Two Different Men

largeWhen I was but a youthful girl
Of four and seventeen,
I chanced upon two different men,
Whose natures were unseen.

One was handsome, tall, and dark,
With gallantry to spare,
He swept me off my feeble feet,
And made me twice as fair.

I came to know him by a word,
As we dined and danced,
For while he brought the stars to life,
I called him sweet Romance.

The other man was odd to me,
For he never left my side,
Though often I was known to gripe,
And roll my eyes and chide.

He did not lure with mystery,
Pour gifts upon my greed,
In fact at times he grew so dull
I scarcely paid him heed.

But as the days gave birth to years,
My skin came loose and gray,
And when I searched for my Romance,
He’d wandered far away.

I trembled in my lonely bed
With sickness and with fear.
“Do not cry,” a soft voice said,
“I am ever near.”

The other man stroked my face
And dried my weathered nose,
He brushed my hair with shaky hands,
He gently held me close.

“Where is the one who stole my heart,
Fierce and young and brave?
Why would he arise and leave
An old man in his place?”

With wrinkled lips he smiled and said,
“We’ve always been the same,
Both he and I were but one man
Resolved, your heart to claim.

He was grand and I was small,
When first we caught your whim,
And though I grew from day to day,
You always preferred him.

But now, my dear, as dusk draws near,
I have grown so vast,
That though he was the first to win,
It’s me who’ll be the last.”

I held his face between my hands,
I cried into his tears,
Until his old familiar touch,
Had swept away the years.

At last I knew there was one thing
That I could be sure of:
And so I whispered in his ear,
“Then I shall call thee Love.”

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5 Dating Tips for Single Guys

Dating011-medium-newLet me begin by saying I realize your lot in life is as far as Fiji from mine.  I have no idea what it’s like to be a single guy in 2014.  But you and I do have one thing in common.  Both of us care about single girls.  Recently, some of my favorite ones have opened my eyes to the terrors of dating in the 21st century.  WIth that in mind, I thought I might offer a little insight into wooing the fairer sex.  I’m certainly no expert–my only qualification is this one extra X chromosome.  But for what it’s worth, here’s some advice from a girl:

Be confident in who you are.  I know it’s cliché, but nothing exudes insecurity faster than showing-off.  Trust me, no matter how politely she smiles, she knows you don’t really have $100,000 to invest in an up-and-coming business, knows you didn’t once date Katie Holmes, and is probably groaning inside if you’re telling her how much you can curl.  If there’s one thing she really will be impressed by, it’s sincerity.  Being genuine and humble demonstrates confidence.  Ego brags.  Confidence doesn’t have to.

Focus more on the “connection” factor than the “cool date” factor.  In other words, don’t drop $150 on a botanical garden carriage ride and then stare at her like a mute statue or *shudder* text your friends the whole time.  Sure a cool date’s great, but it will never make up for a lack of connection.  Which means you need to plan more than the date–you need to plan the conversation.  I once read a marriage book that said women long to be explored.  It’s the reason girlfriends can talk for hours at a coffee shop.  We want to be discovered…more than we want to smell botanical flowers, or perhaps best yet, while we smell botanical flowers 🙂

Err on the side of being a gentlemen.  With the rise of the women’s-lib movement, I can see why it’d be confusing to know whether or not to open her door or pay for her meal.  But you’re a lot less likely to offend by being more of a gentleman than less of one.  If she tells you, “I’ve got it” when you open the door–no big deal.  But if she’s looking for a gentleman and ends up having to pick up the tab, don’t expect a second date.

Adjust your expectations.  If you’re waiting for a girl who looks like J Lo and loves college football, don’t hold your breath.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, just consider them carefully.  That shy girl from church may just need a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll to become the most interesting person you’ve ever had a conversation with.  That really un-athletic friend of your sister’s may look at you like you’re Lebron James when you play basketball like Kevin James.  Or maybe not.  The thing is, there’s only one way to find out.

Don’t be afraid to stand up to her.  There’s a big difference between a control-freak and a leader.  One is rooted in pride, and the other is rooted in love and service.  Once you’ve built a trusting relationship with her, be brave enough to speak into her life in ways that will challenge and edify her.  At the end of the day, no matter how much we balk, (most) women don’t really want a yes-man.  They want a man they can respect.

