Be a hero or Follow The Hero?

Today’s post is from my friend Patty Maier who was one of four writers who wrote the Hearts at Home Pantagraph newspaper column for many years. She and her family live in Forrest, Illinois where many different organizations benefit from her time and talents.

By the way….it’s not too late to get in on the Hearts at Home Illinois Conference! You can get your tickets–or pick up a Conference To Go–here!

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Do you ever feel like you hear the same message over and over? 

A couple weeks ago, my husband gave a talk to a group of parents during halftime at an Upwards basketball game.  He spoke about Jesus being our ultimate hero and how we should strive to be heroes for our children.

The word hero came up again in a movie I saw with my daughter.  I had given her the choice in what movie we would see together, and she chose “After I Fall.”  She told me the movie was like the movie “Groundhog Day.”  She was right,nalthough Groundhog Day’s comedy was replaced by worldly teen-girl drama.  Thankfully, the movie had some redeeming qualities.

In both movies, the lead actor re-lived a day over and over.  When the lead character thought that what they did didn’t matter, they made poor choices and treated people (including themselves) poorly.  When they realized that their actions made a difference, their choices totally changed.  How they treated people improved drastically.  Both movies showed the characters growing into less selfish, sensitive, caring people.

One line in this recent movie was, “What you do matters in the moment and maybe into infinity.”  I’m sure that wasn’t the first time my daughter heard that message (not the second either!) but I’m hoping she heard it more clearly through the movie.

How we see ourselves in this world matters.  When we realize the impact we can make even on a daily basis, it affects our attitudes.  Our perspective and choices and little things we do along the way do make a difference.  As the characters in these movies learned, we need to be intentional and deliberate each and every day.  We may not get the same kind of do-over in real life as in these movies nor do we get everything all figured out as the movie characters seem to, but we do get a new beginning every day and have access to endless grace.

Sometimes we all need to hear the same message over and over.

The past few weeks, I’ve been feeling less than.  Like I’m not enough.  Things in my life are changing, and I’m struggling.  Decisions made concerning the organizations I volunteer with are changing the opportunities I have to serve.  There goes some of my purpose.  My teens who are days away from turning 17 are both struggling to mature which makes me question my parenting.  And my worth.  I’m definitely not feeling like anyone’s hero.

Sometimes the reason we hear a message over and over again is because we’re not getting it.

I think I got hung up on thinking I had to be some sort of hero.  I certainly don’t fit the dictionary’s definition of hero–a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.  I surely haven’t done anything grand.  But if I go back to the Bible verse my husband shared, his definition of hero is much more obtainable.  John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  When I think of laying down one’s life, I think about sacrifices and about putting myself (my feelings, my wants, my time, my to do list, …) aside and putting the needs of others first.  I can do that!

I finally got the message.  I’m done beating myself up for not being a hero.  Instead, I’m going to keep making a difference by loving those around me and following my ultimate Hero.  If I can do that, I’m giving my kids someone they can look up to. 

What about you? What message are you hearing over and over that you need to get? Where are you chasing an impossible goal that needs a change in perspective?

Understanding, Kindness, and Grace

Marriage Monday

Mark: Jill and I spent a few days in Colorado Springs this past week interviewing with Focus On the Family, spending time with friends, and, of course, spending time in the mountains. One couple we spent time with have been married 36 years and they shared they had had some conflict the day before. The comment one of them said to the other was, “Really? That’s what you were thinking?”  It was evident their conflict had been fueled by personality differences and communication.

Jill:  Differences and communication are an ongoing opportunity for relationships to deepen and mature. This has been true for us, as well, and we’re going on 34 years of marriage this year. While conflict over difference may decrease the longer you’re married (and it may not!), learning to respond with kindness and grace is a lifelong journey.

Mark: We have to keep right-minded when it comes to our differences. If we aren’t keeping our thoughts in check they can become flash points that cause us to ignite towards each other.  Differences have been a flashpoint for me in the past, but I’m really learning to embrace the beauty of differences. Our differences include thinker (Jill) and feeler (Mark), internal processor (Jill) and external processor (Mark), introvert (Jill) or extrovert (Mark), medium-high capacity (Jill) or medium-low capacity (Mark), structured (Jill) or spontaneous (Mark), and the list goes on. (If you haven’t already taken our FREE four-week No More Perfect Marriages E-Challenge, sign up today to better understand your differences!)

