how it made us feel (if possible), and then forgive—independent of whether an apology is offered.

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Ralph and I – 2010

Forgiveness is a loving act both toward ourselves and others. It’s saying, what you did hurt me, but I refuse to let it rule me. In a fearless act of love, you forgive and in doing so, it’s as though you’ve covered over their fault so that it’s no longer visible. It’s probably the only time it’s a good idea to cover up something. In the meantime, you’ve secured your freedom. You’ve freed yourself from the weight of carrying anger and bitterness and can move forward in soul-settled peace.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

This courageous and almost contradictory behaviour—just as learning to fight appears at first glance—brings us close to the heart of God. Christ’s death meant we were loosed from sin and fully forgiven. When we behave in like manner, laying ourselves down for others, and beautifully offering a cover of forgiveness for their shortcomings, we are behaving like our Father in heaven. Here’s some helpful instruction: 

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?… Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Forgiveness doesn’t mean giving others a license to repeatedly mistreat you. You still need to set healthy boundaries and remove yourself from toxic people or harmful situations. Forgiveness simply means you release offenses, and, as a result, remain free from others’ baggage.

Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s not a one-time effort either. For me, forgiveness often looms like an unscalable mountain threatening to block my journey. But nothing worthwhile happens without fighting for it, or at least applying focused effort. Sometimes we need to reset our default button to bypass unhealthy mindsets or patterns of thinking.

It helps to remember that we needed mercy too. And don’t we continue to need it? We aren’t faultless. There will come a time when we hurt another—either purposely or unintentionally—and what a relief it is when this same forgiveness is extended to us. It also helps to remember we’re forgiven by God who never reminds us of our sins. The least we can do is love the same.

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  1. Make a list of those you haven’t forgiven.
  2. Pray and ask for God’s help to forgive.
  3. Go the extra mile and bless them (wish well for them).

 

 

 

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Sketch of Napoleon crowing himself. ~ Drawing by David, kept at the Louvre.

I’ve noticed that a lot of animosity hurled toward God is misdirected.

God has become the cosmic scapegoat for many misdemeanors of mankind. He’s the fault of others’ failings. The illness for the ills injected by humans upon humans. The ugliness freely deposited by others. And this blame drags heavy, like the cross he staggered beneath and heaved up the hill to his death; unjustly accused even then.

Let’s be honest, humans are notorious for redirecting blame.

How could God allow children to starve? we exclaim as we dab our mouths, rub our bellies, and declare how stuffed we are. How could God allow women and children to be abused? while our insatiable appetite for pornography helps fuel the multi-billion dollar human trafficking industry. How can God allow mass genocide? as we welcome the supposed savior and then keep silent to save ourselves. How could God allow the homeless to freeze overnight? as we cross the street, lock our doors, and add an extra blanket to our beds.

Our hostility towards God can also be fueled by former hurt. We may have been wounded by those who should have known better; some who even claimed to know God. With that layer of proximity, there can be a propensity for the hurt to spill over and affect our perception of God. Sometimes we purposely distance ourselves from God in the aftermath of such disillusionment and disappointment, ascribing undo blame and fearing to love a God whose people behave so poorly.

But abuse and neglect, hatred and homicide, others’ judgment and exclusion, is not a reflection of God’s nature, but more accurately a picture of people who have forgotten who he is. Perhaps they never really knew him in the first place, or what they do know of him, they dislike or disregard. Possibly they prefer to pick and choose the parts they can accept and reject the rest. In all truth, often we’re so caught up being the ruler of our own little kingdoms that we sacrifice others in our self-coronation. So caught up, in fact, that we don’t really understand who God is, and often could care less.

And like any relationship, fraught with misunderstanding and confusion, fault lines and frayed edges, unscalable distance and disappointment, so too is our relationship with God. It’s difficult to know someone we’ve never really encountered or regularly spend time with.

This world, and all that’s in it, is a gift. As with all gifts, after they’ve been given, it becomes up to the receiver how they’re treated and maintained. God generously gave and let us be the caretakers. He offers help if we make room, but so often it’s too crowed in the kingdom of one. That’s when things tend to get ugly.

But every now and then, we make room and let Him in, and we begin to see beauty, and truth, and love.

We begin to realize that:

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”  ~ Psalm 145:8-9

We learn that:

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  ~Lamentations 3:22-23

We hear that:

“The LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”.  ~Deuteronomy 31:6b

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”

~Psalm 68:5

When we encounter and accept the truth of God’s surprising love, both our heart and outlook is altered. We are sorry for our failings. We understand how we’ve misplaced blame, and learn to face our faults. Our relationships begin to shift, and instead of exploiting, we look at all the things he entrusted us with a little differently. Some of the things that formerly preoccupied us fade in significance. God’s gentle, patient, kind, healing, and unconditional love propels us, and as we grow stronger, we in turn help strengthen. Beauty ensues and love stands a fighting chance.

