Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are Love Letters Real?

Dating is so hard! Do love letters complicate it? Watching my children experience dating relationships, I can really see the strong benefits of waiting to find your mate when you are ready to marry. We always taught our children this but "courtship" is so antiquated.

To us, "Ready to marry" means you are financially stable enough to support a wife and begin a family. Of course, no one is ever that ready so it means you have a steady job, a means of support. This is the ideal, not the one and only standard.

What to Say in Love Letters (love letters by Lizkit50 on deviant art)

My husband and I got married at 21; we have been married for 30 years. We had no money; well, $300 if you count the money we got as marriage gifts. We had no jobs. I had recently graduated as an LPN (licensed practical nurse) preparing to support my husband through college. We moved to a new city, Nashville, TN, as a newlywed couple. I still have the first groceries receipt that took a little over a third of our wealth. We had no staples: not a broom, mop or spices. We needed it all.

We rented a brand new one bedroom apt; it was a very nice way to start our married life together. I definitely did not marry for money. I married my dearest friend in the world; he is still that today. Through all the ups and downs life brings, he has been stable and steadfast in his unconditional love. I can guarantee you that true commitment is better for a marriage than $30,000 put away in the bank and a well-paying job.

I laugh at my earlier statement that a person needs to be "ready to marry" that is what my husband said about children; he kept saying we needed to be financially ready to have children. So we waited 10 years until we both were finished putting each other through college. I am glad to have my degree. I know we have been blessed financially by him have his two degrees (that is another story). But of course we were never "ready to have children." So what does all this have to do with love letters?

Although I love to write, I never felt compelled to write a love letter. I barely like to write in cards. It is not that I do not love. It is just that love is an action expressed through our daily communications and our behavior; it is not words on a piece of paper. I have written a few letters to my husband in our 30 years of marriage, but it has been at times when I have talked until I am exhausted and I still think he is not hearing me. So I put my words on paper, so he can reflect on them without my tone of voice or poor timing, hoping he can hear that way.

Also, through the years, I have also jotted down quick, little, sticky-type notes to my husband and children in surprise places to build them up or to say I love you, but these have not been long letters of declarations of my devotion.

I look at a love letter one of my children received from a person they dated. Both of my children who have dated have a least one of these. In the letters are an overwhelming promise of forever love: "I will always be there for you," "I will support you through everything in life," "you are truly the man for me," and "you are my dream." But when the relationship breaks up, a person is left with a piece of paper of empty promises. The words were heart-felt when written I am sure, but without the right timing of the ability to make a commitment to marriage I think they are premature.

Love letters during dating are a slice in a a time of life. A way a person feels about another in that moment. They are genuine, but usually not permanent states of commitment.

This is why I think we need to be very careful about relationships, particularly "love relationships." We can say a lot of things we feel without really thinking about the weight of the words or the followthrough of our commitments.

The Bible says we need to let our yes be yes and our no be no; we are to follow through with commitments which are in many ways vows we make to another. When we say we are going to do something we really need to think deeply and make sure we really can honor our words.

Maybe love letters need to be more general, like "you make me happy," "I smile when I think about you," "I think you are amazing," or "I enjoy spending time with you." These are also some of the words written in my child's love letter. These are statements of the present time and valid for that moment. Until one is committed to lifelong marriage, love letters are better to not contain promises that will not likely be kept. This way they can always be an encouragement letter, even read 10 years later.

"I love you" is true, but no one can foretell the future to know what shape that love will take. Sometimes the best way we can love a person is to let them go. Of course, no one would write that in an early love letter but in maturity it is a reality of love that does not enable or hold back.

These are simply my thoughts. Feel free to share yours.

You might also enjoy these posts:

Do You Love Unconditionally?
Marriage Is Hard Work
I Choose to Love

Sunday, October 19, 2014

When To Stop Talking

I have a serious problem. I don't know when to stop talking, and I cross many lines of comfortability for other people.

I have always noticed I have had a relationship problem. I figured it was due to my abusive childhood and not learning developmentally how to properly relate to people. I never blamed my past or my parents. It was more of something that I accepted as one of the many side effects of my terrible childhood; I thought something hardwired into my brain that I had not yet learned to change. And this probably is true, but God made our brain malleable. You can teach an old dog new tricks! You can also grow new brain cells and habitual pathways or lack of them, as the case may be.

But, I like most people had something blocking me. You see, it is very hard to learn to change something you can't identify.

I notice the glassed over eyes or ones that dart beyond my head and know that the person I am speaking to either needs to be doing something else, would rather be doing something else, cannot relate, is not interested or has for some reason disengaged. Yet, instead of thinking of trying to find a quick exit statement and moving on, I feel compelled to hang on, to somehow find a way to reconnect or to establish a connection. It is like something is broken. I sense it. And I am inwardly urged to fix it.

The funny thing is I am not a fixer. At least I don't perceive myself as one. Others might.

