Category Archives: lessons from a slow learner

{the outloving pact}

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21 valentines with this guy!
i am so glad he chose me and that we get to do life together.
but let me be real..
yesterday was my birthday {which was actually monday now, since i wrote this tuesday}
and i had expectations.
which meant i ended up with some hurt feelings.
dumb, i know. how long have we been doing this thing?
haven’t we learned anything by now about our polar opposite
approaches to birthdays and christmas and parties and celebrating
and spending money??
why do we seem to forget this stuff?

and why, in moments of hurt does every loving thing i ever said or felt
about this man just seem to go straight out the window?
why can’t i believe the best? let go easily?
not have to make it all a great, big hairy deal!!

i want to love well.
i used to think i did.
lately, like the past few years lately..
God has been opening my eyes up big time to the hypocrisy in my heart.

sure, i love well. when i am loved well in return.
who doesn’t?
that kind of love is easy.
but love through pain or disappointment?
i can hope and endure all things..
as long as all things are going my way!!!

and right now i’m just talking about some stupid expectations over a birthday.
but we all have marks upon our lives. upon our marriages.
that have come from much bigger things than birthdays.
and whether big or small, when we’re hurt the natural response is to pull away.
to have an attitude of, “i’ll show you.”
but in the end. show you what?
show you how childish i can be? how immature?
that i can go longer than you without talking?
that i can be mean? selfish?
pulling back and shutting down gets us nowhere.
it only hurts us in the end.
but it’s hard when that’s how we FEEL!
and i’m a big feelings girl. i’ve got em all.

but God’s been breaking this down for me in the last few years
and showing me a thing or two about love and feelings and how no,
they’re not exactly the same thing!

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everyone says, “love is a choice.”
this is true.
but as a child of God He goes even further –
it’s a command.
we don’t get to decide if someone is worthy of our love.
we don’t get to decide if, when, how we will show love.
we are simply, to love!

why? because that person deserves it?
because we’re a doormat?
because love means letting people get away with whatever they want?
absolutely not.

shayne and i talked about my birthday and my feelings about it all..
over our valentines lunch the next day.
because what better conversation to have on valentines day than,
“hey babe.. you screwed up!” ha!
not really.
but also, we have the kind of relationship that doesn’t like anything between us.
we do talk things out.
we try to see from the other’s perspective.
we don’t always do a good job of this.
sometimes it gets pretty messy.
kind of animated and dramatic {that’s me, not him}.
we’re still learning to deal with conflict in a healthy non-divisive way with one another.
but through it all… even during the conflict that sometimes,
sometimes can take days before we fully get sorted out.
and then there’s the whole warming back up thing. {am i right?}

.. but even in the yuck parts, i still must love.
not in the habitual, we say it so much it’s lost it’s meaning, “i love you,” kind of way.
but in the, “love is patient. love is kind. is not easily angered. doesn’t seek it’s own,
Bible truth, child of God kind of way!!!!”
i don’t know about you.
maybe that kind of love comes naturally to you.
for me, it doesn’t.
especially when there’s been hurt. and during conflict.
but this is what sets Christ-like love apart from any other..
that when we were most undeserving, He loved us.
not when we had performed well. done our best.
no. at our lowest.

this is His kind of love and if we belong to Him it’s supposed to be our kind of love too.

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it’s what the scriptures say – how the world can tell us apart.
i always find that fascinating that there could be a whole slew
of things listed for people to say,
“yep. christian.”
but instead it says rather simply, “this is how everyone will know you’re mine,
by your love for each other!”

and what better place to practice and see this than in our marriage!

at one point this past summer God seemed to really light up 1 John to me,
where it talks about if you hate someone, you don’t/ can’t belong to Him.
what?
when i’m harboring bitterness?
when i don’t forgive?
when i don’t let go?
when i don’t stop judging what they need to be doing,
and start examining my own heart?
any level of hate towards someone else indicates that the Father is not in me?
crazy, sobering thought!!

because when the love of God is IN us.. it’s what comes OUT of us!

there’s no stopping it.
when we truly realize what He’s done for us.
we want to take that same grace, that same mercy, and love and give it out to others.
and if we truly grasp this truth –
it doesn’t just apply to those we think are worthy.
but especially those we think are not!
the ones less “worthy” in my eyes, for whatever reason.
that i feel i have the right to stand back from. love everyone but them.
say it’s not “healthy” for me.