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Making Peace with Family Systems (or Why Everybody Fights So Much Over the Holidays)

family
Years ago in a Marriage and Family class, my professor drew big circles on the whiteboard to represent family systems.  He talked about “closed” systems and “open” systems, and all sorts of other terms that eventually filled his circles with arrows and scribbles and a general sense of disorder.  This holiday season I found myself thinking a lot about those circles.

Every day I live in my own circle.  It’s the “Me and Husband Family System.”  It has its own set of priorities, entertainment preferences, conflicts, and agreements.  This Thanksgiving we loaded up the minivan, drove four hours, rang my parents’ doorbell, and stepped back into the “circle” that raised me.  Mom and Dad’s family system.  It was as familiar as my mom’s fried rice, and yet it fit like skinny jeans after a pregnancy.  How can something that made you who you are, no longer fit who you’ve become?  

My answer came three weeks later when Christmas rolled around and we spent a week living in another “circle,” the one that raised my husband.  I realized that marriage is a little like tossing two family systems into a bag and shaking it until they smooth each other out.  In the end what you take out of the bag is entirely new.

Sometimes it’s beautiful, like a stone polished with friction.  And sometimes it’s broken.  Sometimes we realize the pieces we were given were never whole to begin with, and trying to build something healthy is like assembling a bicycle with broken parts.  Even if we can make it look normal on the outside, it will never race down a road.  So how do we make peace with family systems?  Here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

Recognize that every family system is flawed.  From the moment sin entered the world, nobody had a shot at doing this “family” thing perfectly.  So, what if we just admitted it?  What if we gave our parents, and our in-laws, and our parents’ parents the freedom to be human?  To have made mistakes that impact us and yet to be treated with dignity, love, and forgiveness–the same way Christ has treated us?

Acknowledge the specific failings of the family system.  I think there are two unhealthy tendencies for dealing with the failures of a family system.  We either want to sweep them under the rug, or we want to frame them on the mantel.  Neither is beneficial.  Think about your own children.  Would you really want them to pretend they haven’t been hurt or negatively impacted by the mistakes you’ve made?  To quietly grow bitter toward you?  Or worse yet, to repeat those mistakes?  As terrifying as exposing the failures of a family system can be, when it’s done with a commitment to love one another, it can be liberating.  Messy as a bachelor pad, but liberating.

Lay the past to rest.  None of us own a time machine.  Which is why framing past failures on the mantel is so devastating.  Nobody wants to be defined by their mistakes, nor made to pay for them again and again.  At some point we have to deal with the ugly under the rug, then forgive and lay the past to rest.  Throw it in the trash with the turkey carcass and all the other things we’re officially “done” with.  That is grace.  And we all need it.

Accept personal responsibility for the family system you’re creating.  Believe me, I know how comforting it can be to blame someone else for all the things you dislike about yourself.  Your inability to trust.  Your penchant for shutting people out.  That anger problem you have.  But the hard truth is nobody will be held accountable for our lives except us.  The beautiful side to that truth is we’re not slaves to the past.  In Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pe 1:3), everything we need to grow, to change, and to overcome.

As I move into this new year, I’m reminded again that Jesus is the essence and the fullness of Hope, one of my favorite things about Him.  There is no hurt He can’t heal, no relationship He can’t restore, and no failure He can’t redeem.  His presence within us is our hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  Our only hope of glory.

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An Ode to my Twenties

My dear twenties,
Photo Scan for JeanneIn seven days I will celebrate the start of my last year with you.  29.  My farewell year to a decade well spent.  I’ll have you know I’ve liked you a lot more than the teens.  You are the decade that got rid of acne, gave me a job that didn’t come with an apron, and taught me how to spread my wings and fly away from home.  You introduced me to love, turned me into a bride, and washed away the insecurities of adolescence with the affection of a man I never deserved.

ry=480You are the decade of burnt dinners, tiny apartments, and tender beginnings.  The decade that laid a little body into my arms and in one swift moment made me a mother for life.  Where adolescence taught me to be strong because I have not, you taught me to be strong because I have.  You tutored me with kindness instead of pain.  With blessings that made me ache to be better than I am.  No matter what the future brings, I will remember you as the decade that gave me the gifts that would come to define my life and my legacy.