Therefore, I googled "How do you know when to stop talking" and found a post, Six Signs You Need to Stop Talking, by Joyce Meyer. As I read the article, I felt nailed and a pain grew in the pit of my stomach. Of all of the six, this is the one that resonated the most:

"You’re Self-Inflated

We like to boast about what we’ve done, what we can do, and what we’re going to do. If we’re not careful, we can even take credit for things God did!
Everything we do, we should do it as unto the Lord. (Colossians 3:23) I don’t think we can even begin to know what God would do for us and the things He would allow us to participate in if we would learn to keep our successes a secret between us and God, unless He specifically gives us permission to share them."
OUCH! It hurts when you see "ugly" in yourself. My poor close friends! How do they put up with me? I need to be talking to God more and asking Him, "Is this something you want me to share for your testimony and glory or is it something I want to say for me to get a pat on the back?" I feel pierced in the heart. I know that feeling must be shame. God does not want me to be shamed. He wants me to know true guilt, be convicted of sin, confess it and be forgiven by Him. Therefore, I have uncovered something I must confess and be cleansed of. It will be a process. And in the end, it will be good for me and others, especially people I speak to in the future.
But this was not the only one. 
The other one I identified with was:

"You’re Criticizing Somebody

Picture this. Someone says or does something you think they shouldn’t have done and all of a sudden, you’ve got about a hundred opinions about them that you want to talk about!
First Thessalonians 4:9 says, “But concerning brotherly love [for all other Christians], you have no need to have anyone write you, for you yourselves have been [personally] taught by God to love one another” (AMP).
In other words, sharing your critical opinions about other people is always a mistake. We need to cover one another with love, instead of uncovering their weaknesses and pointing out their flaws."
UGH! This feels like an arrow pressed into my heart. I can remember a time today that I was guilty of this one. Just saying that makes my right arm tighten and get heavy. I am so sensitive in my body. I feel deeply. While spending many years in brain-based therapy, I learned a lot about how to read my own flesh and how to know when something was wrong. As I type this, my heart beats harder and the grip around my arm is tighter. Yet, I will press through as I did earlier. 
God does not want me to be overwhelmed by shame. Many people say these are the signs of anxiety: a tightened arm, a heavy heart, or a pain in the body. But I know I am not anxious right now. I am guilty. I am ashamed. I am embarrassed to know that I met someone new today and spoke wrongly about someone else that I did not even know. I said some unkind words. I made a judgement about her, mumbled some ugly remarks that I definitely would not want heard on the loudspeakers at the event. 
Oh, God forgive me. 
I was at an event for the community around our church and I said something mean in a laughing way to a church member I had just met. I triple sinned! Once against God, once against the dear lady I just met and once against the lady from our community. I confess. I was that snooty, hypercritical church lady everyone--including myself--detests.
Boy! I never realized how much trouble--sin--my mouth causes. Maybe this is why some of the most godly people are quiet, I reflect. 
As I take in a deep breath, I know I am a work in progress; God is completing me. I rolled off His potter's wheel, fell into the grass, got some rocks and sticks pressed into my clay and I am all messed up. 
As a Christian, I am grateful to have a Father that when I look toward Him in confession, eyes bowed low, I know when I look back up into His eyes, He still delights in me. It just doesn't make sense, but it is true. He love that much!
Father, forgive me for falling so short, for using my mouth to tear down, for speaking highly of myself and lowly of others and for not talking to you more than I talk to others. 
I am not all bad. God reminds me of a few of the highlights of the day to lift me up but I am going to keep them between me and Him because I am practicing not being self-inflated. Did I just self-inflate by saying that? I wonder.
I told you I was a mess!
Thanks for reading. Until the next time, be blessed, turn to God in your need. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Obedience, Disobedience - Depends on your Worldview - 21st Century Parenting

What is obedience? This answer depends on your Worldview. This is an issue my husband and I have been reassessing as our children grow into adults. We are reflecting on our own choices and experiencing the consequences. We are also learning to improve our own choices to be better parents.

The the big questions that most people have pondered at some time in their life are: Who gets to decide? Who makes up the guidelines, the rules, the moral code? Who decides what is right or wrong?

Even the atheist or agnostic has decided on some kind of base system of a moral code, such as:

It is wrong to kill your neighbor.
It is wrong to walk up to a person and take what is his.
It is wrong to make up lies to defame a person, to spread false rumors and damaging gossip.
It is wrong to have sex with your child, your relative.

Almost everyone in a society of civilized people can agree on these. They seem fair to all.

But beyond this, the rules of wrong are harder to categorize. Most people in our American society believe that a person has a freewill and, thereby, a right to choose their own course in life -- and, indeed, they do. God created all humans with freewill. Yet, sadly, all humans do not know they were created by God this way. And just as sad, some who do know that they were created by God with freewill misuse this gift.

As a parent with children becoming adults we have been learning in a deeper way how to release our children to God and let them develop their own answers to these big questions. This does not happen without growing pains in our own heart.

Our Affect on Others

No one lives in a vacuum. The act of our will has a ripple effects on others. We are all in relationship to others. If I take all of something to indulge, then nothing is left for the next person. If I play an acoustical, music instrument very loud, then everyone within hearing distance is affected. If a parent uses drugs or alcohol, the family's finances are affected; and if the parent can't handle liquor, is addicted or abusive, other people are drastically hurt.

