Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Rooting for the Bad Guy

I’m living the final season of Downton Abbey with people I now feel I know personally. For almost six seasons—both the Crawley family and those who serve them—have ridden the storms and triumphs of war, heartbreak, marriage, birth, tragedy, death, imprisonment, and an ever-changing world. Some characters have become bitter, fearful of what might happen if they open up to love, or matured in their relationships and understanding of others.
I cheer and groan through each episode, hoping the ones who struggle will not give up. The conquerors are those who realize they need the warmth of love and relationship to survive. In the drama of it all, I find myself aching most for the bad guy who can’t seem to find a place to belong.
Barrow, the under-butler, has been the dark character of the series. Deceitful and conniving—he pitted himself against the rest of the staff early on for his own advantage. Now he’s reaping what he’s sown. 

Occasionally, he surprises with heroic, even selfless behavior; we get glimpses of his loneliness, and I want to give him another chance to turn around. He tries; it looks like he may have a friend after all, then he gets knocked down, and retreats once again to dark pride. 
Still, I root for Barrow. I want him to make it. In a turnaround episode, he is ill to the point of collapse, after subjecting himself to shock treatments and saline injections. Cora’s maid, Baxter, gets him to the doctor, even though she knows he’s the one who purposefully caused her such pain. In a rare moment of weakness, he berates himself for thinking he could actually alter his course. He expects her to join in; instead, Baxter offers kindness.  

One sincere word of praise opens Barrow’s heart. Maybe he can be a different kind of man—one who cares for others and not just himself.  This is exactly how God loves us. He knows we’re wretched and deceitful, conniving and selfish. Even when we try to change, our own efforts and believing the lies of the enemy, make us sicker than before. In shame, we admit our stupidity. What made us think we could ever change? Then Jesus comes and gives us hope.

 Scripture says of Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isa. 42:3). We’ve been hurt by others, by ourselves, by our own stupid attempts to get better. We’re bruised and broken. We smolder, we sputter, but never can seem to burn strong. Jesus roots for bad guys who can’t quite get it together. That describes us all—all have sinned and fall short…

That’s why I want Barrow to make it. I’m rooting for him to find friendship and a place of belonging. I want others to see his heart. I know he’s just a character in a television series, but I ache for him to grow into the man God created him to be, because he represents all of us in our fight against the flesh.

We’re bad guys in a world of bad guys—overshadowed by past hurts, evil habits, and current hang ups, and the voice that tells us we’re not “good enough.” Yet we hunger for love. I found that kind of hope in Christ; I’m a bad guy reborn. So I root for other bad guys to find Him too. 

What tender words do you long to hear? 

What hope have you found in Christ that you can share with someone else today?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Fifty Ways to Say I Love You, Part 3

Today we’ll wrap up this Valentine series with the last two love languages. The first three were Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, and Gifts. If you’re tuning in late, scroll down for parts 1 and 2 and then come back for today’s big finish.

Quality Time: Focused, Relaxed, Priority
This is one of my husband’s highest needs. He doesn’t take a lot of time off from work, but date night, Sundays, and special moments together are very important in our relationship. 

31. Brighten their day with an impromptu invitation for romance. One night my husband had been doing book work most of the evening. I sent him a text, “Would you like to join me for star gazing and praise music on the deck?” We shared the night sky together. 
32. Even a phone call can be quality time if your loved one can tell you have set aside all distractions just to connect. This isn’t always possible, especially if you have young children or are at work, but your full attention is a valuable gift. 
33. Get out in nature. Go for a hike or a drive, or take a vacation where you can admire the beauty of God’s creation. 
34. Turn your phone off during date night or for an agreed amount of time so you can have uninterrupted conversation and just focus on each other. 
35. Dance! Do a silly jig or strut your stuff with your spouse, friend, or children. Dance for fun, for exercise, or get close to your beloved. 
36. Use movies as conversation starters. Pause the action at a crucial point and ask your sweetheart what they think will happen next, or who is right or wrong in that situation. My sister sometimes asks her husband to make up a different ending if a movie is disappointing. She’s either satisfied by his version, or highly entertained by his tales. Either way it’s fun. 
37. Take time to enjoy simple pleasures. My husband came home the other night after dark and invited me to go for a walk. It was an unusually warm, winter evening and the sky was packed with stars. It didn’t take long to go once around the block, but it gave us time to reconnect and admire the beauty of the night. 
38. Read books aloud together. My husband wasn’t too sure about this at first because he’s never enjoyed reading. But we pick out books that interest both of us; they have become a private world of memories that only we share.
39. Work on home projects. This can be a satisfying way to spend time together. If you’re not using noisy equipment, it provides an opportunity for conversation and you can be proud of your handiwork when you’re finished. 
40. Pray together. If you pray with and not at each other, vulnerable and soft in the presence of God, this can be the biggest investment you make in your relationship. Honest communication with God draws us together—with our spouse, family, and close friends—like nothing else can. 