Jill: So here’s how this played out in real life just this past week. After a busy day of people, riding in the car, and running in and out of a few shops, Mark was exhausted. I found myself at the crossroads of either being frustrated or mindful that He has a lower capacity then I do. While I don’t always get it right, this week I did and I gave him understanding, kindnessm and grace when he wore out sooner than I did.

Mark: Jill is a black and white thinker and she can be short and direct in her communication. I can take this personal or I can remind myself that this isn’t about me. This part of Jill is also what keeps our family organized. It’s her high-capacity-juggle-12-things-at-once ability that helps me so much of the time.  This week I also found myself at a crossroads of taking her blunt communication personally or offering grace and responding with kindness. In the past my default would have been to take it personally allowing it to be a flashpoint for conflict. This week I got it right and responded with grace.

What about you? What differences are a flashpoint for you? How could you change your response and work to respond with understanding, kindness, and grace?

Jesus Understands

Worn out? Jesus was so tired that he slept in a boat even though a storm tossed it about.

Up at night with a little one? The disciples, who were in the boat with him, were so afraid of the storm they woke Jesus up!

Feeling misunderstood? Even Jesus’ friend Lazarus couldn’t understand how someone could be “born again.”

Been betrayed? One of Jesus’ closest friends, Judas, betrayed him.

Feeling let down by others? When Jesus asked his friends to pray with them in the Garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep.

Been falsely accused? The Pharisees made up false accusations to get rid of Jesus.

Feeling overwhelmed? Jesus was so overwhelmed with facing the cross that he was sweating blood.

Dealing with physical pain? He experienced spikes in His hands and feet, a spear in his side, and a crown of thorns upon His head.

Don’t think your God understands your struggles?  May you see Jesus truly as a Friend who understands, because that’s what Easter is really all about.

(adapted from Real Moms…Real Jesus)

5 Ways To Think the Best Of Your Spouse

Marriage Monday

Jill: I lose my sunglasses. Every. Single. Pair.

Mark: I forget to lock the doors at night.

Jill: I’m imperfect and I am married to an imperfect human being. How we think about that imperfection makes all the difference in the world.

Mark: Some of the most important work in marriage doesn’t happen between the two of us. Some of the most important work in marriage happens between my two ears…inside my head.

Jill: What we think about our spouse, determines what we feel about our spouse. What we feel determines what we do. The mind is a powerful tool that we can use positively or negatively. How are you using your mind when it comes to your marriage?

Mark: One of the places we’ve both worked hard to change is what we’re thinking about each other.  Need some encouragement to push your thoughts in the right direction?  Here are five steps you can take:

  1. Don’t name-call. Our mind so easily accuses and labels. It’s often our human “default” model. Instead of assigning a demeaning label such as “she’s so stupid,” or “he’s such a loser,” simply say to yourself, “she’s an imperfect human being and so am I.”
  2. Don’t take it personal. When we make our spouse’s actions about us, we make the issue bigger than it needs to be. In fact, we often complicate it. When I (Jill) find the doors unlocked on my way to bed (after Mark has already gone to bed), I have to fight the urge to personalize it and make it about him “not protecting me.” The truth is I’m a sequential thinker and Mark’s a random thinker. As a sequential, there’s a logical routine that one goes through on the way to bed. My brain thinks that way…Mark’s brain does not.
  3. Believe the best. Trust in your spouse’s good intentions towards you and your marriage. This keeps the atmosphere of the marriage one of love and respect. It also keeps judgement out of your heart and mind.
  4. Allow for honest mistakes. If you ask your spouse to take the trash out in the evening, but you get up in the morning and find it wasn’t taken out, resist the urge to move into “martyr” mode and think that “I’m the only responsible one around here.” Don’t say to yourself, “he just doesn’t care,” but instead, “I know he’s had a lot on his mind.”
  5. Forgive. Get in the habit of forgiving. When two imperfect people marry, the most important tool in their toolbox is forgiveness. Forgiveness is how you handle each other’s imperfections. It’s a choice…and one we need to make often.

What about you? Are you using your mind positively or negatively in marriage? 

There’s Another Woman In My Son’s Life

“Mom, will you run up to the mall with me Sunday after church? I’ve narrowed my wedding attire down to two different suits and I’d like to have your thoughts.”