My dear twenties, you have been merciful to me.  A decade of joy, lavish with grace.  I used to view you as the ticking-clock decade, the race-to-the-deadline decade…in which case I would have just one more year to run a marathon, write a novel, and finish having children!  But I know better now.  Your goal has never been for me to gather accomplishments and pin them to my chest before I’m thirty.  Because you are not the finish line, but the starting line.  If childhood and adolescence is the “ready” and “set,” you are the gunshot decade that gives us a swift kick in the pants and tells us to “Go!”  Take your life and your blessings, and live!  Put wings to your dreams, and courage to your feet, and don’t be so afraid to stumble along the way.  Thank you, dear twenties.  I look forward to one last year with you!

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Do You Ever Worry You’ll Fall Out of Love?

An unmarried friend asked me this question recently, and for one small moment I felt like Mickey Mantle teaching a newbie how to swing.  Eight years ago a question like this would’ve been a fast pitch straight to my head.  But not anymore.  I smiled and watched the softball lob through the air.  As a dreamy romantic who’s learned a lot of lessons the hard way, this was one question I knew I could knock out of the park.

Do I ever worry I’ll fall out of love?  No.  Because I already have.  If we define love in the ooey-gooey sense that this question always defines it in, then I’ve already fallen in and out and back in and back out of love (with the same man!) thousands of times.  That night I assured my friend that she could stop worrying about falling out of love not because it’s a rarity, but because it’s a certainty.  It doesn’t matter who you marry, at some point the butterflies will fly away and forget to put the toilet seat down when they go.  But this is not a bad thing!  When those butterflies desert you, they will take with them the fairytale of love, and leave the reality of love in its place.

I know this sounds cringe-worthy, believe me, the Anne of Green Gables within me also wants to cringe.  The fairytale of love is everything beautiful about love, right?  It’s delight instead of duty, passion instead of obligation.  But here’s the catch.  Fairytale love is true love…just not for him.  The reason fairytale love feels so great is because at it’s core it’s love for me.  

At this point in the conversation I launched into Paul David Tripp’s explanation of the two kingdoms in life.  (My friend rolled her eyes too, but pay attention!  This is the heart of it all.)  There are two kingdoms in life: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Self.  “Falling in love” naturally caters to the Kingdom of Self.  It makes you feel beautiful, special, and skinnier than you actually are.  Then you fast forward a decade and realize the Kingdom of Self has taken a major hit.  Your handsome groom no longer exists solely to woo you and make you feel good about yourself.  Worse yet, he’s prone to take an interest in his Kingdom of Self…which co-exists with your Kingdom of Self about as well as a kingdom can function with two kings and zero servants.  At this point, you have a choice.  You can continue living for the Kingdom of Self, which will involve slowly shutting him out, filling your life with personal hobbies and distractions, and perhaps finding someone new to “fall in love” with.

Or you can choose to live for the Kingdom of God.  The tough part is, the Kingdom of God is radically opposed to *gulp* self.  It stays up late to listen when it’s aching to go to bed.  It wakes up early with the needs and desires of the other fresh on its heart.  It forgives painful sins, gets involved in messy problems, and does laundry that’s been sitting in the car long enough to make you gag.  The Kingdom of God honors others when no one’s watching, thinks of others when it doesn’t want to, and gives when nobody returns the favor.  And when the Kingdom of Self is clawing at your chest, the Kingdom of God tells it to hush, and keeps on serving.

Do you feel hopeless yet?  That’s a good thing because the bottom line is you and I can’t ever love this way on our own.  That’s why we need a Savior.  That’s why marriage is such a picture of the gospel.  Without the grace of Jesus, two sinners could never love the way Christ loves.  And here’s the really amazing part: this kind of self-denying, other-focused love that is agonizing to practice and only possible by God’s grace and strength, generates the truest and purest affection you could ever imagine.

Picture a day at the fair, riding on the Ferris Wheel with that charming boy who’s totally consumed with you.  Ah, butterflies galore!  Now picture that same boy ten years later, crying when he feels like a failure.  Vomiting when he’s got a bug.  Angry when he had a bad day.  Picture looking at him and being able to see inside his heart—to see his insecurities, his weakness, his longings, and his hopes.  Picture yourself comforting him when he cries, cleaning up his vomit, forgiving his misplaced anger.  None of these actions are devoid of emotion.  Neither are they governed by emotion.  Rather, they inspire emotion.  Empathy, devotion, gratitude, contentment, joy, and yes, even passion long after the last butterfly has left.

