Tag Archives: agape 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.


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

Clever Hans

Kluge Hans (better known as “Clever Hans”) was a most amazing horse!  He had the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide by tapping out the answers with his hoof.  He could tell time and name people.  He could spell and solve problems involving musical harmony.

His owner, German mathematician Von Osten, began showing him to the public in 1891, and for years, Clever Hans amazed even the stoutest critics.  The horse could perform his tricks for randomly selected people with or without his master present.  It seemed impossible, but no one could deny the horse’s accuracy.

It wasn’t until 1904 when researcher Oskar Pfungst finally figured out how Clever Hans did it.  By testing the horse with a variety of constraints, he learned that Clever Hans was not so clever if he couldn’t see his questioner.  Also, if the questioner did not know the answer to a question, neither did the horse.

Following a hunch, Pfungst started observing the questioners more than the horse.  Soon, he discovered that Clever Hans was responding to subtle non-verbal cues from the people asking the questions.  They tended to tense their muscles until Clever Hans tapped out the correct answer with his hoof.  When he did, the questioner relaxed, signaling to the horse that it had reached the correct answer.  The horse could detect slight movements of a person’s eyebrows or a change in head position or an approving facial expression.  Clever Hans could even pick out a slight dilation of the questioner’s nostrils.

In the end, Clever Hans was most clever when people expected and wanted him to be clever.  Their anticipation of his correct answer provided him all the non-verbal feedback he needed to reassure their trust in his abilities.

Think about the implications for our human relationships.  If a horse is perceptive enough to read our non-verbals with such accuracy – even non-verbals that we are oblivious to sending – isn’t it possible that other people can pick up on them, too (if not consciously, then subconsciously)?  If you have high expectations for someone, it gets communicated in more than your praise.  If you have low expectations of someone, it leaks into every interaction you have with that person.  What you think about a person often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy in your relationship.

When you have negative expectations about someone, you can try to fake your feelings when you are around them, but most people will see through your plastic efforts.  The only real way to make sure that you don’t communicate negative expectations is to change how you feel about that person.  In order to do that, you are going to have to change the story that you tell yourself about them.  You need a positive story to replace the negative one.  This is much easier said than done, but here are some suggestions:

  • Assume positive motive. Maybe the person is the way he is or acts the way he does, because there is a good reason for it.  Maybe he means well and is doing the best he knows how to do.
  • Consider that there may be extenuating circumstances. There may be factors outside of her control – things like the way the person was raised, the limitations on what they know or are able to do, the situation that they are currently in or other people and their behavior toward her.
  • Examine your own accountability. Is there anything that you are doing that is making your interactions with this person worse?
  • Get more information. Don’t make up your mind about someone or about the way someone behaves without first making sure that you have enough information to make an opinion.  Legion are the embarrassing stories where someone reacted to a small amount of information and later learned that they were missing the most important parts of the story.
  • Lower your expectations. If the person can’t or just won’t change, lower your expectations of him.  You will be happier, because he won’t let you down all the time.
  • Tell a bigger story. Maybe your story is too small.  For example, you are distracted by your teenager’s sloppy appearance and can’t help but comment on it each time you see her.  But how important is how neat she looks compared to the health of your relationship with her?  Maybe you could tell a story that says the health of your relationship is bigger and more important than your irritation over her appearance, and you are going to overlook her clothing choices in order to preserve open doors of communication with her.
  • Pray for the person. Nothing is more effective at changing your heart toward another person than prayer.  Even if you struggle to be sincere with your prayers, make a commitment to pray for him or her until God gives you His heart for that person.

Change what you think (your story) about those around you, and you will change the relationship.  You might even find that your negative story has been the whole reason for the problems between you.  Change your story; change your world.

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Filed under acceptance, communication, expectations, Interpersonal, leadership, management, parenting, Pygmalion Effect, Relationships

BIG “G” – little “g”

In one of the classes that I’ve regularly facilitated, we do an activity called “The Parking Space.”  Participants are given a role-play scenario in which two people have to compete for a single parking space.  One person is running late for a job interview, and the other is running late for a meeting with an important client.  As one tries to back into the parking space, the other is trying to pull forward into it.  The two people get out of their cars and negotiate to see who gets the space.

