Endless Love

At this time of the year, many people are thinking about… love.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, the day we celebrate… love.

I read an article that posted the “Top 50 Love Songs of All Time“.  I was surprised to find out that of the 50 most popular ‘love’ songs, only 7 were from this century.  What’s that about?  Have we lost that lovin feeling? No more power of love?  Won’t love keep us together?

For a while, my husband and I led a group at our church designed to foster relationships, primarily with married/engaged couples.  Occasionally, starry-eyed couples, ready to embark on that journey called marital bliss, would come to us and ask, “what is the one most important thing for a marriage to thrive”?  Truly, we didn’t have a lot of expertise, but we had experience. And so we would share the one thing we believed necessary for a good relationship: love.

Not attraction, not chemistry, not affection, not animal magnetism, not warm fuzzy feelings — although all of those things are nice and may be part of the package, they aren’t found in the definition of love.

Many years ago, after we had dated a while, Bruce asked me to marry him.  To me, that meant having him as my husband, helping me, taking care of me, making me laugh, traveling with me, keeping me company, counseling me, loving me.  My ideas of marriage were based on what I would get, how my life would be enriched by adding him to it.  Fortunately, that engagement didn’t last.

We broke up. After almost a year apart, I still wanted him, so much that I was willing to give anything to make that happen. And that was the key.  For a life-long marriage relationship to flourish, we have to give.  I had finally reached the understanding that I wanted to be his wife, not just have him as my husband.  I discovered that this meant putting him first, considering his well-being over my own, wanting the best for him, because I loved him.  That next engagement did last, for 35 years.

When I was growing up, my mom would sometimes say, “T’is better to give than to receive”.  I would roll my eyes, thinking I probably wasn’t going to get that pony on my Christmas list.  She didn’t say “T’is” very often either, so that made it even more memorable.  But now that I’m all grown up, and then some, I would truly agree that I get so much more pleasure giving someone a special gift than I do from getting one.  Most of the time.

So in response to the starry-eyed lovers, we would reply… Put each other first. Give them your best, as best you can.  They, of course, would nod and smile, and cuddle as they walked away, thinking how easy that was. When you are trying to ‘win’ someone’s affections, you do that anyway.  Time and familiarity can erode that incentive.  The truth is, it’s not easy.  Because humankind is basically self-centered, we have to change our attitude, re-direct our motivations and overcome our ‘self’. This doesn’t come naturally. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is not a mantra for a happy marriage, or for any relationship.

The ultimate definition of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13, parts of which are probably familiar to many people.  One versions of it says: Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Doesn’t force itself on others. Isn’t always “me first.” Doesn’t fly off the handle. Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others. Puts up with anything. Trusts God always. Always looks for the best. Never looks back. But keeps going to the end.

Maybe reading that makes you think, “Yeah! That’s what I want!  Bring me that person!”   The key to getting that person is being that person.  Give that kind of love.

You probably won’t find that message in the ‘Top 50 Love Songs of All Time’. gibbons Yet, I don’t think anyone would admit to being a self-centered sweetheart, either.  You wouldn’t hear the Partridge Family singing, “I think I love me“, or Stevie Wonder crooning, “I just called to say I love me“.  The Beatles wouldn’t have shouted, “I love me, yeah, yeah, yeah,” and the Teddy Bears wouldn’t have been on the charts for weeks with “To know, know, kno-ow me is to love, love, lo-ove me, and I do.”

If we get it right, if we can master giving love to one another, love will keep us together.

And The Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

As I sit and write this, it’s another cloudy, grey day in Pittsburgh.  There’s something about cloud cover that can bring me down.  Not the fluffy, white cotton balls that dot the blue sky and spark imagination on a sunny day. It’s the monotone, grey blanket that shrouds the pretty blue, stifles possibilities, and can accentuate discouragement.

Discouragement.  That’s a yukky thing.

Though I can be Discouragement’s pal every now and then, I know that it is not something that God wants for us.  Just doing a quick word search in my Bible, I found 19 references to God directing his mighty men and women to NOT be discouraged.  There are even more references to God telling them to be courageous, to have courage.  Having courage does not only mean to be brave, but also means having determination and strength of spirit, confidence.  It means to be encouraged.

I love to be around people who are encouragers.  They speak life. They impart courage to step out into our destiny.  They kindle a spark of hope that ignites a forgotten dream.  They bring blue skies and scatter the cloud cover.

My husband, Bruce, was an encourager.  It was a genuine gift he gave to others.  When he embraced this gift, he flourished, and so did those around him.  Many years ago, he had taken one of those personality tests that tells what Biblical character you most resemble.  He was honestly depressed because he wanted to be Joshua, a great leader and mighty warrior.

He was Barnabas.

Barnabas’ given name was Joseph, who lived around the same time as Jesus. His friends gave him the handle, Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement”.  It was a complement, of course, and Barnabas was a key player in the early church.

Bruce took the test again, several months later, maybe hoping that he might get a different result, and be Caleb, or David. He was still Barnabas. I’m very glad about that, and ultimately he was, too, and seized his destiny.  I still hear often from people who were blessed in unique ways by his encouragement.

There sure are enough things around us to bring us down.  Deer and Antelpe playLet’s take the
counsel from the Old Testament and breathe courage into one another and whoosh that cloud cover away. That doesn’t require false complements or pie-in-the-sky hope. Just the effort to look for good things instead of bad.

It’s not coincidence that so many songs bemoan the grey skies, yet delight when those blue skies are smilin’ at me.

