Day 19 of 31 Things to Teach Your Kids: Teach them to be encouragers.
Chad is on his way home from Ecuador. For me, it’s been a long, long week.
It’s funny what you don’t appreciate about your husband when he’s right in front of you.
Like the fact that he’s a talker. He wakes up talking, and he goes to bed talking, and there really is no time in the day when his head isn’t filled with ideas, plans, dreams, and questions.
Or the fact that he’s a protector. When he’s home, I rest. I fall asleep knowing that if anything happens in the middle of the night he will jump up and try to stand between me and disaster.
The truth is that there are a million different things about Chad that I fail to appreciate on a daily basis. I get in terrible ruts where I focus only on what he isn’t doing that I wish he would do. Or I wish that he would say no to a few things. Or that he would quit answering his phone. Or that he would write me daily love letters.
But, the things that I miss the most when he is gone are just the regular things. His shoes on our bedroom floor. His body heat at night. The sound of the door closing when he comes home for lunch. The way he can make me laugh until I cry. The thousands of memories we have collected. The inside jokes.
My dear friend lost her husband today. They have been married for over sixty years. Today she begins the task of learning to live a new life, one that she has never before encountered. She will miss so many things. She tells a hilarious story of the day when they were fairly newly married, and she went to grab a gun and shot it in his direction just to get his attention. It’s hard for anyone who knows her sweet spirit now to imagine her doing such a thing. Together they grew up, they grew in God’s love and grace, they learned who He is. And, sixty years later, she begins a new chapter without her lifetime love. She will be okay. She isn’t alone. She has a Savior who will carry her and friends and family who adore her.
But, she will miss him. She will long to hear the door open as he comes in from coffee with his buddies. She will wish that his shoes were in the floor of her bedroom. An artist, she will think about calling him in to look at her latest painting, and then she will remember that he is with Jesus.
Today Chad comes home, and a crazy week looms ahead. There will be no time to escape together and sit and talk for hours. But, as we lie close tonight in our bed, we will talk quietly about how this week went, and he will tell me some incredible stories. I’ll fill him in on how the dance classes and social studies tests and piano lessons went. I hope tomorrow when we wake up I will still be thinking of all the things that I remembered to appreciate about him while he was gone.
And, tomorrow when my sweet friend wakes up and remembers that her husband now resides in Heaven, I pray that she will be able to take all of the things that she misses about him and hand them over to God as a praise offering for the incredible lifetime of love that they shared. I know she will. She praises Him with every breath.
Love your spouse. Stop to recognize how amazing it is that every day the door opens and he walks through it. We don’t all get a lifetime with our spouse. But, we do get some time. Fill the time with love and admiration and respect and appreciation. Fill the time with awe over the blessing of a lifetime love. Fill the time with devotion to Christ, which leads to devotion to your spouse. Fill the time with peace and not silly arguments. Just ask my precious friend–sixty years later, she’ll tell you that the time flies by. Don’t waste it.
Pretty much every time my husband’s mom lays eyes on us, she cries. She also regularly laughs until she cries. She’s the Queen of Happy Tears.
I remember the first time I ever met her. Chad and I were just buddies in college, and I won tickets to a concert, so my friend and I invited Chad and his roommate to go with us. We stayed at his parents’ house, and the next morning Bettye got up while it was still dark outside so that she could cook us all a huge breakfast–I’m talking a Velveeta in the scrambled eggs kind of breakfast. Of course I had a bit of a crush on Chad, and I got all dolled up to come to breakfast while everyone else just came to the table in their pjs. I had packed some kind of awful perfum-y lotion that I had recently acquired, and I slathered it on my arms and legs before descending on the table of sleepy college kids and Chad’s precious mother.
The perfume was so strong and so noxious that even I was having a hard time eating. I didn’t know what to do–Should I admit that I reek and go wash it off? I wondered. Should I sit here and nonchalantly choke down my breakfast while my odor repeatedly slaps everyone at the table in the face? In the end, I did nothing. I just sat and ate and tried to make conversation, while Bettye completely ignored the stench. She offered me more bacon, and I took it, and before we left she gave me a huge hug like we were old friends. She told me to come back sometime soon. Neither of us had any way of knowing that in a couple more years I would spend days at a time at that kitchen table, that we would laugh until we cried about nothing in particular, that we would share an earth-shattering love for three little children that look an awful lot like her first-born son.
Today I watched as friends and co-workers honored her. She is retiring after 44 years of teaching and helping teachers teach in her school district. I wonder how many students have wandered in and out of her classrooms through the years? I wonder how often she was so much more than the excellent, gifted teacher that we know she is? How many times was she a lifeline for some struggling high schooler or a source of encouragement for a young teacher who was overwhelmed? Today I feel like I saw a small glimpse of what she means to all those who know her. And, I felt proud and honored to be part of her family.
