Unraveling Kindness

I never knew it but for a long time I never understood the real reason of why it was important to be kind to others.

I can remember being taught the saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” from Matthew 7:12 and I believed what this verse was communicating was that if you gave kindness to others, others will give kindness in return. We treat people as we want to be treated in hope of someone giving back kindness to us in return.

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I interpreted this teaching from the Bible as a young girl, just one verse, which is a good verse in itself but without proper teaching and my own ability to turn a verse into what I want it to mean, I led a life giving kindness and expecting kindness in return.

This way of living gave me many years of giving kindness and receiving disappointment.

Living a life giving out kindness and expecting kindness in return is not a great way to live. Everyone out there is fighting battles I can’t even begin to know about. People are lost, insecure, hurting, scared and jealous. All on their own levels. But everyone is fighting a some kind of battle in the same way I am fighting mine to put off the lostness, the insecurities, the hurts, the fears and learning to love yourself enough to not compare your life to the lives of others.

I have lived enough years now to know that giving kindness does not always return kindness. You can smile at that runner on your route every week and they may never smile back.

You can like someone’s photos on Facebook, wish them a Happy Birthday, take interest in their life and family and they may never take interest in you back. They may never wish you a Happy Birthday and they may even unfollow you.

And this is life. Living life is raw with real hurts to your heart and life lessons beneath the surface. It has taken me ten years of following Jesus to unravel my thoughts about kindness. Ten years of undoing the things I thought were true and letting God weave truth within me from His Word. What is true about kindness is we do not give kindness to receive kindness.

We give kindness to others only because God is kind.

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It has taken ten years of reading the Bible as an entire story and ten years to learn how to unravel what is untrue about kindness. To take that one good verse and place it in the midst of all the other verses that God speaks to us about kindness. To synthesize them all together under teachings from Sunday mornings and participation in Bible studies.

 

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Psalms 36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

Psalms 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.

Acts 20:35b – It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Galatians 6:9a – Let us not lose heart in doing good.

I John 3:19 – We love, because He first loved us.

Hebrews 13:1-2 – Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

James 3:17-18 – For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

It has taken me ten years to learn that giving kindness is not about receiving kindness in return. Kindness should be given to show others the love of God. I can only be responsible for my part and I cannot control how others respond to me. I do not know their battles. I can only know mine. And it is a fight for me to give kindness when kindness is not returned.

So that is my battle for now.

I will be kind because God is kind, giving kindness freely and expecting nothing in return. I believe this is where the root of true kindness begins. When we give and expect nothing in return. Just as God has given us Himself, in our messes, and He abundantly bestows his lovingkindness on us even when sometimes we are too blinded by ourselves to give him anything in return.

As Christians we have to get off the hamster wheel of giving kindness to receive kindness. We have to give kindness only because God is kind and expect nothing in return. It is there that we can find true kindness, without selfish ambition. It is there that we can have that runner not smile back every week and remember how long God has bestowed his lovingkindness on us and we have looked the other way and not smiled back in return.

We can only give kindness because God was kind to us first. Over and over again.

That is the truth and that is what I have been missing all these years.

We can only be kind because God is kind.

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Stick with me and follow this blog as I continue to write stories about what it is like to unravel and learn to be Christian in the front row at church. I am forever learning, growing and trusting that God has begun a good work in me and is bringing it to completion. 

What Having Kids Really Does To Your Marriage

Six years and four months ago my husband and I became parents for the very first time. We had no idea what we were doing when we brought our son home to our two bedroom townhouse with nothing but a bili-bed, some blankets and formula supplements from the hospital. There was no manual and very little instructions. We were both in disbelief that someone would send two twenty-five year old kids with no experience home with a human life to care for and keep alive. We felt like goldfish being tossed into a cold water tank just praying that the quick transition from the cozy comfortable waters of not being a parent to the cold, unnavigated and unchartered waters of being a parent wouldn’t lead us to become lifeless floaters.

Or at least leave our marriage lifeless and floating at the top of the surface.

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I’ve heard it said that “having children can ruin a marriage” and I know this may be true for some but having kids has actually done many positive things in our marriage. Having kids has given us, those two young goldfish kids, the perspective that even though there were times we felt like goldfish years ago we were never destined to be floaters in that small pond. Together, my husband and I have been able to lead one another to deeper waters, experience deep challenges and actually find ourselves growing and thriving, especially in our marriage.

We brought four babies home from the hospital. Between the twenty-fifth year of my life and my thirtieth we brought home four babies from the hospital. Three sons and a daughter. Each time feeling the shock of the cold water as we were thrown into managing two children, then three and then four.

