Category Archives: love

Her First Birthday Party


Each summer, I serve as the Bible teacher for a summer camp in Texas.  The camp’s mission is to create positive memories for abused and neglected children, ages 7-11.

Two years ago, we had a little girl who was at camp for her first time. Every time she would see me, she would remind me that it was her birthday during the week, and she asked me over and over not to forget. I promised  her each time that I would be sure to remember and that we would celebrate it together.

Confession: I knew something that she didn’t.  At the camp, we always throw a birthday party for ALL the kids on Thursday night.  Many of them have never celebrated their birthdays before, so we get a church to donate enough toys to fill up a large shoebox for each child, make a giant cake, decorate the camp’s mess hall with streamers, confetti and party favors and make sure it’s an event that they will all remember!

When the night of the party arrived, I was excited for her and hoped that she would be pleased with the celebration. Amazingly, none of the older kids had let on about the party, even though they had been to camp several times before. I did my part distracting the kids with some other meaningful activities while the party decorations were completed, and then I got them lined up at the door of the mess hall, ready to go in for their big surprise.

The door opened up, loud cheers and clapping emerged, and the kids bounded inside, high-fiving all the adults and teens that had lined up to greet them!  Once past the gauntlet of celebrating big people, the kids found tables and chairs set for the biggest birthday party they had ever seen!  Party hats, juice pouches, colorful plates, napkins and plastic ware, noise makers and balloons!  Everyone excitedly took their seats and began to explore their table settings while the adults brought them cake and ice cream and sang “Happy Birthday!” to them.

When I went to see the girl after the initial surprise, she caught me off guard. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Pastor Mike! You remembered!” Over and over.  She was quite undone by the grace of it all.

I was a little embarrassed that she thought I was the reason for the party when I had really done nothing except distract the kids while the preparations were being made, but I didn’t want to ruin her moment by saying anything awkward. To her, this was a promise fulfilled and an opportunity to celebrate her birthday for the very first time.

I often think about this moment.  It both breaks my heart (for a little girl who had never had the simple gesture of a birthday party), and it humbles me.  There were dozens of people more deserving of the credit for her birthday celebration, but God allowed me to be the one that received her appreciation.  What I’ve realized is that God often allows us to get the credit for good works that we had very little to do with.  If we are honest, He does 99% of the work most of the time.  We have little to offer, and we are often selfish about offering what we do have.

I think He uses these moments to remind us of the joy we receive from joining Him in His work.  They are an incentive for us to trust Him more with our time, our talents and our treasures, and they soften our hearts toward those in need.

So, in retrospect, I’m not sure if the birthday party that night was more for the little girl or more for me.  I suspect God made the appointment for us both.

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If you would like to know more about Royal Family Kids’ Camps (which are held in many places around the world), you can visit their website at http://www.rfkc.org.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, christianity, generosity, grace, love, Service, Serving Others, unconditional love

The Gift of the Magi


Maybe you remember O. Henry’s short tale about the poor couple who loved each other so much that they each desired to purchase the perfect Christmas gift for their spouse.  Times were hard for Della and Jim.  They were surviving on $20 a week in an $8 flat, but there was nothing left over for extravagant giving.  The only extravagant things they had were Della’s long, luxurious hair and Jim’s gold watch, passed down from his father and grandfather.  Both had significant meaning for the couple and helped to make the tough times easier to bear.

Della’s desire to give her husband an extraordinary gift outweighed her love for her hair, and she found herself at the hair goods shop selling it for $20.  She spent the rest of the afternoon searching all the shops in town for the perfect gift until she came across a platinum fob chain that Jim could use with his wonderful watch.  She couldn’t wait for him to see it!

When Jim arrived home later that evening, he was dumbstruck at the sight of his wife’s short hair.  She told him how she had sold it to earn enough money for his Christmas present and assured him that it would grow back quickly.  Still, it took him several minutes to recover.  After assuring Della that the length of her hair could never change his love for her, he showed her a package he had been holding.  It was his Christmas present for her… a set of pure, tortoise-shell combs with jeweled rims.  Della had long admired them in the storefront window and imagined pulling them through her long hair even though she knew it was an impossible dream.

Realizing the sad irony in the gift, she looked up and reminded Jim how fast her hair would grow.  Then, remembering her present for him, she held out the watch chain enthusiastically.  Again dismayed, it was several minutes before he confessed to Della that he had sold the watch in order to have the money to buy the combs.

