As I age (yes, I am aging!), I find that younger wives and moms ask my advice for a happy marriage and home. I did the same thing when I was their age, and now I’m the age of the moms I so helplessly looked to for wisdom. Oh, how time flies!
Here’s my best advice today:
Compliment your family members, especially your husband. Compliment them several times a day. The verb compliment means to verbally praise and admire.
When you’re mad and want to nag, praise and admire instead.
When you want to criticize and point out a fault, praise and admire instead.
When you want to insult, praise and admire instead.
When more than 24 hours have passed without a compliment, find something to praise and admire.
I’m serious! Go find your husband this very moment and praise and admire him for something. If he’s not home, text him. If you’ve been bossing your children around all day, go find them and praise them. Get in the habit of regularly complimenting your family members.
The whole tone of your home and marriage will change, I promise. The home will feel like a true sanctuary of rest and encouragement where people go to refresh and enjoy being themselves. In homes filled with criticism, complaint, fear of failure, and negativity, nobody wants to come home. Nobody’s thriving there.
A wife and mom can be a source of refreshment, acceptance, praise, and admiration for the weary souls in her care.
I’ve been researching how to best preserve my lilac bouquets in the house. It turns out that you can add some sugar, some lemon juice, and some bleach to your glass vase, and you’ll have many days of fragrant blooms in your home. Here’s the recipe (a very scientific one).
While I’m researching, I discover that the lilac stem is so tough and so thick that it’s nearly impossible for those stems to draw up their life-sustaining nutrients in a vase. They wilt and expire within one day.
I learn that you must crush and split the stems to soften them and provide many points of entry for the lilacs to suck up all the water.
I’m standing in my kitchen, damaging those stems–literally breaking them open with a knife–(in order to save them!), and I realize the tender hand of God in my own heart that crushes in order to provide a special and rapid access to what I really need: Him, the Living Water.
The tough, thick me softens so I can get what I’ve wanted and needed all along. This was the crushing and cutting that saved me.
Today, I’m thinking about Ephesians 4:29 and really sinking deeply into it. Take a look:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
What a challenge! What a privilege! Oh, that I could speak words that were helpful for building others up and that benefited them greatly.
I look up the word for “building others up,” and it means to promote growth in someone and to increase their happiness. I also examine the phrase “that it may benefit.” This phrase in the Greek means to bring joy, loveliness, strength, and loving kindness.
I also note with great conviction the phrase “according to their needs.” Not my needs, but their needs. This means I must discover what these needs are. This means listening patiently with love and taking myself out of the center of the universe.
Do my words promote growth or foster shame and criticism?
Do my words increase happiness or do they spread negativity and despair?
Do my words bring about joy, loveliness, strength and loving kindness?
To speak only what is helpful provides a timely check on what comes out of my mouth in friendship, parenting, marriage, and on social media.
When Oprah asked Maya Angelou where she went for solace and comfort, she shared through tears about her Christian faith. She tells Oprah in this video (text below) about God’s love. She says:
And finally, I said, “God loves me.” It still humbles me that this force that made leaves and flees and stars and rivers and you–loves me. Me Maya Angelou. It’s amazing. I can do anything and do it well. Any good thing, I can do it. That’s why I am who I am, yes, because God loves me, and I’m amazed at it and grateful for it.
I’m thankful today for Maya Angelou’s gift of poetry, storytelling, and vocal expression that have blessed the world all these years. When my husband told me this morning that she had died, I heard her voice in my head–that wonderful, wonderful voice that we will miss.
Today we net our ripening blueberries. We must! We’ll lose the whole harvest in just moments as soon as the birds spy the deep purple berries. It’s happened before, but not this year if we can help it.
We solve this predator problem by guarding the fruit with a mesh kind of netting with a drawstring on top (made expertly by my neighbor–the one who provides us all with raspberry canes).
When we want to harvest our berries, we’ll just reach down through the top.
We have guarded this fruit well. I realize that much of gardening involves guarding your plants from predators. It’s no accident that as I garden I’m also reading the book of Jude and the repetition of that keyword “kept.” I look up the word, and this verb means to “carefully guard.” So we are “carefully guarded” for Christ (Jude 1:1) and are to “carefully guard” our relationship with God (Jude 1:21).
I think of netting my life against anything that harms my faith. I think of God netting my life against anything that would harm me.
Meanwhile, we let these berries ripen, fully protected.
Oh, the simple pleasures of this American life!
Four years ago, I loved the simplicity of our milk and blueberry pancakes. Then next year, I was struck by ordinary pleasures of strawberries. And, just like in all the years past, this morning we visit the Boalsburg Memorial Day Fair and gather with neighbors at the Pie Contest. The same woman who has been judging for 50 years selects the Plum Peach Pie as the winner. (Last year it was the Coconut Key Lime) Then, in 2012, I remembered again this truth (that some families feel more deeply than others today):
The Smallest Things Pay Tribute
On Memorial Day, I pause with the kind of awareness that brings tears to my eyes. I’m aware of my particular freedoms–the smallest ones that I always take for granted–that were secured for me by the sacrifice of others.