I could write all night long about what Bettye means to me and how much I love her. I could write pages and pages about funny things she’s said and done, stories that would make you roar with laughter. I could tell you some of the family favorites, like about how she almost drowned in a foot of water when she went snorkeling. About the day we were having lunch and she very seriously responded to something I said with the affirmation: “True dat.” I could tell you about how she once stood up in a crowded writing conference while everyone was silently working and let out a blood-curdling scream so she would have something interesting to write about. I could tell you about her 80s rapping skills. She is a constant source of laughter and fun.
But, more than anything, what I’d want you to know about my mother-in-law, a woman I’ve loved for twenty years, is that God blessed her with a tender heart and an optimistic spirit. Where do you think her joy comes from? What causes her to cry happy tears? What is it, really, about Bettye that lights up every room she goes into? It’s not just her quick wit or her sense of humor. It’s not just her kind ways or her giftedness. Bettye shines so bright because the spirit of God lives inside of her. And, you can see evidence of that everywhere you look in her life. In the way she literally forgets wrongs that people have committed against her. In the way that she never takes herself too seriously. In the way that she tries to feed everyone too much, like her mama before her. Bettye is the epitome of the woman of noble character that the Bible speaks of. She laughs at the days to come. She has done so much good work and has blessed so many people, and at the end of this amazing 44-year-long road, I hope she will take a moment to stop at the fork that leads to retirement, just to turn around and look at the amazing, godly work that she has done in the lives of so many people.
And, I don’t expect that kind of God-blessed work to end anytime soon, whether she’s retired or not. It isn’t something she does. It’s who she is.
Chad tells a story about when he was a little boy. His mom decided she was going to take him and his brother to a restaurant they had always wanted to go to, Casa Bonita. Chad was so excited that he told a neighbor kid about their plans for the evening, but the kid proceeded to tell Chad that the place was stupid. Chad was crushed. He trudged inside the house with tears to tell Bettye what the little boy had said. Bettye dried the tears on little Chad’s face and gave him this sage advice: “You go tell that kid that I said he’s a little twerp.” Chad was about halfway across the street on his way to deliver the message before Bettye stopped him.
I’ve always loved that Bettye tale, because her love for people is demonstrated so clearly. She felt compassion for her crushed little boy, and in the end, she also felt compassion for the little twerp across the street. I’ve been on the receiving end of the same compassion.
I love her.
I didn’t want this wonderful day to pass without thanking God for a mother-in-law like Bettye. I pray that her kindness and optimism are passed down to my own kids. And, if they happen to also be hilarious and fun and a joy to be around like their Mimi, I’ll gladly take that, too. Happy retirement to a woman who took me in some seventeen years ago. You deserve to see the world. And also to have lots of dance parties with my kids. We love you!
Every day of my life I read blogs that are completely bombarded by bad, uninformed, overly-emotional, irrational comments. Unfortunately, Christians are some of the worst offenders. So, I created a quick 5 question checklist that we should all consider before commenting on any blog, anywhere.
#1. Did I read the entire article?
It’s disturbing how often people read the title of an article and comment as if they know what the post was actually about. Really read the article before chiming in so that you can craft a response that is thoughtful and actually interacts with what the writer said. If you don’t have time to read the article right then, wait to comment until you get the time.
#2. Is my comment mean-spirited?
Is this something I would say to the writer’s face? Is this something I would say with my little children sitting beside me, carefully following every word? Is this something I would be proud to have printed in the church bulletin? No? Probably shouldn’t say it.
#3. Did I consider that blog writers are real people who actually read comments?
I have often wondered if people think that bloggers are robotic, unfeeling creatures who just enjoy stirring up trouble with their words. Take a moment to try and remember that this writer is someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s daughter. Look at her picture. Imagine sitting across the dinner table from her. And then, even if you do have to disagree, do it in the respectful way you would if she were standing in front of you with her kids by her side. No one likes a bully.
#4. Am I addressing what the writer actually said?
So often I read comments that have very little do with what the blog post was about. Sometimes I wonder if everyone has severe reading comprehension problems. Don’t read a blog about raising daughters and then comment about whether women should use a cover when breastfeeding. So you have a few hot button issues. Not every comment on every blog has to lead back to your issues. Interact with what the writer actually wrote about or move on.
#5. Am I letting my own specific experiences/prejudices/pet peeves ruin my comments?