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1. In what ways have you blamed God for the failings of others?

2. In what ways have you contributed to another’s pain or misfortune? Ask God for forgiveness, for the strength to change, and, if possible, make restitution.

3. If you sense you’ve never really known God, He is just a prayer away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A precious offering from a student: a reminder of the little hands I held and also helped teach how to print their names.

This past Tuesday, I spent my last day in the kindergarten class. At the end of the day, just before nineteen little humans trundled off for home, I was inundated with colourful masterpieces and priceless hugs. Working to hold back tears, I received their affectionate gestures. The teacher commented on the impact I’d made after being in the class just over a month and added, what if it had been a full year as he had hoped.

It begs the question: what about an entire lifetime?

Within such a lifetime – composed of one day piling on top of another – there exists the opportunity to make a day-by-day, moment-by-moment difference. Some of those difference-making impacts will be the result of a cognitive choice or disciplined action, but there will be many that won’t. Some impacts will occur without you giving them a second thought; the mere result of you being a living, breathing human with the potential to leave an imprint on other human beings, for better or for worse.

I think to myself, what sort of impact am I making? Am I helping or hindering those around me to be the best versions of themselves? Do my words and actions encourage and build others up, or tear them down? Am I using my resources, including my time, finances, skills, and gifts to make a difference, or am I selfishly expending them only on my personal comfort?

Some may not think it matters, but I prefer to think it does. As a child, whenever we visited somewhere, my mom used to instruct us to leave it better than when we arrived. I think that applies to people as well as places. We can leave a person better than we found them. Our exchanges, no matter how small, can leave a positive or negative impact. The ability to shift the atmosphere is ever at our disposal.

It’s easy to grumble about poor service, complain about a coworker to another, treat a server poorly, or lose it entirely. But how much greater is a simple smile, a kind word of encouragement, a well-placed compliment, a small offer of help, a show of affection, or an extension of forgiveness. All of these can make all the difference. You won’t often know the mountains another is scaling in the midst of climbing your own, but at every handhold there exists the opportunity to make that assent just a little kinder and more manageable.

Beyond all this, there’s the impact in eternity, which, though temporarily invisible, will one day be all there is left, and all that matters. Not that we do these things for gold stars. We do them out of the outflow of love and forgiveness that we each have the opportunity to receive and extend. But make no mistake, everything, whether seen or unseen, applauded or ignored, matters.

I’ll leave this last thought: Be the person your dog thinks you are, the person your family wishes you were, and the person God made you to be!

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

~ Luke 8:17

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  1. In what ways are you leaving people better than you found them? In what ways could you stand to improve?
  2. Look for opportunities this week to make a difference.
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My spiritual mom and I at a birthday celebration with “The Prayer Ladies”.

I call her my spiritual mom. We aren’t linked biologically but through the things of God. She’s been a constant in my life for over ten years, and we’ve shared many conversations and events. Without meaning to, or possibly knowing she has, Nancy has taught me many things. I thought it would be insightful to share these priceless morsels. It may sound like I’m bragging, but bear with me. I’m hoping one or two might be meaningful to you!

Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten years ago I could barely walk, sleep, or carry my own purse. I could no longer drive. That’s how intense the pain had become. I’d been a runner for 28 years. My motto was, “Why walk when you can run.” Now I had no choice. It was nearing two years, and over ten health care providers, but no one could help me. On top of it, I became pregnant and couldn’t take enough medication to dull the pain. It seemed I was trapped in a hopeless situation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Right before the Canada Day long weekend, along with a sizeable crowd of hardcore people, I completed an exercise challenge called Rebellion. At the party to celebrate our achievement, I bought this t-shirt. The saying on the front resonates with me. The two obvious reasons are that it includes words from Canada’s national anthem (the country of which I officially became a citizen 33 years ago), and secondly, by working out and completing the challenge, I grew stronger and free from indulgences that might otherwise keep me off track. But a less obvious and deeper meaning for me began 29 years ago at age eighteen. Read the rest of this entry »

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Last week, I wrote a few thoughts on surviving bitterness. My husband read it and, knowing me so well, commented that I neglected to give personal examples. I thought to revisit this subject and make it personal, so here we go! Read the rest of this entry »