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There were days and seasons where we felt like our marriage was on the edge of this ruin we had heard about before. There were seasons where I sometimes could see the life in our marriage beginning to slowly die and watch it begin to float to the surface.

We were so tired.

So overwhelmed.

My husband expressed jealousy over how much attention I paid to the children and I sometimes resented being at home all day.

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We were barely able to manage the little lives that were graciously given to us and sometimes we found ourselves sacrificing us for them. Those were the times when I slowly started to see our marriage begin to float (lifeless) to the surface of our little pond. This has been part of the journey and it has not come without hard lessons and tough waters.

It was a hard lesson for us to learn to choose each other and bring life back into us and our marriage. There were many fights and many tears until we faced the truth that before we were graciously given these little lives to care for we were graciously given one another. We were graciously given the gift of marriage first and it was our job to learn how to put us and our marriage before them.

I can see how having kids could ruin marriage if you forget to choose one another first. I could see it in those moments when we failed to choose one another first and I began to see those lifeless seasons of our marriage. When we were so busy tending to them we forgot about caring for us.

So, two years ago we decided that we would fight to choose one another. That was always our intention going into this whole parenting thing but somehow we lost that good intention in the exhaustion, the diapers and the cheerios and we found ourselves desperately digging and turning over every crumb to get it back.

Now our kids are six, four, three and almost a year and a half and it is a relief to say we are through those challenging years of having new babies and all that exhaustion. And our marriage made it though. Four times. It is a miracle and a gift.

It is a miracle and a gift to come out on the other side of that hard stage in our marriage and see my husband with a new lens. It’s like the Michael I once knew was just a boy back then before the kids and now I find myself looking at a man.

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A man who kneels beside the beside and prays with my children every night.

A man who gets lost in children’s literature with my kindergartener and keeps him up past bedtime reading just one more chapter.

A man who takes the kids to the doctor for their vaccinations when I am too afraid to do it myself because I can’t stand the sight of my sweet baby crying or being stuck by a needle.

A man who has taught my sons to love God, love fishing and who digs for bugs with them.

A man who sings to my daughter when he pulls the blinds up in her room in the morning.

A man who will come home if he has an hour between his daytime hours and nighttime meetings just so he can push kids on the swings and give me forty five minutes of quiet.

Having kids has given me a lens of tenderness, love and care to see my husband through and that lens has made my love grow more deeply for him.

Choosing to see him as the man he has grown into because of being a father has given me a stronger and deeper connection to him and a heart that is more tender for him.

"My heart is full every morning to see my family wall snuggled up like this."

Having kids has also given us the firm foundation of finding ourselves on a team. It has to be us against them. There are only two of us and four of them so we have to stick together. We find ourselves laughing on our team when our kids do crazy things like walk into the same bathroom stall as another kid and pee in the toilet with them, at the same time, all while casually sharing our plans for our family vacation to Florida. Even if this other child was a complete stranger. (That is only a glimpse into the crazy).

We find ourselves supporting one another when a parenting situation is hard. We need each other. I sometimes need to tag him in for awhile when I feel the wind in my sails fading over discipline or even homework.

Having kids has given us deeper unity together. Something that I hope and pray grows as we approach having four teenagers all at the same time.

Having kids has given us a common interest to invest our heart and souls into and it has also given us something to grow in and get better at together. We exchange helpful phrases and prayers as we fight to grow.

Having kids has given me a better friend in my husband than I ever could have dreamed of having when we were those two young goldfish in that two bedroom apartment with that newborn baby.

I never expected having kids to bring trials into our marriage and I never expected those trials to deepen my love for my husband. I know we have many more years of choosing one another and fighting to be us against them.  But these early trials have brought us together and made us stronger which make me think if we can survive the little years maybe there is hope for the rest of our parenting days.

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Having kids really can (and has for us) deepen the relationship between a husband and a wife. It has given us an unbreakable bond. Look at that husband, he is such a gift to me. 

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Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

(James 1:2-3 NLT)

Scandal At The Seesaw

When Michael and I first met we were on a seesaw in a park. I can’t completely place the park now but I vaguely remember sitting across from him and hearing the creaky, rusty lever move us back and forth as we both shifted our weight. He went up and I went down in predictable rhythmic fashion, just the way I would expect a seesaw to work.

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Then in typical man fashion, without warning, I found my part of the seesaw up in the air and I saw Michael at the bottom, my fate in his hands. He then nonchalantly rolled off of his end which sent me crashing down to the ground. Michael believed this would be a cute way to flirt with me but I strongly disagreed. I don’t even think I had words in that moment. Just my disappointed teacher face. I was so shocked.

I knew he was into me at this time but I was so confused at why he would purposely send me crashing down to the ground on the seesaw. For fun.