In the same way, children can also have a big effect on their family. The consequences to their actions rebound throughout the family. As a parent, we are learning to limit the negative consequences of one child's own choices on the rest of the family, especially to the other siblings. It is our responsibility to do what is within our power for the good of everyone in the family.

While all actions have consequences, people don't often realize that thoughts can have consequences, also. This is because our mind is the birthing place of future actions. The Bible teaches us to take captive every thought and bring it to God. Allowing our mind to be examined by God is a beginning point to changing our actions. The consequences to our thoughts are not immediate. Usually they can be felt once our thoughts are brought forth into actions.

Most people want to ignore the fact that their actions have consequences; they want to receive the positives in life regardless of what they do or do not do. For example, people want to eat regardless of whether they work or not. This is a pretty new concept that eating is considered a right, not a benefit of work. People are dependent upon others for too long of a time--whether it is children in a home or 'the poor' in a society. A child's dependence on his parents needs to grow smaller as a person ages. A teenager should be developing strong independence and thinking skills. While a parent may still needs to coach their child into their 20s, a child should not be rescued from the consequences of their actions.

While we gave our children a lot of independence in making choices to become the person God created to be, we did not require enough responsibility from them. This is something we have had to learn the hard way.

Entitlement Versus Empowerment

The desire to fulfill basic needs has--since the beginning of mankind--been the motivating catalyst in the structure of society, even in the small "institution" of a family. When a child is first born, all of his needs must be met by others. Detrimentally, in our current society, people expect others to meet most of their needs for decades--even for generations. Food, clothing, shelter and protection from harm are the baseline of needs. Gradually, even a child should be expected to become responsible, helpful, respectful and industrious. It is important for humans to learn at a very young age that they are not to live dependent upon others, but instead that their own actions alter the outcomes in their life.

Entitlement is destroying our society. And, it begins in the home. I am guilty for not installing a strong, work ethic in my children. I focused more on being a provider and a protector then teaching my children to be empowered by receiving the consequences of their choices.

Cause and Effect

A person is empowered when they are taught that their actions are the cause that creates an outcome.

 God instituted this principle with the first two children He created. Before disobedience ever was part of the world and its negative consequences had occurred, He gave his children work to do. God works and knows that work is a meaningful part of living. We have separated the concept of work to be "bad" and play to be "good. In learning about child development during college, I was taught that play was children's work. Indeed, children do learn a lot about life through playtime, but they also need to be given meaningful responsibilities. If a child is idle, he literally shrivels up not only physically becoming atrophic but also emotionally developing detachment: a flat, lifeless psychological affect. Every human was created for a purpose, discovering it is the key to finding personal meaning in life.

God also instituted a very simple rule of warning his two children not to take the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He wanted them to be innocent of evil and to only bask in goodness. It is a parents' heart to be like God; we want to protect our children from the harms of evil as long as we can. We know some actions and choices have painful consequences, and therefore, we want to prevent as much pain in our precious children as possible. It is for this reason alone that a good parent sets up rules. Depending on one's worldview, a parent will determine which rules should be enforced. 

Holy Standard

Believers, followers of Jesus Christ, have a distinct worldview; they live by the standards set forth by God to protect his children from the harmful consequences of evil. When we obey God, He can funnel blessings through us so that we can in turn bless others. BUT when we choose to not obey God (His basic standards written in the Bible), we will receive the negative consequences. Christian parents will come to a point in childrearing that they must decide if they love God more than their own child. At first, that can sound cold or harsh, but when big decisions must be made on how to respond to actions of a child, a Christian parent has to determine if God's standards of holiness are going to be firmly established or if they will be ignored in favor of not causing a child to be uncomfortable, affected negatively or indulged.

As a parent, I have learned that it can be heartbreaking to stand for what is right in the eye's of God. God's ways are not popular today and a parent that holds to His standards will be viewed by most as unloving, unreasonable and wrong. It is then that parents must ask themselves, "Who am I going to please?" Do I want to be approved by man or God? Am I going to remain steadfast to the narrow road  of godliness or condone the wide path in life? Is my relationship with my child more important than my relationship with Jesus? If my child willingly chooses to disobey God, will I provide the means for unholy choices?

Unless there is something emotionally or mentally wrong with the parents, they naturally long to bless their children. Parents want their children to have good lives and to be happy. But sometimes, in order to be a godly parent, I have learned that I will have to endure the pain of showing love that is tough. Tough love is not uncaring or done to inflict pain on the one you love; quite the opposite, tough love is painful to give because it restrains natural inclinations to rescue, restore and rush changes. Tough love is love that endures all things, hopes all things and bears all things. Tough love never fails. Tough love does not give in to emotions such as false guilt or pity. While it might not feel good in the present time to do, it will bear fruit for eternity and in that hope a parent must trust God and rest upon His Word.

You might also enjoy reading Without a Compass - How do you live?