I indicated that I’d be happy to do that, fully aware that he has taken the stand that if he can’t see Larisa’s wedding dress until the wedding, then she can’t see his suit until the day of the wedding either.

This youngest of mine is a senior in college. He attends Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, two hours north of our home in Central Illinois. Mark and I teased him from day one in college that when he came home on the weekends, it wasn’t to see us. His then girlfriend, Larisa, was attending college in our community and, of course, he wanted to see her…a lot! Ahhhhh….young love.

On this particular Sunday, however, I thought that it was logical that my boy and I could catch some lunch either before or after we hit the mall.  I didn’t mention lunch ahead of time…I just assumed it would work. As we pulled out of the church parking lot, I said to him, “So do you want to grab some lunch, too?”

“No, Larisa’s making lunch for me. She likes to do that,” he responded.

That’s when it hit me. There’s another woman in my son’s life now and she’s moving up the priority list the closer they get to their wedding date in December.

It’s what should be happening, but that doesn’t make it any easier on a mama’s heart. Letting go is never easy.

I found myself at a crossroads. I internally considered what I perceived as my three choices in this moment:

  1. Incite guilt with a slightly snarky response that “his mother also likes to have lunch with him” or that he “had already seen her 10 times more than he’d seen his dad and I that weekend.”
  2. Stuff it and say nothing, allowing the pain to sear my heart and a few wall-building bricks to be laid in my heart between my son and I.
  3. Release and accept it, asking God to help me adjust my expectations, accept the reality of letting go, and be grateful for the one-on-one time we would still have for the next hour or so at the mall.

While my head wanted to react almost immediately with option #1, thankfully I held my tongue. In the timespan of just a minute or so, I mulled my options over in my head. He was oblivious to the battle going on inside of me. Landing on Option #3 allowed me to make a quick internal adjustment, focus on gratitude, and enjoy the time we still had together.

Letting go is never easy. It doesn’t matter if you’re leaving a little one for an overnight getaway with your husband, or sending your five-year-old off to school, or driving your pre-teen to their first slumber party, or letting your 16-year-old take their first drive alone, or sending your young adult off to college, or watching your child prepare for marriage.

We can look at each of those situations through the eyes of loss or gain. Sometimes we can process that choice over the weeks and months of a season of time and other times, like my recent Sunday, we have to make a split second decision on how we’re going to let go gracefully.

It’s true that there’s another woman in Austin’s life. I’m naturally moving down the priority list. That’s the reality of them living out Genesis 2:24 calling a couple to “leave and cleave” when they get married.

Yes, there’s some grief in the journey, but today and each day forward I’m choosing to look through the eyes of gain rather than loss.

I’m not losing a son, but gaining a daughter.

What about you? How are you handling the changes in life? What is God teaching you in your journey of parenting? 

The Power of NonSexual Touch In Your Marriage

Marriage Monday

Mark: It was quite a few years ago when I first heard the phrase, “nonsexual touch.” I thought, “You’re kidding me. Those two words don’t even belong in the same sentence!”

Jill: I remember Mark’s reaction to it. I craved non-sexual touch, but it seemed that Mark only touched me with sexual expectations.

Mark: What’s wrong with that?  Ok…all joking aside. I now know how much hurt I caused by this. I didn’t believe I was guilty of any wrong doing. I wanted to be touched as much as Jill did. I just didn’t understand that healthy touch was also non-sexual.

Jill: Equally, I didn’t realize how important sexual touch was either. I didn’t understand that in the same way I craved nonsexual touch, Mark craved sexual touch….but that’s a topic for another day.

Mark: Looking back, I realize I didn’t grow up in a culture of healthy touch. I now understand that healthy touch is vital. I wish, however, I didn’t have to learn so many important lessons in the second half of my life. Knowing so many of these things earlier would have made marriage so much easier.

Jill: That’s why Mark and I are so committed to sharing what we’ve learned. If we can save other couples some of the pain we’ve walked through, it will have not been for nothing. Physical touch is one of my top love languages, but when it felt like every single touch has a sexual connotation to it, I shut down my desire for touch.

Mark: Non-sexual touch is vital for all of us. It’s an essential part of connecting with another human being. As much of a culture of freedom we seem to live in, we, too, are a culture of fear. We’re afraid of healthy touch, fearing it might send a wrong message. Men are afraid to hug other men in brotherly love. Dad’s resist hugging their children fearing it will grow something unhealthy inside of them. We stop hugging our older children thinking they are not kids anymore and don’t need hugs. To turn this around I believe we need to become a culture that will be intentional about “reaching out and touching someone.”