(If you know me you are laughing because you know to me, anything unpredictable is the antithesis of fun.)

Ten years later, I still do not think either one of us can explain this moment, except for the one truth that he feels terrible about what he did.

Other than a stunned backside for a few minutes I fully recovered and we went on to date, become engaged and married all in that same year. Even after the whole scandal at the seesaw.

I had completely forgotten about the seesaw until some of Michael’s closest buddies were at our house recently. They lived with Michael at this time and were all groomsmen in our wedding.

Not a single one of them had forgotten that Michael had dropped me off the seesaw. They had some great laughs about the seesaw and stirred my memory a little to remember that place in that time.

You think a girl would remember something like that. But I didn’t. Somewhere along the way I stopped thinking about my stunned backside and getting dropped off the seesaw and years later that moment had become very difficult for me to even recall.

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I am happy to report that Michael has not rolled off the bottom of the seesaw ever again.

I am recalling and rethinking this story because I believe it is important to remember, especially almost nine years into marriage and four children in five years, somethings are worth forgetting.

At my core I am a perfectionist. Sadly so, and I seem to have an incredible ability to recall every detail of every scandal if I wish to do so.

When it came to the scandal at the seesaw, I was so overcome with love for Michael, I couldn’t help but forget the disruption to the predictable up and down of the trustworthy playground equipment, or my sore backside and confusion.

Love gave me the ability to forget the flaws.

I write about us in February because we were engaged in February. Last year I wrote about cherishing the moments of everyday love.

The year before I wrote about Redeeming Date Night.

This year, I want to be so overcome with love for my spouse that it is easy to forget the “scandals at the seesaw”.

I hope I can be so overcome with love that I choose to just simply forget the mishaps. We all have our moments when we roll off the bottom of the seesaw without thinking and unintentionally hurt someone else.

For us this year, forgetfulness is the goal. Michael is still that same man he was so long ago. His intentions were never to hurt me that day on the seesaw and still today I know his intentions are never to hurt me when the tiny everyday debacles surface for us in our normal marriage.

Lord, help me be that forgetful girl at the seesaw.

Help love be larger.

Give me the power to forget and the ability to love.

Because A Mother Is Beautiful All By Herself

There was a time not too long ago when I didn’t want to have my picture taken. Sometimes I was the one taking the pictures but other times I just didn’t want to see myself photographed. I was unhappy with the way I looked and I did not want my children to remember the time when mommy’s hips were more rounded and her face was a little fuller.

Specifically I remember being at a baseball game and I was gathering my boys close for a picture of them with their rally caps on. A young guy in the row in front of us sweetly turned around and offered to take the photo for us. He immediately looked puzzled when I quickly declined and told him I wasn’t planning on seeing myself in pictures for at least ten more years.

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That was really true and there it was: Out of my mouth my heart spoke the words: I am not beautiful enough to be remembered for who I am, right now, just this way. 

I have heard this story before. My mom rarely wanted to be photographed while she was battling cancer while I was a child. I hear my grandmother tell me, she did not want you all to remember her that way. I love my mother and that was her wish but now here I am left without her and I barely have any pictures with her and me in them. I cannot think of more than five photos I have of her and me together from the age of five until she passed away when I was fourteen.

To me she was beautiful.

As a child, I didn’t see a bald woman or a woman with only one breast. I saw my mother. And a mother is beautiful all by herself.

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To my children, a mother is beautiful all by herself.

There will be a time when I am no longer here on this earth and my sweet children will be longing for memories of me. My children will not be concerned about my chin, my dark circles, or my roots that should have been touched up last week. My children will just want to see me. And them. They will want to hold something more tangible than a memory that puts me with them in that place at that time.

Our children don’t care how we look for the camera, because to them, a mother is beautiful all by herself.

You can see I have some unraveling to do when it comes to this whole idea of being beautiful. Just the way I am. Right now. In this time. In this place.

I will tell you I know what the Bible says about being beautiful. I will even tell you I have those verses memorized.  But even though I know what the Bible teaches on a cognitive level about beauty –  it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the attitude of my heart and my unwillingness to be photographed show a tangled up mess of belief and unbelief when it comes to my appearance. What I believe and what I actually do just don’t match up.

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As God has been faithful to work on my unbelieving heart I can see the places where I have the “beliefs of the world” tangled up in what is true about beauty from the passages of Scripture.

I’ve realized that to the people who matter, a mother is beautiful all by herself.

God speaks to beauty in His words to us in the Bible and according to Him our beauty has nothing to do with the amounts of hairs on our head, the clothes that we wear or what the scale is saying about us on any given day.