What’s really interesting about the interaction isn’t who gets the space or even how they get it (and I’ve heard some really creative and unethical methods of coercion).  It’s that in the process of overpowering their adversary for the space, both people completely forget what their primary goals were – getting the job or making the meeting.  It never dawns on them that time is ticking away as they bicker about who gets to park where.  Each person fights for a win-lose outcome, but what they end up with is lose-lose, because the parking space is moot by the time they miss their respective appointments.

The role-play is an excellent example of sacrificing a Big “G” Goal (making the appointment) in order to achieve a little “g” goal (getting the parking space).  It sounds crazy, but we do it all the time.

  • We pull out all the stops to win the argument but forget that we are trying to build the relationship.
  • We prevent our top performers from transferring to other departments in order to protect our team’s productivity and end up losing them because there is no room for advancement.
  • We refuse to share information with another group because they haven’t reciprocated in the past and lose sight of the fact that we work for the same company.
  • We cut services back in order to reduce expenses and succeed in chasing off our customers.
  • We invent rules for a small percentage of “law-breakers” and ultimately punish the 99.9% of people who want to do the right thing but can’t get anything done because of the excessive red-tape.
  • We turn drill sergeant with our kids to get them ready in the morning and manage to ruin everyone’s day as we head out the door for a family event.
  • We argue with our neighbors over property rights and forget that we were trying to win them to Christ.

Our problem is that we are so focused on what’s before us that we can’t see the big picture.  We are intent on winning battles, but our short-term focus is losing us the wars.  If we could keep our eyes on the Big “G” Goals, what a difference it would make in our lives, in our work and in our ministries!

We would have so much more grace for people who don’t act the way we want them to act.   We would be able to keep a healthy perspective on the minor things that don’t go our way.  We would make better decisions in the moment as we assessed the impact of those decisions on our Big “G” goals.

Where is it that you have gotten seduced by the urgency of little “g” goals?  How could you maintain your focus on the the bigger picture?  A long-range focus informs better decision making in the moment.  It takes practice, but if you’re like me, you’ve got plenty of opportunities.

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Filed under conflict, Goals, grace, Interpersonal, priorities, Prioritize, Relationships, success

Behind the Clouds, the Son!

My family is visiting the U.S. right now.  We have a six-week furlough before returning to Thailand, and we are most of the way through it.

Today, we had to say goodbye to some old friends.  It was painful.  As one of the families packed in their car to go, my youngest called out, “See you again in three years thanks to my dad’s stupid job!”  I was about to scold him but then noticed the tears in his eyes.  No one got his permission before moving everyone to Thailand and changing his entire life.  It seemed very unfair to him.

Hoping to cheer everyone up, we went out to lunch at Red Robin, a family favorite.  But as soon as we got out of the car, my daughter started to cry, and it took almost ten minutes to console her.  When the tears stopped, we made our way into the restaurant and had a seat.

A waitress came by and asked us how we were doing.  Looking around at tear-stained faces, I decided on honesty, “We’re a little sad today.  We live overseas, and we’ve come for a visit but had to say goodbye to some good friends.”

She didn’t seem to know what the appropriate response might be, so she took our orders and tended to us every so often.  During the middle of lunch, my youngest began crying again, and we couldn’t seem to raise his spirits with any talk about his friends in Thailand or the greater purpose that is being served by us being there.  He was low, and there was no picking him up.

But as soon as we finished eating, our waitress appeared again with a giant mountain of an ice-cream and brownie dessert.  She said that she and the wait staff had all chipped in to buy it for us to help us feel better, because she had spent years living in Aruba when she was a kid and knew how tough it could be.  My wife, not normally given to crying, had to fight back tears at the simple gesture.

You wouldn’t believe the change that dessert worked on my youngest son!  Instantly, he was excited and cheerful again.  Food is his love language.  Dessert is probably his most fluent dialect.  He was thrilled!  In fact, we all were.  We finished out lunch with smiles and laughter and left the restaurant in great spirits.