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Without You

Without you, life would be a whole lot quieter,
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a good deal more predictable,
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and not nearly so expressive.
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Without you, life would be much more serious,
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a lot less rambunctious,
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and only half as tender.
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Without you life would be less inspiring,
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less passionate,
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and unbearably lonely.
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Dear Clint,
Today you turn 31 years old, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that I don’t even want to imagine my life, without you.
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Dangerous Daydreams

daydreamFor as long as I can remember, “imagination” has had a good rep.  And I have had a good supply of it.  As a kid I didn’t just “wrap Christmas presents”—I performed surgery on anxious patients with nothing but pink safety scissors and a roll of Scotch tape.  I didn’t “iron clothes” for my mother—I hosted a televised special on how to get wrinkles out of an Oxford.  Imagination, I quickly learned, was a great way to pass the time.  And the sorrow.

If I didn’t make the team, I imagined I was the star player.  If the cute boy didn’t like me, I imagined that he did.  And if the cute boy turned out to be a real jerk, well that was the beauty of imagination!  In five seconds flat I could turn him into the man of my dreams.  I always assumed I’d quit daydreaming once some of these dreams were actually realized.  After all, when I had the amazing job, and the exciting life, and the man of my dreams I wouldn’t need to daydream, right?

Unless I didn’t have those things.  Unless somewhere along the way I had created dreams so lofty no reality could compete with them.  No man fulfill them.  No set of circumstances live up to them.   I was probably in my twenties when I finally realized daydreaming could be dangerous.  That it could pave a fast track to discontentment.

I think a lot about it now as I raise two young girls—girls who have already fallen in love with the notion of princesses and fairytales.  On the one hand, I’m a major advocate for imagination.  If I were a fictitious character I’d be Anne of Green Gables, scarcely able to fathom the dreariness of a world without imagination.  But as a woman who’s a smidgen wiser than I used to be, I sidle up to it warily.  Imagine we’re in a fort cooking dinner out of pine cones?  I’m all about it!  Imagine we’re digging for dinosaur bones?  Let’s do it!  Imagine one day every fairy tale wish will come true and life will be perfect?  Don’t do it.  Oh, my sweet little girls, don’t do it.

Because the truth is, you and I were never made for the fairytale.  We weren’t made to live comfortable, easy lives that always make us feel good.  We were made to live one real life, with a real God, who offers real hope in a real and broken world.  My previous post has opened up a floodgate of real Moms sharing their real stories.  It has made me cry, and pray, and rejoice that I am not alone.  I am not journeying with Cinderella and Snow White.  I am journeying with real people—overcomers in Christ with real testimonies.  And I believe that’s exactly the way God intended it to be.  Shortly before leaving His disciples, Jesus warned them that suffering was coming.  He said He was preparing them for it so that in HIM they may have peace.  And then He made this promise: “In this world, you will have prince charming, perfect kids, great hair, loads of free time trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

The answer to the reality of pain—the reason we can stand up under it—has always been and always will be found in Jesus.  That’s the mistake I made so many years ago–when I didn’t make the team, when the cute boy didn’t like me.  I didn’t run to Jesus to remind me that my worth is securely kept in Him.  I didn’t let Jesus satisfy my longing to be known and loved.  Instead I crafted a really puny version of fulfillment and daydreamed about it.  And as soon as the daydream was over, so was the satisfaction.

If there’s one thing I’m realizing the more I blog, it’s that I don’t know your story.  I don’t know whether you love to daydream, or haven’t done it since you were five years old.  I don’t know if the life you’re living right now fills you with joy and peace, or if it leaves you empty and longing for more.  The only thing I know, with wholehearted certainty, is that Jesus is passionate about you.  He is passionate not only to rescue you (John 3:16; Romans 6:23), but to give you an abundant life in Him (John 10:10).  Don’t settle for the daydreams, the way I did for so long, foolishly believing they’re as good as it gets.  They are just a shadow of joy and fulfillment.  Jesus is the real thing.

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