oh, don’t get me wrong. there’s people we need to keep distance from –
though probably not the ones we tend to think.
{look at Jesus’ social crowd.. i’m sure it wouldn’t pass most church goers approval list.}
but, yes. i have friends that have had to get out of their marriage because it wasn’t safe.
friends that have been abused by spouses. parents. pastors.
those you should be able to trust most.
and in no way, shape, or form does forgiving your offender and showing love to them
mean you have to go take them to lunch.
with some people it is best to love from afar. we all get that.

but i’m talking about the epidemic in christian circles that excuses hateful,
nothing-to-do-with-Christ-at-all behavior, all in the name of “healthy boundaries.”
do you know what i’m talking about?
beth moore, when i saw her in toronto last year, said,
“we as Chrisitans have “healthy boundardried” our way right into
direct opposition as Jesus teaches us to live.” {roof off. walls down}

and since love is empowered by our actions,
how we love will look different to different people.
that’s okay. that’s a good thing.
how boring if we all loved in the same way, as my husband and i keep rediscovering! ha.
but there IS a universal list that is written out for us in God’s Word.
{first corinthians 13}
and reading through that shuts up any spiritual sounding mumbo jumbo in a hurry.
all excuses fall flat and finger pointing turns around fast.
it always comes back to us.
what’s in our heart is revealed by how we treat those around us!! {ouch!}
am i keeping no record of wrong? am i rejoicing in truth?

more often than not, i don’t love that way.
and if i’ve been hurt, i don’t WANT to love that way!
my love is so conditional.
it depends on the other person.
how they’re treating me.

i remember once when shayne and i had a fight and i was so upset.
i felt so right in my cause. so justified.
and then God said, “what if he never changes in this area?”

what?
huh?
come again, God?

and i’ll never forget His response to my heart,
“amber, what i require for you doesn’t change, even if the other person never does!”

i really had nothing to that.
except a whiney, childish, “man, that’s so unfair!”

but whether to my spouse. my kids. my community of friends.
those in my church. those different from me in society.
those who’ve hurt me. and yes, most especially those..
if the love of God is not the filter for my behavior to them,
then as His Word says, i’m nothing but a lot of noise!

and if i’m going to be heard.
let it be for what promotes His kingdom.
and if you’re unsure at times what exactly that is,
He set it up Himself when He said,
“these are greatest of all the commandments –
love God. love others.
not suggestions. commands.

love.

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there’s already a group throwing their hands up, like, hold on a minute..
we can’t excuse sin.
nope. we sure can’t.
but first, let’s flip the microscope inward. to our own hearts.
and if we’re going to err – wouldn’t you rather err on the side of love vs. judgment.
i know i sure would!

i don’t think i’ve said anything different today that you haven’t already heard before..
and i feel like a broken record here on my blog most of the time anyway.
the subject of love is the most popular one to talk about these days, it seems.
and if you disagree with anyone, you’re not loving.
or try to have discernment, you’re judging. blah blah blah..
and it goes round and round until it gets so exhausting!!! anyone?
seriously. we’re going to sit around discussing for hours whether
or not we should welcome refugees when we could just go find some
and love them in Jesus name!!! {amen!}
we waste so much time TALKING about what Christians should do
and so little time actually DOING!

and here i’m veering away from marriage a bit,
but it all intersects!
because this is where it really comes home for me..

see, i can easily want to love on the refugee family who’s lost everything.
or want to join the crusade against strip clubs because i feel such
compassion for the women inside.
my heart feels stirred for the lgbt community, and i think alot about what
it looks like 
to hold true to my beliefs and yet still communicate acceptance
and value to my friends there.
and if i even hear a story, or think about all the girls being victimized through
sex trafficking i’m completely undone and ready to 
find every single one and just
make her soup, and hug her, and love on her for weeks!

but ask me to love that one who’s hurt me?
that friend. or husband. or parent?
oh, no! that’s asking too much!
my pride immediately takes over and tells me every reason
i’m excused from loving them.
they don’t deserve it.
that i have to protect myself from further hurt.
and yet, this is the real test. right here.
this closest circle right around me.
it’s easy to live Christ to those far away.
being a “good Christian” is always easier from a distance.
it’s prettier. more sparkly.
but to get up close?
to those who’ve hurt me?
to those who’ll probably hurt me again?
that’s where love gets messy.
but that’s where love is needed most.
not where others always see.
where i get recognition and dozens of “likes.”
but just those quiet obediences that God is asking of me?

and if you’re like me. back in the summer when i first started really
seeing this stuff i was like, “man.. no way i can love like that!
i just don’t have it in me.”
true.
but it’s not about WHAT’S in us, but WHO!
and when we feel we can’t.
or the hurt has been too much.
we say, “God, help me!” and do it anyway!!