If you read a post that doesn’t directly and specifically apply to you, don’t feel like you need to say so. Doesn’t exactly match up with your experience? It’s really okay. You don’t have to highjack the comments to complain that the writer didn’t precisely describe your personal experience. We all have stories to tell. And, you can still learn from others’ experiences, even if (maybe especially if) they’re different from your own.
I hope thinking through checklists like these will help us improve blog comments everywhere. The internet world has made everyone slow to listen and quick to speak, but we don’t have to fall into that trap. We need to think of blogs as more of a friendly conversation and less of a chance to one-up and insult each other.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
Have you ever noticed how NICE women are? Especially Christian women, especially at church? I mean, of course, there are those few meanies out there. Mean girls are alive and well, and some are eighty years old. But, for the most part, women are really, really nice.
We’re trained to be that way from birth. Boys are to be rough and tumble, are to stand up for themselves. But, girls? We’re told to be sweet. And, I like that and still teach my daughter the same. Nice is, well….nice.
But, do you ever feel like a phony? I do. And, I think I’ve figured out why.
I used to insist that niceness is NOT phony. Even if you have “issues” with another woman, I firmly believe you should be nice when you see her. You should compliment her, ask her how she is, and be genuinely kind to her. God calls us to be this way. Romans 12:18 says: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” You can’t have peace if you aren’t nice.
But, it recently occurred to me why niceness sometimes IS phony. It’s because of what we say once that woman walks away.
Let’s face it, women don’t have to be having “issues” with others to talk about them behind their backs. I’ve heard women say it, and I’ve said it myself: “I love so-and-so, and she’s a good friend of mine, BUT…” and some ungracious string of useless criticism falls out of our mouths like a big, mean waterfall. It’s pitiful.
Why do we do it? To make ourselves feel bigger, I guess. To make people think that we’re awesome. But what we actually end up doing is making people think, “I wonder if she talks about me that way when we’re not together?” And, we expose ourselves. As phonies.
The issue is not with what we say to people’s faces. I’m all about hearing women exclaim to each other: “Oh my GOODNESS!! I love your SWEATER!!!! You are GORGEOUS!!!! You did such a good JOB!!! I LOVE YOU, girl!!” THAT is not being phony. Even if we don’t 100% “feel” that way when we say it. What IS being phony is saying those things to a woman’s face and then dragging her through the mud behind closed doors.
Let’s be nice and leave it at that. Phoniness has no part in the Christian woman’s life. Our daughters should not have cause to question whether we are genuine. Let’s speak with that same love about our Christian sisters when we’re at home talking to our husbands. Our daughters will notice and will learn what being nice is REALLY all about.
Several months ago, Adelade heard through the grapevine that a girl at her school called her ugly. She didn’t know the girl, but naturally she was distressed to hear that anyone would say something like this about her. At the time, we talked about it and I reassured her that nothing could be farther from the truth. She seemed to accept that, and we moved on.
But, recently Adelade has gotten to know this little girl a bit better. Today she asked, Mama, do you remember when that girl said I was ugly?
As if I could ever forget that. I cringed, waiting for news of a new offense.
Well, I don’t think they heard her right. Now that I’ve been around her, I don’t think she would ever say that.
I smiled, marveling at her determination to see the best in everyone. I’ll bet you’re right, I said, and willed myself to believe it was true. I wondered how kids who are so amazing grow up into cynical adults.
In my rearview mirror I watched her gorgeous little freckled face smile at the thought that this girl was just misunderstood, not mean. And I thought of how many hard lessons that she has ahead of her. I hope and pray with all my heart that she never loses her ability to see what is precious about the people around her. If she ends up a cynical grown up, I pray to God with all my heart that I am not the cynical adult who leads her there.
She inspires me to see the good.
Sawyer interrupted my thoughts. Adelade, even if she DID say that, you are NOT ugly. You are not ugly, okay? Nobody’s ugly. Well, except the Devil. He’s reeeaaallly ugly.
I really don’t think that I could love these people any more without just exploding into ten million pieces. Kids are the greatest. I wonder if one reason that Jesus didn’t let them keep the little children away from Him was because He felt more love and acceptance from that little group than from any other humans. It may have been a comfort to Him to see the trust and love in their eyes, not an ounce of suspicion, not a hint of an agenda. Just their sweet expectation that He is wonderful.
This summer, I’m making it my mission to be more like a child, seeing the good, and saying so.
Words are important. Maybe that’s why I love writing so much. I want to put words together for my children to read one day that will encourage them and will show them what their mother was like when they’re having a hard time remembering. I want them to read what I write and see how much I love them. I want them to know that nothing matters more than Christ. I want them to know how cool they are, how unique and beautiful and meaningful each of their lives really is. Many things they won’t know or understand about themselves unless someone tells them with words.