As my oldest son and I talked in the parking lot about what had just happened, he remarked that God sure knew how to cheer up my youngest son.  It was the perfect antidote to his gloomy mood.  While we talked, the two of us were staring at the storm clouds above us.  They were dark and foreboding, but behind them, you could see evidence of the sun.  It was producing a silver lining around some of the darkest ones.  And it got me to thinking…

Sometimes all we see are the dark and gloomy clouds.  We look at our problems and the circumstances of our lives and see only the storms.  But what we often fail to remember is that just behind the clouds of our current situation is the Son of God, who loves us and wants the best for us.  He’s always there; He never moves.  We are the ones who are spinning round and round, so even though we may not be able to see Him, we can trust that He won’t leave us on our own.

The clouds will come and go, but the Son will never change.  And just when we are in our darkest moments, the clouds will part, and the warmth of His light will shine through in the form of a chocolate icecream and brownie mountain.


Filed under agape love, Challenges, emotions, family, Fear, Suffering, Valley

An Incredible Lover

I once had a college professor who would regularly descend into self-interested monologues rather than delivering the content of the course (of course, which one didn’t, right?).  One time, he told us that one of his primary goals as a parent was to help his son become an incredible lover.  This professor was rather impressed by his own sexual prowess and thought his son should be instructed to carry on the legacy.

I know you are probably curious about exactly how he planned to do that, but we were all too creeped out to ask any follow-up questions.  I’m afraid his mentoring strategy will have to remain a secret, but if it makes you feel any better, I don’t think he was a deviant – just odd.

I was reminded of that day in class as I was reading The Purpose Driven Life with my oldest son the other day.  Chapter 16 is “What Matters Most,” and it starts with the sentence, “Life is all about love.”  Rick Warren points out that all the Ten Commandments are about love (the first four about loving God; the last six about loving your neighbor), and he draws from Paul’s writings to emphasize that anything we do without love is worthless.

Mother Teresa said, “It’s not what you do but how much love you put into it that matters,” and the longer I live, the more convinced of this I am.  All my other motives are self-serving, and I know that the things I do for myself are their own reward.  There will be no treasure stored up in heaven for me as a result of the things I do for myself – only for those things I lovingly do for God or for my neighbor.

So I find myself in the very strange position of having the exact same parenting goal as my Don Juan professor – only we are using different meanings of the word lover.  I can think of no better instruction and wisdom to pass along to my children than to help them become incredible lovers – lovers of God and lovers of their neighbors.

Incidentally, I shared this story with my son.  (I enjoy the shock value.)  He was sufficiently grossed out by the professor, and I told him he had no need to worry.  I wasn’t going to be sharing any gritty details about my love life with him – he’ll have to buy the book like everyone else.

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Filed under agape love, christianity, family, Goals, love, parenting, Relationships, sex, unconditional love

Dirt Mining or Gold Mining?

Interacting and working with people is a lot like mining for gold.

Gold miners must move tons of dirt to find a single ounce of gold. At the risk of overstating the obvious, they are never looking for the dirt. The gold is much more valuable.

Sometimes the good in people is hard to find because there is so much “dirt.” Negative behaviors, poor attitudes, sin, disappointments, miscommunication… The dirt may be all we can see. But that’s why miners have to dig for gold. It’s rarely just waiting for them on the surface.

With some people, the gold is deep down, but it’s guaranteed to be there. God never makes garbage; every human being has something (and usually a lot of somethings) to offer. You might be the first person to have the patience to dig for it. That means that it’s going to take some serious work to find it, but it also means that the payoff will be really worth it. You might find gold that the individual doesn’t even know he or she has.

People with less wisdom and less character go digging for dirt. Once they have made up their mind about an individual, they start to look for confirming evidence. They search diligently to find all the negative aspects about the person. What’s worse, they often tell others about the dirt, and then those people go dirt mining, too. With everyone kicking up dirt around a person, it’s unlikely that the gold will ever be found.

So which will it be for the people around you? Are you digging for dirt… or for gold?

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Filed under agape love, character, christianity, expectations, family, grace, Interpersonal, marriage, parenting, Relationships, selective perception, unconditional love