It’s amazing. It’s humbling. It makes these little blueberries in the bowl, this warm cup of coffee, these sausages in the pan, these bathing suits ready for an afternoon at the pool, and this little sentence signify freedom and opportunity. They signify safety.
I hardly think about this on most days.
Perhaps the fact that I don’t often think about how free I am proves the extent of my freedom.
It comes at a great cost, and I’m so thankful today. I know that some families think about this every day. They’ve lost loved ones, and for them, this isn’t a day they suddenly remember or pay tribute. Every day is a sacrifice for them. I’m thankful for them today, too.
I’m still thankful for them in 2014. We’ll go to the community pool as usual, barbecue out back, and enjoy our very American life. Thank you.
We were meant to participate in each other’s lives. The Bible talks so much about our togetherness and our interactions with one another. We’re together a holy dwelling. We’re together a temple. We’re together a body and a church.
The togetherness of scripture indicates a way we’re designed to work best: together. To see ourselves as individuals unto ourselves is a misunderstanding of identity. We’re most ourselves when we see our interdependence and communal (rather than isolated) selves.
The lonely soul, the isolated soul, quickly experiences desolation. It takes some work and initiative, but we must press on to join community and help others do the same. We thrive and flourish together, just as God intended. When one of us suffers or sins, we are all damaged.
Teaching children to build community and connect with one another in life-giving ways is one of the tasks of parenting. But American culture offers a full assault on togetherness as we have increasing temptations for isolation (I can do everything online without having to speak to a soul!), self-promotion at the expense of community, pseudo connection through social media, competition instead of connection, gossip and comparison, jealousy, and division.
Part of our spiritual growth conversations might be about where and how we’re fostering connection instead of isolation and division. We reflect the glory and beauty of God in our togetherness, so why not fight for it?
Right now, we’re cultivating.
We’re preparing the soil for all our seeds and young plants. This involves pulling weeds, turning over the soil, adding in our compost, securing the garden plots from predators, strengthening stakes and trellises, planting, and watering.
It’s a lot of work, but my husband loves to do this along with my daughter.
If you want a great harvest, you cultivate. You prepare. You stay faithful to the task, and you leave the results to an unseen, mysterious process that has nothing to do with you. Yes, we water and fertilize, but really, we can’t force anything. We can’t make anything happen.
I love remembering that in my own life, I do my part in staying faithful to what I think God wants me to do, and I don’t worry one bit about the results. They have nothing to do with me and everything to do with that Unseen, Mysterious One who brings about the harvest.
The Northern Cardinals did return after all. The nest is far away from the house, right up next to the fence. By watching the birds, I knew they were paying a lot of attention to one tree in the yard. Instead of choosing the Winterberry Bush, the birds choose the Lilac.
I can see why.
This nest is right next to the berry patch and furthest away from the skunk family. It’s a smarter nest, for sure, since skunks do eat birds and their eggs, and because they Northern Cardinals love berries.
In about 10 days, these eggs will hatch.
I’ll keep you posted.
I learn from my Bible Study leader about an amazing little app for your phone called the Blue Letter Bible App.
(If you don’t have a smartphone, you can just access the website http://www.blueletterbible.org.)
This free app allows you to look up the Hebrew and Greek words as you read your Bible. So awesome!!! It then invites you to look up the etymology to gain such a rich understanding of keywords in scripture.
This wonderful resource then directs you to all the other places that word appears in scripture. I love this app because it means I’m not lugging around all my dictionaries and concordances whenever I want to study scripture. It’s so fast and efficient! It’s so easy and clear!
I’ve been using this app for only four days, and it’s really changed how I encounter God in the Bible. For example, I thought I knew the richness and complexity of Ephesians 2:6 and that beautiful verb “seated.” Well, if you take apart the original Greek roots of the word, you learn that God raised us up and “made us dwell together and conferred a kingdom upon us” (that’s all in the one word: seated).
I looked up “vain idols” from Jonah, and learned that this phrase really means, “worthless speaking.” I looked up all the references to “endure” in 2 Timothy (there are many), and learned that this literally means in the Greek to “stay under the weight of.” I learned that the verse in Psalms that everyone quotes–“Be still and know that I am God,” is actually a kind of military command. “Be still” means to hold your position, sink down, cease advancing, and rest.
I love verbs so much, and now I love them even more. I tell my students that a great verb can change your life. I feel that way today as I know I’m seated with you in Christ at a royal table, with a kingdom conferred on us all. I cease advancing, holding my position, and stay under the weight of whatever God brings into my life. And I want to write and speak worthy, not worthless words today.