Give-Forgiveness

It’s easy to have the mindset that if we withhold forgiveness, we are in control and somehow getting back at the person who hurt us. We think, if I forgive them, it lets them off the hook. But holding onto unforgiveness not only allows the offender to vicariously continue to hurt you, studies show it can also make you unwell. When you forgive, you release yourself from the bondage of bitterness. Forgiving not only frees you from hanging onto the offense, it frees you from the offender, and makes room for full spiritual, emotional, and even physical healing.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Every so often, my 17-year-old daughter gives me a wake up call. She’ll say something like, “Mom, you need to stop…” and it can be anything from stressing, to some sort of negative thinking. We need people in our lives to keep us in check. I tend toward the melancholy and appreciate my extroverted, optimistic daughter who dreams big and pulls others along for the ride. In celebration of those who set us straight, I’ve put together a list of 12 things we can do right now to improve our outlook and our lives.

  1. Stop stressing. It’s easy to get caught up in fret, worrying about things that should take a back seat in your life. Instead, put them in their place, last in priority, and let the things that really matter be at the forefront. Don’t waste today worrying about things that may happen, but instead celebrate the gifts in front of you right now.
  2. Stop trying to please everyone. Being a people pleaser can make you lose yourself and your truth. You cannot please everyone. You will get misunderstood. Some may dislike you, some may get angry at you. You will be too much for some and not enough for others. Trying to meet another’s expectations is like running on an endless treadmill. Know who you are, whose you are, and rest in that.
  3. Stop trying to do it all. Being busy all the time will leave you physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually bankrupt. Don’t accept the lie that says you can’t slow down. Create some space in your life. Fight for it if you must. Make time to reflect, to breathe, to be. Take time to fully appreciate the moment you are in and that you are alive. Set aside time to be fully present for your loved ones.
  4. Stop trying to be perfect. Perfect is an illusion. Strive for excellence, improvement, to keep growing, to move forward – anything but perfection. You will occasionally mess up. Forgive yourself and keep going.
  5. Stop thinking that tomorrow, the next day, or the distant future will be better than now. Don’t wish away today, with its beauty and heartaches. While it’s great to be optimistic, let’s not throw away our moments. Many moments strung together make up a life. Live this moment to the fullest – aware of your future destination – without wasting what’s in front of you.
  6. Stop focusing on the negative. The good, the bad, and the ugly has shaped you this far – for better or for worse. Recognize the worse, don’t make it a curse. There will always be mountains to climb, but the view up there is fantastic! Beauty and blessings are all around you. Take note of the beauty and count your blessings.
  7. Stop berating yourself. What is your internal voice telling you? If you have a lovely British mum like mine, you know it’s impolite to brag. But a little internal gloating is acceptable. Celebrate the things you are good at, how far you’ve come, and that you’re not the same as you were last week or last year. Forgive yourself for your failings. Make a list of three things you like most about yourself. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, I love you.
  8. Stop thinking you can’t be replaced (hear me out on this one). Thinking that if you left a position there would be no one to fill your shoes can lead you to stay in a place longer that you should, stall you from moving forward in your purpose or calling, and prevent others from the blessing of filling that role. Your position is not your identity. It’s a way you get to help and serve for a time. Be wise to see when that season is over.
  9. Stop comparing yourself or your journey to others. It’s easy to compare your life to another’s when you’re in a tough place. You get to see the polished parts of another’s life. Remember, all that glitters isn’t gold. Everyone has struggles. Your trials are making you a stronger, more 3-dimensional person who can fully relate to others in their struggles. Despite how the rough patches make you feel, if you let them, they will make you more beautiful. You are unique, one-of-a-kind. Your gifts fit your purposes and the time you’ve been given on this earth. Passionately use your gifts and your life, without wishing for someone else’s, and you’ll find yourself so in love with what you’re doing that you wouldn’t trade it for another’s.
  10. Stop believing lies. The cants and the nevers should be out-of-the-question. The Accuser offers a steady diet of whispered lies to wear and tear you down. God’s corrective encouragement offers forgiveness, direction, and hope.
  11. Stop holding on to hurts. Release them and the people who inflicted them. Mercy and forgiveness is your path to freedom.
  12. Stop being afraid to love. Love lavishly, like you’ve never been hurt. Love fully without conditions or expectations. Love for the sheer sake of it. Tell your loved ones how much you love them.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear any of your ideas!

Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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  1. Which of the above do you most struggle to stop? Look for ways this week to face this area head on. Ask God for help to overcome it.
  2. Write down three things you like about yourself. Thank God for how He made you, and look for ways He can use those in your life and for His purposes.

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