I read a book many years ago (Hide or Seek, James Dobson) that spoke of the importance of purposefully and consistently building our children’s self-esteem and confidence with our words and actions.

Our inner circle of friends and our homes should be areas where seldom is heard a discouraging word…

Things My Husband Taught Me (Part 2)

In addition to encouraging me, helping me and being my biggest fan, my husband was a fun, and funny, guy. He brought out the zaney in me.

We found that life can be just a little bit less complicated if you…

“Never take yourself too seriously.”

This adage was always something paramount with Bruce.  His sense of humor was one of the things that drew me to him early in our relationship.  On our first date, he bought us ice cream cones, and I fell for the old, “this ice cream smells funny…” routine.  With great concern, I smelled his ice cream, only to have him smash in my nose.  Fortunately, we both thought it was funny (um.. the first time), and I did agree to go out with him again. He prized my “high JTA” (Joke-Taking Ability).

Our family vacations were never boring.  Once while having dinner in a Colorado Springs restaurant, we all ordered our meals singing like opera singers to our waiter (and he sang right back to us!).  Another time, we spent the day as “The Billy Goat Family”… no kidding.  Another time, we were in a restaurant, and when the waitress came, we kept addressing an empty chair at our table as Raymond.  The waitress brought him an iced tea. She got a big tip.

SNGBruce often looked for humor in situations to try to lighten the load.  This was a great insight for a man surrounded by a house full of females (even our dog was a girl).  It sets the stage for patience and forbearance with a myriad of emotions and thought processes that a man may not even begin to understand.  With this flexible attitude, it makes it easier to not overreact, and to wait for things to play out before jumping in.

Bruce always treated our daughters with great love and compassion, but cautioned them not to get too caught up in the drama.  While many men, when confronted with daughters’ tears and emotional moments, would turn to their wives to ‘handle’ the situation, Bruce made himself available with a listening ear, a strong shoulder, and a wise, Godly perspective.

Of course, all of our daughters learned first-hand “this ice cream smells funny” trick, too, and they took up the heritage.  I’ll never forget the awe-struck expression on my father-in-law’s whipped-cream-laden face after our oldest daughter ‘got him’ (apparently he was the one to teach the trick to Bruce).   This zest for seeing the humor in things was passed on to our girls, and they are also some of the funniest people I know (for example… Masochist Mama).

And,,, no one could make me laugh the way Bruce could.  I really miss that.

Things My Husband Taught Me (Part 1)

So, I’m writing a book.

I’m about half-way finished with it.  From time to time, I imagine I will be posting snippets here from that book. Basically, it’s a book about the journey of the past two years, and my hope is to honor my husband and to give glory to God, without being boring.

One of the chapters deals with things my husband ‘taught’ me.  Often I hear him as the voice in my head, recounting things he had spoken as words of advice, or caution, or encouragement.  Some of these things are very personal, and some, I believe, merit sharing.  They were gleaned through the eyes of adversity, sorrow, joy, delight, and a long road of learning and growing in a personal knowledge of God.  Most are not profound, or new, but they became the mantras for our family life.

“Choosing one thing, means not choosing something else.”indiana jones

I’m a big SciFi fan, so I have a grasp of the notion of alternate realities, and parallel universes.  I’m not saying those things are real, or that I even understand the physics behind the theories, but it is kind of obvious that if you choose to go one place, or to do one thing, you eliminate the possibility of going somewhere else at that moment or doing something different at that time.

If we choose to marry one person, we don’t marry another; if we choose to go to Idaho for our vacation, we choose not to go to Texas.  That’s not to say we cannot do some of those other things later, but it means that the choices of each moment affect what happens next.  If we miss our flight to one place, it may mean we miss the connecting flight to somewhere else.

That same idea was made clearer to me as a result of Bruce’s death.  I was left behind, shell-shocked, broken-hearted and wondering where God was in all of this. I could think of a lot of other scenarios that, in my mind, would have given God more Glory – witnessing His healing power sure would have been one of them.  I told the doctors and hospital staff that I was believing for a miracle.  I was faced with two choices, really: to trust in the Sovereignty of God… or not.

Before this accident, I would have staunchly stood upon my ‘soap box’ and told you that I totally trusted God and His will for my life.  That trust had already been tested and purified many times in my life.  But this test, was almost beyond me.  One morning, as I sat and read my Bible, and feebly tried to pray, I realized that I had to actively make that choice once more.  I had to consciously and without reservation reaffirm that I do trust God, that I trust His thoughts really are bigger than my thoughts, His ways are always right, and that He is God and I am not.

Philippians 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  I used to think that meant that in troubling times, God’s peace would be so miraculously great that I wouldn’t understand how I could be at peace .  I have come to know that a parallel meaning to that verse is: I will find peace in knowing that God is sovereign, even when I don’t understand what He is doing or why.  Because I make the choice to trust God, I am choosing not to trust my emotions or limited understanding.

I am grateful that Bruce chose me for his wife, and that I chose him for my husband.  Looking back upon our dating relationship, I realize there were strategic moments in time that scenario could have changed if even one or two variables were put into play.

Likewise, Bruce often told our daughters to choose their friends wisely.  He was a friendly, outgoing man, and recommended being friendly and accepting of others.   But he also told our girls to choose their inner circle of friends carefully, because those people will be the ones who speak into your life.  They will either build you up or drag you down. They will either propel you toward your destiny, or keep you from it. They will bring out the best in you. That advice has served them well.

Bruce had a gift of encouragement.  He was a big part of my destiny, and even now, his voice in my head encourages me to go on.  And, he always wanted me to write a book.