The greatest gifts always require sacrifice.  It is the sacrifice that makes them precious.  The last two pennies of a widow are far more precious than thousands of dollars from a millionaire.  O. Henry concludes his story by telling us that these two foolish people are really the wisest of all who give and receive gifts.  They are the magi, for they know the secret joy of giving what you cannot bear to lose.  This season, why not commit to giving at least one gift that costs us something more than money.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, Christmas, delayed gratification, love, marriage, sacrifice, Service, Serving Others, unconditional love

Stronger Together


I once watched a truly forgettable movie about two brothers who were part of a mob family.  One brother chose the life of crime, and the other chose to give his life to fighting lawlessness.  Blah, blah, blah…  Save your money.  Here’s the only thing interesting in the whole movie.

In one flashback scene where the brothers were fighting, their father intervened.  He then took out a dollar bill and tore it in half.  Giving one half to each child, he said, “Remember, boys, you are stronger together than you are apart.”

What a great illustration for the importance of unity within the Body of Christ.  Working against each other, we don’t amount to much.  In fact, we pretty much cancel each other out.  But working together, we have the strength to face the Enemy and the worst he can throw at us.

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

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Schadenfreude


schadenfreude \SHOD-n-froy-duh\, noun: A malicious satisfaction obtained from the misfortunes of others

Feeling guilty already, aren’t you?  Who doesn’t have moments (hours, days, months…) of schadenfreude when our enemies and competitors get their come-uppins?  They deserved it, right?  What goes around comes around.  It’s even better when we didn’t do anything to cause their misfortune.  There are no fingerprints at the scene, so to speak.

I’m not going to try to tackle the rightness or wrongness of this feeling when it is derived from our enemies and competitors.  Lots of gray area there.  But what particularly interests me is how commonly this feeling is directed at people who are on the same team as us.  They have the same goals and objectives as us, but we want them to stumble.  Why?  The two most common reasons are competition and resentment.

Competition
While competition can be a positive and healthy thing for athletic teams, it’s not so great within the Body of Christ.  We often measure our worth by comparing ourselves with those around us.  This can lead to frustration, despair, envy, covetousness, bitterness and even sabotaging behaviors if we feel like we are on the losing end.  It can lead to pride, complacency and disdain for others if we feel like we are on the winning end.

Resentment
Holding a grudge about a perceived wrong done to us makes it difficult for us to see the “guilty” party succeed.  We want justice.  We want fairness restored.  They slighted us, attacked us, overlooked us, punished us…, and we feel that we are righteously indignant.  Failure, embarrassment or difficult obstacles in their path would make us feel like the scales had been returned to their proper positions.

Hopefully, it’s obvious that this isn’t healthy.  It leads to all types of passive-aggressive and aggressive behaviors, ranging from negative thoughts to gossip to rumors to Tonya Harding-inspired pipes to the knee.  Even at their most “innocuous” levels, these feelings lead us to withhold assistance and advice and prayer that might help the other person.  Schadenfreude is the equivalent of cancer to the Body of Christ.  It will destroy us from the inside out.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be diligent to spot the signs of schadenfreude when they surface, and we need to deal with them quickly and decisively.  When we see them in ourselves, we should be quick to pray for God to give us the ability to forgive and to have His love for the other person.  When we see them in others, we should lovingly point out the bitter root and help our friends forgive and love.

We’ve got enough enemies and competitors without adding them from inside the Body.  Let’s stop doing the devil’s work for him.

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Filed under Abundance, agape love, blame, Body of Christ, christianity, emotions, forgiveness, Interpersonal, justice, love, Relationships

Three-Legged Race


Marriage is a three-legged race.  When we pledge ourselves to our partners for life, God sees us in many ways as one person.  We are bound to each other.

This can cause a number of problems.  It’s awkward to try to run with someone tied to us.  We have to re-learn how to move so that we don’t throw our spouse off-balance.  If our spouse runs at a different pace or with a different rhythm (which they almost always do), we have to make adjustments to find a happy medium.

Should our spouse fall, it doesn’t do us much good to try to drag them along.  We have to reach out and lift them up.  This can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially for those of us who are goal-oriented and competitive.  We can see all the other couples passing us by, and the further behind we get, the more irritated we become.

We might feel tempted to scold and blame our spouse.  At best, these might shame our spouse into getting back up, but they won’t ever help the relationship.  Nagging doesn’t help.  Making jokes at our spouse’s expense does not help.  The only thing that will get us back into the race with a committed and enthusiastic partner is to stop and go at his or her pace.