 

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3)

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on appearance. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.” Song of Solomon 1:15

 

God’s words in the Bible do not say the same things the world is screaming to us about beauty. It is challenging to unravel the untruth from the truth. Mostly because as a mom, I am constantly surrounded by a world telling me to be thinner, to wear the latest trendiest boots, to be a hot mommy, to make sure my thighs aren’t touching. I could go on for days. Days.

God is telling us from His word that beauty comes from the blatant opposite or what our world tells us is beautiful.

Beauty comes from giving up of yourself. And chasing after Good.

Beauty does from bravely enduring hardship. Like my mother. She is a heroine and I just won’t stop saying that.

Beauty is a mother. Giving up herself. 

A mother is beautiful all by herself. A mother doesn’t need to hit that weight loss goal, make her hair the right color or wear the trendiest clothes. To God, your husband, you children, none of that matters. They want you in those photos. I know. And I am telling you.

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.” Song of Solomon 1:15

Go and be photographed. Hang those photos on the wall and post them to Facebook. Because a mother is beautiful all by herself.

The Ugly Moments Of Parenting

I am not above ugly moments.

I do not believe any of us are.

I get angry. I even yell. I sometimes blame my kids for the times when I lose my temper.

There are ugly moments in parenting. There is yelling in parenting. Boundaries are pushed in parenting. It happens to everyone.

It is not the yelling that is the problem.

The world will tell you that. The world will tell you to live in peace in harmony. The world will tell you to shove your angry feelings aside and “understand your children” in a calm and patient way.

The problem isn’t anger or the yelling in parenting. The problem is us. As human beings we are wired to mess up. We are wired as humans to lose our cool. If you yell at your children you are in fact only human. Just like the rest of us. 

The solution is what happens after the anger and the yelling.

Just yesterday I was talking to my sweet kindergarten boy about girls and what girls are like. He told me, with his big brown, compassionate eyes, “girls like to tell us boys what to do.”

I mean. This is deep truth from my kindergarten boy. As a girl telling boys what to do all the time I know his words are true.

He went on to tell me about the times I tell him to pick up his toys and how I say if they are not picked up, whatever is left on the ground is being thrown in the trash. These are my ugly moments. The moments when I tell my children I will throw their toys in the trash, Toy Story’s worst nightmare coming alive in my own home, on my watch.

There is also a time when I told my sweet Asher boy that I would pop his balloon if he cried about it one more time. And I did. I popped it. With scissors. Right in front of his big beautiful blue eyes. I am not proud of this moment. This is another one of my ugly moments in parenting.

The dagger really went deep into my heart when that night, during our prayers to Jesus, he called me out during the confession time, “mom, aren’t you sorry for popping my balloon?” Right there in front of Jesus. Ugly, ugly moments.

Popping balloons and threatening to throw toys into the garbage. These are my ugly moments.

I believe as parents the power comes not from preventing the yelling or the threatening. I believe the power is in what we do after the ugliness has already happened.  

Some people will tell us just never to yell in the first place. But you know, I believe it shows our children much more character when we make a mistake, or show emotion, and then appropriately be responsible for our crap rather than to act comatose and all Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood about things. 

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Are we brave enough to show our kids we make mistakes?

Are we brave enough to show our kids the moments when we need forgiveness before the Lord?

Are we brave enough to say I’m sorry? Or I was wrong? 

Are we brave enough to live out a life of I’m sorrys and faith before them, right before their eyes, so they can experience first hand this so called power of the gospel we’ve been reading to them about from their Storybook Bibles?

Yes. I have ugly places.

Yes. I pop balloons like Gru from Despicable Me.

Yes. I threaten to put toys in trash bags and send them to the dump just like the ugly moments that haunt the very worst nightmares of Pixar’s Woody and Buzz.

But…

The thing about the ugly moments of parenting is always that there is a much more significant moment to show your children the gospel.

A much more beautiful moment follows the ugly one if you are brave enough to embrace it.

We are beautifully created people that find ourselves in ugly moments and we need a Savior to rescue us when we are angry, popping balloons like a villain and out of control. 

I believe that in gospel believing homes, it is more powerful to our kids when we yell and repent than to never have yelled in the first place.

There is power in the ugly moments of parenting when you tell your children, “Mommy was wrong and mommy needs Jesus just like you.”

Yes. I have ugly moments. I have ugly moments because I need a Savior.

I want to show my children my need in my ugly moments so later in life when they themselves are without me in this big world and they find that they themselves are in an ugly moment, they will remember a great Savior. A great Savior who wants to rescue them in their ugly moments.

Ugly moments are an opportunity to show our children great character because of a great Savior.

Show them how to respond in the ugly moments.

Be brave.

You are always LOVED, ACCEPTED and BEAUTIFUL to God. Even in those ugly moments.