Preparing for our move has reminded me of the importance of words. As we say goodbyes, I feel almost like we’re attending our own funeral. Not because it’s sad (although it is), but because we are hearing so many sweet words from our friends. It’s as if we’re getting to sit in on our own memorial, listening to our loved ones say things that really matter to our hearts and our spirits. It’s so encouraging to get affirmations from godly people that we are heading in the right direction. It’s beautiful to hear the I-love-yous. The coming separation has caused us to tearily tell our sweet friends here how much they mean to us, how important they have been to our growth, how they have prepared us for the next big step with their godly lives and their love. We are saying and hearing things that we probably wouldn’t if we were staying put. And, I suppose these special words, these encouraging sweet nothings from sweet people are just little bonus blessings on the tail-end of a most meaningful and happy journey.
I don’t believe it’s possible to over-encourage someone. It’s not likely that we could build someone up too much. There is such beauty and grace in telling someone that they are doing well, or reminding someone that they are loved. We all have words that have stayed with us through lots of years. Our great friends have reminded me that I want to make sure that the words I say that are going to stick to someone for the next ten years are good words, sweet and kind and full of grace and love.
I know I have collected lots of those kinds of words in the past few weeks from our sweet friends. Their encouragement means so much in light of my new role as pastor’s wife. They tell me I can do it. They show me how to love with their words.
The average woman will use 20,000 words today. It’s staggering to think about how much loving, encouraging, and building up we can do in a day. I pray that we use our words wisely. Thanks to wonderful friends who have shown us the way.
It’s no wonder that my generation of women is struggling with its identity. I was born in 1977, when the Baby Boomers were trying out their hippie ideologies on a whole world full of unsuspecting children. Some of them were clinging to a culture that said love cures all ills and drugs are a doorway to a world of spiritual wisdom. Some of them were figuring out how to get rich and how to have bigger houses and fewer children and more fun. Some of them, like my amazing parents, were sensible, godly examples in a crazy world that seemed schizophrenic in its values and ideals.
One thing that I was taught while growing up was the importance of being sweet. Many of you had the same experience. Girls should be sweet and kind, not loud or rude, they told us. After all, “Sugar and spice and everything nice”– isn’t that what little girls are made of?
Then we grew up and we were told that everything we had learned about being sweet was wrong. Being sweet, they said, is being an inferior version of yourself. You must be assertive. You must be loud. Nice gets you nowhere. In fact, they told us that nothing and no one should stand in the way of our dreams and goals. It got so bad that they even told us that pregnancy was a horrible inconvenience, easily “fixed” by a minor surgery. Children, after all, would only impede our progress. We would be moving backward if we gave up careers for families. We would be slapping the faces of all of the women through the years who had scratched and clawed and sacrificed to earn us these wonderful rights that allow us to discard our children. That allow us to hate other women. That allow us to divorce unworthy men. That allow us to be heartless and cutting and selfish and cruel. That allow us to get away with being mean in the name of womanhood.
After awhile I began to grow tired of this new message. I wondered why the only acceptable mode of femininity was markedly masculine, only much, much meaner. And, I wondered when “sweet” became a dirty word in our culture.
There is no question where Christians should land on the issue of sweetness. It should be one of the foremost qualities of Christian people. Think of the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Imagine all of these qualities wrapped up in a fabulous package called Woman. Does she look anything like the raging, rude, biting, critical, bitter, selfish woman that the world has told us is the confident, successful girl of today? Yet, this sweet woman, this gentle and kind and good woman, she is well-loved. She is treasured by many. And she pleases God.
The sweet path is not the easy way, though. It is the road filled with self-sacrifice. It takes much more courage to live sweetly than not. Anyone can say the first horrible thing that pops into their mind. But, it takes a strong woman to speak kindness. Anyone can have a get-out-of-my-way attitude. Only a truly bold woman can lift others on her shoulders, helping them reach for their dreams. Anyone can be cruel to those who are weak. Only an honorable and confident woman wraps babies and children and the hurting and the lost in her strong arms and says, I will love you. I will be here for you. I will sacrifice for you.
So, let the men be all about snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. But, you. Woman. Be sweet. Be gentle. And God will grant you the desires of your heart. Have children or don’t. Marry or don’t. Be the hotshot head of a multi-million dollar corporation or be the chief nose-wiper in your home. But, whatever you do, do it sweetly. Meanness is overrated. And truthfully, it has led to some of the greatest sins our generation has committed.
All generations are known for something. What about ours? Will we be known for our ruthlessness? Or will we change the world with our sweetness? I think it’s time that we claim our identity.
Meanness is weakness. Be strong. Live sweetly. Please God.