I didn’t come to know Christ until five years into my marriage.  My wife had been a Christian since she was a young girl, and my sudden enthusiasm for following the Lord was a welcome change but somewhat shocking for her.  I quickly committed to all kinds of Christian activities that we weren’t accustomed to.  Church, Bible studies, volunteering, tithing, teaching, conferences, service projects…you name it.

Before long, I realized that I had left my wife far behind me.  Her walk with the Lord had been moving at a much slower pace for many years.  Now, I was trying to force her to go from that walk to a sprint in just a few, short months.  I was disappointed that she wasn’t growing as quickly as I was, and I tried to push her along to catch up with me.  All this accomplished was getting her to dig in her heels and start resenting me for trying to make her go faster than she was ready to go.

Over time, I’ve learned to slow down.  God won’t allow me to cross the finish line without my wife.  We are a team, and the rules of the three-legged race are that you finish together.  When I relaxed and allowed my wife to find her own pace with the Lord, she began to grow faster and faster.

I’ve also learned that fast isn’t necessarily good.  Much of my early speed was about doing, doing, doing for the Lord, but not all of my doing was God’s will. I have a list of things I volunteered for that turned out to be disasters.  If I had slowed down and gone at the Lord’s pace for me, I might have grown more quickly.  Now, instead of doing, doing, doing for the Lord, I’m trying to learn about being, being, being with Him.

It doesn’t matter how super-spiritual you are or how much the world needs you, if you are married, you can’t go faster than your spouse and please God.  Your first ministry is to the one you’ve committed your life to.  Stop, go back to where you left him or her, and help your spouse get back on his or her feet.  Then, run (or walk) the race together at the pace of the slowest person.  You might find that there was much you were missing by going so fast – the first of which will be the joy of running the race together.

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Filed under agape love, christianity, commitment, Compromise, Daily walk, family, growth, love, marriage, Relationships, sacrifice, Serving Others, Spiritual Growth, submission

Matching Emotion with Concern


While sitting in one of the most boring seminars of my life, I was surprised to learn something that has added years (maybe decades) to my marriage.  It’s the principle of matching emotion with concern.

You see, for much of my early marriage, I had it all wrong.  When my wife and I would get into arguments, there would be lots of emotion.  Lots of yelling.  Lots of slamming things.  I hated it.  My teenage, drug-using years were full of these types of conflicts with my mom, and I learned that matching emotion with emotion just gets you more emotion.  Each person tries to increase their volume to get up and over the other person, and when yelling stops working, some people resort to physical displays and violence to make their points.  If they start at a “Level 6 Anger” on a ten-point scale, they will soon be at Level 8, 9 or 10 as they try to outdo the other person.  This is called “Escalation.”

 

Escalation

Matching emotion with emotion doesn’t work, so I learned over time to match emotion with lack of emotion.  Someone had to keep their head in an argument.  Emotional people say bizarre, exaggerated, unrealistic things.  Someone had to maintain logic and good sense.  That was the way to keep things safe, I reckoned.  For years, I tried this approach with my wife.  When she would get angry and emotional, I would take the “high road.”  Nothing she could say would bother me.  I stayed calm and rational during the entire argument.  But it didn’t work.

Emotion is about volume.  People use it because they want the other person(s) to recognize how important something is to them.  When I tried to match my wife’s emotion with my lack of emotion, she felt that I wasn’t hearing her…that I didn’t understand how crucial the issue was.  So in order to get her point across, she would increase her volume by getting even more emotional.  This is called “One-Sided Escalation.”

One-Sided Escalation

During one extended argument, I was proud of myself for keeping my cool during the entire ordeal, but I was tired and had lost hope of finding an easy end to our disagreement.  When my wife took a breath, I stepped in and said, “I’m tired and going to bed.  When you are ready to talk like adults, come and get me.”  Condescending, controlling, unfair.  Just because I was in control of my emotions didn’t mean I was above getting my shots in.

I headed off to bed and was in the early stages of sleep when I heard, “Thump! THump! THUmp! THUMp! THUMP!”  Suddenly, my wife, who had been stewing over my arrogant dismissal, came sprinting down the hallway to our room, leapt up on top of the bed and began to jump – up and down, up and down…narrowly missing my head with each landing.  This was a level of escalation I had never seen before.  In a panic, I remembered stories I had heard of wives who had been pushed too far and the things they had done to their husbands while they slept.  