after our tiff the other day shayne and i made a pact with each other.
what if we were to try to out love one another for, oh, let’s say the next 30 days?
i kind of rolled my eyes at it, at first. it’s a bit corny.
out love each other? okay, then.

but… seriously though. what if?

what if we all purposed that?
to out love one another in our marriages. in our homes..
in our churches and neighborhoods and on social media?
how would things change?
how would our world look different?

love shot

what i learned on the subway of nyc.

i heard priscilla shirer say recently that we need to keep notes on what God’s done in our lives.
to remember and recall and stamp it more vividly across our hearts by writing it down.
i liked that.

that’s exactly what i feel with this blog – my place for “keeping notes” on what God is teaching me~

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there was one story from our recent trip to new york that i didn’t want to miss recording..
it happened the same morning as our episode with the turnstile!

we had just pulled away from the station and were still laughing into our hands when a guy that had been buried under an over sized army jacket in the back got up from where he was lying on the floor and moved closer to where we were standing.

you could tell here was someone that knew hard!

he stood just feet away from me. pulling the stocking cap from his head and wringing it nervously between his hands. i heard him clear his throat and try to raise his voice above the sound of the speeding train..

“uh. hi everybody. my name’s jerry and uh, i don’t do this real often but i’m desperate and uh, sometimes i’m left with no other alternative…”

“desperate? no other alternative?” my mind reeled and apparently i’ve watched way too many movies because i was instantly convinced he was going to pull out a gun and rob us!

i wrapped my hand more tightly around the medal bar i was holding as jerry continued..

“i don’t sleep real good at night. i don’t have a home or a bed like most of you. i sleep where i can and i’m tired alot during the day. so i was just laying back there minding my own business trying to take a nap when, uh, these ladies here got on laughing and having a good time… ”

my heart raced wild, “oh, my word!! he means us!! he’s talking to US!!!
i knew it. knew it.. I’M SURE HE’S GOING TO SHOOT US NOW!!!
and my eyes tried searching for where i thought the gun might be hidden.

“but, that’s okay,” jerry was going on. “i know they were just having some fun and, uh, i like having fun too. nothing wrong with that. but… but i’m going through a rough time right now.”

my eyes looked away. trying to look anywhere but at him.
i looked around the train car. every one else was doing the same.
looking down. looking out the window. looking at their phones.

looking anywhere but at jerry!

i know he knew. knew none of us were looking and even really listening.
he stepped back. i thought he was done.
i heard him swallow hard and could see his hat still winding round between his hands out the side of my eye as i stared straight ahead.
i wondered if he was trying to decide what to do. say more or go back and sit down?
i felt bad. it was awkward and silent and the only noise was the train screeching against the tracks.

then jerry moved forward again. his voice a little softer.

“uh, i’ll tell you right now i’ve done time in prison. i made bad choices when i was young and i paid the consequences. i don’t have no family or home to go to no more. i burnt all those bridges…”

i could hear the sadness and it seemed as if he was almost talking more to himself than to anyone else.

“and i wish i could go back and do things differently. and man, God knows i’m trying.. trying to pick up the pieces and put my life back together but, uh, it’s hard…”

and here his words caught me and my throat tightened and i looked up. right into his face and it’s like i saw him for the first time since he started talking five minutes ago. really saw him. his sandy blonde hair matted and messed. his jacket pockets stuffed with what was probably the entirety of his worldly possessions. his face though hardened, not old, couldn’t have been more than twenty five. and his hands, still wringing his hat looked calloused and rough. i wondered if he knew hard work. where his mother was. if she cared? did he have any family? was he someone’s brother? someone’s husband? someone’s friend? and all i could think as i looked at him was, that could be someone i loved. someone in my family. someone i cared about. and how would i want others to treat them if in the same position. how would i want others to treat me? because, and i felt myself gulp at the sober thought, really.. that could be me. whoever said, “but for the grace of God there go i, ” said it best. why do any of us think we couldn’t be in the same place? that we aren’t in the same place? needy. broken.

some of us just carry our scars more visibly than others.

some of us have never been locked behind real bars, but we’ve known bars just the same.
things that have imprisoned us, held us captive.
we’ve known hurt and rejection and maybe from those we thought we could trust most.
we might not wonder where our next meal is coming from but we know the weight of financial pressure.
bills mounting. things closing in. dreams dashed and future unsure.
have we had others step in to help us during those times?

haven’t we all been jerry at some point in our lives?
not strong enough to get by on our own.