Jill: Years ago, a single friend of mine shared with me that if I didn’t give her a hug every Sunday morning, no one would touch her for months. That’s so sad, honestly!  But we digress. We’re talking today about nonsexual touch in marriage today.

Mark: Nonsexual touch is about connecting emotionally in marriage. Sexual touch is about connecting sexually in marriage. Both are needed! However, we have to resist the urge to mix them together.

Jill: Let’s be intentional about increasing our nonsexual touch this week. Need some practical ideas of how to make that happen?  Here are a few:

  1. Hug your spouse for one full minute every day. Just hold him or her closely, resisting the lie that “you have things to do and this is a waste of time.”
  2. Reach over and hold your spouse’s hand when you’re close to each other.
  3. Snuggle on the couch.
  4. If tears are flowing, just hold your loved one.
  5. Put your arm around her.
  6. Tuck your arm under his arm as you’re walking.
  7. Increase your eye contact—while it’s not actually touch, it accomplishes the same thing.

Mark: More than anything, resist the urge to have any ulterior motive for your touch other than connecting with your mate.

What about you? What do you need to do to increase nonsexual touch? Which practical idea listed above do you need to make happen today? Do you have any practical ideas to add to this list?

Are You Looking Through “The World of Me” Lens?

Marriage Monday

Mark: Jill and I were teaching a No More Perfect Marriages seminar a week ago, and it was such a powerful event. My favorite part was when we had people stand representing how many years they had been married. Of the nearly 200 people in attendance, nearly 30 couples remained standing who had been married over 40 years.

Jill: Mark and I were amazed!  Such wisdom to see these couples who have been married for so long STILL investing in their marriage.

Mark: During our teaching God gave me another huge awareness of me. I went “off script” and was inspired to share about “The World of Me” that used to drive me. This world (in my mind), exists as I expect it, plan it, want it, and believe I should experience it. It was ME that was driving ME. Is that messed up or what?

Jill: Before we speak, Mark and I pray that if God has something for us to share that’s not in our notes, we’ll be sensitive to the Spirit and allow God to lead. God was definitely doing that with Mark. I really tuned into Mark’s description of “The World of Me” because before our crisis, I truly felt the weight of his “World of Me!” It was crushing!

Mark: After the seminar, I continued to think more about this and determined that outside of this World of Me” exists the “World As It Is.” In the “World As It Is,” God and people respond, lead, love, engage, serve, and give.  But because I was looking through the lens of “The World of Me” and expected things to look a certain way, I missed how God was working around me.  I also missed the blessings around me. I missed all of them.

Jill: We all have a “World of Me” to some extent. It’s the lens we see life and relationships—specifically our marriage and our spouse—through. Sometimes it’s a lens of pain, sometimes a lens of expectations, sometimes a lens of selfishness, sometimes a lens of insecurity….I’m sure there are dozens more.

Mark: I missed the beauty around me including what Jill brought to my life because I filtered every experience that wasn’t taking place in the “World of Me,” through my filter of control. My filter included unquenchable demands, deceitful desires, false accusations, false intentions, anger, rejection, and blame.  I was blind to reality because of me.

Jill: When we are able to remove the “World of Me” lens, we come to understand these powerful words of the hymn Amazing Grace: “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”

Mark: I found myself pondering deeply this week just how much of life I have truly missed because of me. I have thought deeper about how much I have put my family through, how much I have put Jill through, and how tough I have been for God!  I’ve looked at this through eyes of humility. Conviction not condemnation.  Just a reminder of where I’ve been and where I do not ever want to return.

Jill: As Mark and I processed this week, I’ve been reminded that my “World of Me” can see things through a lens of pride, selfishness, and control. When I move into the driver’s seat of my life, the “World of Me” returns. When God sits in the driver’s seat of my life, “The World of Me” disappears and the blinders that keep me seeing the blessings around me are removed.

Mark: It was the decision to surrender when I began the journey of being free of me. My commitment and my pledge is to keep distancing myself from the selfish, self-centered man who once was, and keep surrendering myself to Father God who wants me to abide in Him, to love Him, to find myself in Him.

What about you? What “World of Me” lens is keeping you from seeing the blessings your spouse brings to your life? What selfishness needs to become selflessness?  

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