Obviously, my calm, cool and collected approach was no better than matching emotions with emotion.  In fact, it was worse.  Unless they are willing to go to extreme lengths, emotional people are no match for logical people in an argument.  Emotional people say things they wouldn’t say during calmer circumstances.  It’s easy for logical people to identify exaggerations and discrepancies, and this often leaves the emotional person feeling frustrated and embarrassed.  A logical person can easily out-maneuver and even humiliate an emotional person (which tends to make emotional people even more emotional).  In short, matching logic with emotion isn’t a fair fight.

So, what’s the right answer?  It doesn’t work to match emotion with emotion, and it doesn’t work to match emotion with lack of emotion or logic.  Here’s what I learned in that boring seminar: You’ve got to match emotion with sincere concern.  It’s brilliant!  It’s simple!  But it’s not easy.  

When someone is emotional, the best way to respond is to show genuine concern.  If they are “Level 6 – Anger,” you’ve got to try to match it with a “Level 6 – Concern.”  It might sound like this:

My Wife: “I hate it that you are always coming home so late from work!  You’re never here for dinner!  I always have to take care of the kids all by myself, and I’m tired.  I never get anytime for myself!”

Me: “I’m very sorry, Sweetheart…I didn’t realize how difficult this has been for you.  I can tell you’re very upset.  Can we sit down and talk about it?”

Chances are, my response didn’t hit a “Level 6” for Concern.  Depending upon my tone and my body language (they have to match my words for my words to be believable), I may have only reached a Level 3 with this response.  But I shouldn’t give up.  This is a skill that takes patience and practice to learn.

My Wife: “Yes, this has been difficult for me!  And I’m not just upset….I’m exhausted!  You should try taking care of the kids for days on end without any help!  I need a break!”

Me: “Okay, I hear you.  This has been a lousy situation with my work, and it’s gone on longer than I thought it would.  You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.   Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”

As I’m expressing concern, I’m using other tools to help my wife see that I understand.  I’m trying to reflect her emotions (i.e., “I can tell you’re upset.”), and I’m trying to summarize what I’m hearing, seeing and reading between the lines (i.e., “You’re exhausted, and you need a break, and it doesn’t seem fair that you have to carry the full load at home.”)  I’m asking clarifying statements (i.e., “Have you already thought of some solutions, or would you like to talk those out together?”)  

I have to be completely sincere at all times, or I’ll just make things worse.  But if I’m patient and keep trying, a wonderful thing happens.  When my wife feels like I have honestly heard and understood how important this issue is to her, she begins to let the steam out of her emotion.  It will typically take several attempts of matching emotion with concern at different levels, but if she believes me, she can lower the volume bit by bit.  There’s no need to continue to be emotional when the other person really understands what you are saying and how you are feeling.  Before too long, we will be able to have a rational discussion about the problem without the exaggeration and without the strong emotions.  This is called, “De-Escalation.”

De-Escalation

At the foundation of using this method for dealing with conflict are two essential practices: patience and kindness.  It won’t work unless you care enough about the other person to set aside your own personal agenda.  In short, it’s an act of love.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

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Filed under agape love, communication, conflict, emotions, grace, Interpersonal, love, marriage, Relationships, unconditional love

Something Special


I once managed a call center, and we employed many colorful personalities to answer the phones.  One day, I walked up to the cubicle where a representative named Roz was sitting.  Pinned to the cubicle wall next to her and right at her eye-level was an 8″x10″ glossy glamour shot of herself.  I waited until she finished her call and then asked, “Roz, what on earth is that?”

She looked at the photo and then at me and said, “Michael, you’ve got to surround yourself with the ones you love!”

I loved Roz.  She was completely self-absorbed, but she knew she was self-absorbed and never tried to pretend that she was anything different.  And she had the right idea.  We should love ourselves.  Not to the point of narcissism but to the point of a healthy self-love that recognizes that we are created in God’s own image.  Remember, when Jesus told us to love our neighbor, He said to love him as we love ourselves.

God doesn’t make junk; He makes masterpieces.  Each one of us is a unique masterpiece of His creation.  Demeaning and defeating self-talk and the accusing lies of the Enemy are all are aimed at discrediting the work of  God’s hand.  We shouldn’t tolerate them for even a moment.

Give yourself permission to love yourself.  You’re awesome!  You’re wonderful!  Jesus loved you so much He went to the cross for you.  You must be something special!

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