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but as he asked if anyone had anything they could spare of course my mind began weighing the obvious –
what if he just goes and gets stoned…
drinks the money away…
makes more bad choices…
laughs about the people he conned that day?

the train car jerked sharp and i grabbed the other bar overhead to catch my balance and it’s one of those moments engrained on my mind forever – the jerking of that train that just sorta jerked my thoughts from their selfishness to something higher.. the clarity of that still small voice from within, and the realization that giving isn’t about the outcome, what the person does with what you give. giving is about obedience.

it’s not my responsibility to decide who is worthy. who will use what i give wisely.
my responsibility is to follow what God puts on my heart to do.

but even with that, as i started looking in my wallet seeing the smallest bill i had was a twenty i turned to my change purse instead. rooting through the nickels and quarters and dimes, but my eyes couldn’t ignore the green sticking out the corner.

i wanted to give something. i just didn’t want to give that much!

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i thought of the shoeboxes we had recently picked up from church, like we do every year to fill and bring back. the food bank we had walked around our neighborhood collecting for. the pamphlets we had for compassion ministries because we wanted to sponsor a child… and yet when i’m faced with need only feet away from me and looking me right in the eye why did it suddenly seem too much?

it’s easier to give from a distance. when our hands don’t get dirty. our noses can’t smell the stench. our personal space isn’t invaded. or our time inconvenienced. to wrap it all up in a neat little box and carry it into church dressed in our sunday best. when all our friends are doing the same. where it’s noticed. appreciated. safe.

but what about the jerry’s of this world?
too messy?
too unsure of the outcome?
of how our “hard earned” money will be spent?

we say we need to be good stewards. that people need to learn to work and true.
but do our spiritual sounding words only mask our own greed?
do we honestly think another pair of shoes or that dream vacation is more a “need” than broken lives?

i don’t think God’s plan is for us all to sell our homes and move to the jungles of africa to live in grass huts.
but i also don’t think His plan is for us to go bigger, buy better, and consume all on ourselves.

and as i’m standing on the subway train that morning with my hand full of change –
the tip of that twenty was screaming out conviction over my life.

don’t think for a minute this was about a heart of compassion and kindness.
this was a battle. my pride and selfishness spilling out all over the place inside me.
but i couldn’t get away from jerry’s words – that he was trying, and it was hard.
that resonated with me. i knew that feeling.
and sure that twenty wasn’t going to change jerry’s life. but maybe it would remind him he’s not alone.
isn’t that what we all want when we’re trying and it’s hard – to know we’re not alone!

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and though reluctantly at first, but then with more peace as is often the case when we obey, i found myself holding that twenty dollar bill and watched as it passed from my hand into jerry’s. and then the way his eyes widened and he stretched it out tight and stared at it and i instantly wished it had been a hundred!

i opened my mouth to say something and surprised myself with the tears that suddenly welled and made it hard for me to talk. and between broken words it was something like this that came out..

“any one of us could be in your shoes. and we need each other to help us in these times. i hope you do right, jerry.. that you get your life on track…”

and he was still stretching that twenty between his hands and thanking me over and over and i smiled and didn’t care that all the eyes in that train car were watching us.

jerry got off at the next stop and i doubt i’ll ever see him again in my life.

and as the train rolled on the jamaican lady sitting behind us- the one who had said we should be glad we were wearing panties when we jumped the turnstile ;) began to tell us all the stuff she saw on the subway each day. of the stories people made up and the babies they pretended were sick and my heart began to sink because i thought she was going to tell me jerry was the best of them and i had just been really dumb. but instead, she pulled my arm so i had to bend closer. looked me straight in the eye. and pointed her finger with conviction as she said, “it’s not up to you what dey do with da money. you don’t know. and you never will. but..” and she paused as if wanting to make sure i was really listening, “you still get da blessing! because da blessing is not about what dey do with da money. da blessing is because you gave!”

and i blinked hard and nodded and thought that if angels wore bright purple scarves wrapped around their heads and talked in jamaican accents then surely this was one because i so felt God use her words to confirm what He had just said in my heart. ~

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i learned something that day on the subway.
not just about giving but about myself.
because when we’re faced with something out of our comfort zone..
and especially when that something touches our wallet, it reveals what’s really in our heart.

i have a long way to go but i want a heart that’s more in tune to His voice and tender to what’s He’s trying to teach me.
to not be so comfortable in this world and caught up in myself.

needs are all around us. all the time.
we don’t have to wait for shoeboxes to fill or fundraisers to hold.
there are people in our community. neighborhood. within our very churches needing to see the love of Jesus just as much as those in faraway countries.

people standing within just a few feet of us.
people like jerry.