Meaningful Touch: Love and Affection 
Experts say we need at least ten meaningful touches a day for optimum health. Tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention doesn’t count. All of us need to feel the love and affection of others around us through the sense of touch, married or single. Notice I don’t mention sex, even though I’m all for it in marriage. Our culture is so overrun with sexual images and innuendos that we’ve lost sight of using affectionate touch to meet the other person’s need. 
41.   Rest your hand on your beloved’s arm, hand, or leg during conversation. This lets them know they have your full attention. 
42.  Instead of greeting a child with a knuckle rub on his head (which I absolutely hated as a kid!), gently touch their head or stroke their hair as they stand next to you. Invite your beloved to rest his or her head in your lap and play with their hair. 
43.  Take the hand of the one you love as you walk along, or loop your arm through theirs. This tells them you’re proud to be connected. 
44.  Our hands have an impressive complexity of pleasure receptors. When sitting with your child or beloved, hold their hand palm up and stroke their palm and up and down their fingers, then playfully turn their hand over to explore the back as well. I begged my grandma and mom over and over to repeat the story about the puppy and the bunny that they played with my hands. It felt like love. 
45.  Wash each other’s feet then rub them with scented oil or lotion. 
46.  Hug! Hugging is a great way to greet or say goodbye to friends or family. And a long, lingering hug with your husband or wife can melt away stress and sorrow. It also leads to kisses. 
47.  Kiss! Kiss the top of your kid’s head, kiss away boo boo’s, and kiss and tickle your children. And of course, kiss your beloved every chance you get. 
48.  Touching someone’s face is reserved only for romantic love, because it is personal and tender. That’s what makes it special. Cupping their chin for a kiss, tracing the line of their ears or nose while gazing into their eyes is sure to make them feel special. 
49.  Care for your loved one’s wounds with a gentle touch and compassionate spirit. 
50.  Play footsie with your beloved—under the kitchen table, while watching a movie, or in bed. 

I hope this has given you some great ideas on how to share love this Valentine’s Day, and all year round. I warn you, though, once you get started, it’s addictive!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fifty Ways to Say I Love You, Part 2

Yesterday, I introduced the five love languages and 10 ways to say I love you through Words of Affirmation. Today we’ll look at the second and third love languages—Acts of Service and Gifts—with 20 more creative ways to say I love you this Valentine’s Day, or any day of the year.

Acts of Service: Putting Words into Action
This is my highest love language; perhaps because this was the example I saw most growing up.
It’s proving your affection through deeds. Here are ten suggestions to get you started. 

11.   When they mention how much they would appreciate it if you did ______, do your best to make it happen in a timely manner. This makes them feel important and valued. 
12.   Offer to do a chore they dread, to give them an unexpected break. 
13.   Look for ways to make something you’re doing already, help them out. Pick up their dishes along with yours after dinner and load them in the dishwasher, or see if they need anything while you’re running errands to save them a trip. 
14.      Make an effort to do things they’ve said mean a lot to them. My husband loves it when I greet him at the door after work. I can’t be there every time, but when I can, I greet him with open arms and a welcome home kiss. 
15.      When they are sick or going through a tough time at work, ask what they need the most—time alone, to be pampered, a long soak in the tub—and try to make it happen. 
16.      When they are injured, offer to bring them an ice or heat pack, pillows, meds, or read to them while they convalesce. 
17.      Surprise them by doing something you wouldn’t normally do, when they’re feeling overwhelmed by life. My brother-in-law surprised my sister by taking a day off from work to create a rock path in their yard. She really appreciated it because he hates yard work!  And my daughter, with two active boys, then one and two, returned home from Women’s Retreat to a clean house and laundry done; what a way to welcome her back! 
18.      Offer a neck or shoulder rub after a hard day. 
19.      Surprise them with a cup of ice water when they’re working outside in the sun, or a mug of hot coffee on a cold day. Pause while you’re there to ooh and ah over their efforts. 
20.  Make or buy their favorite treat—especially meaningful when they’re not on a diet and there’s no special occasion except to show you love them. 

Gifts: Presents of all Sorts 
 People who have this love language don’t necessarily expect big, expensive gifts, but items that say “I was thinking of you.” 

21.  My husband knows I love daffodils. We were almost home the other night when he circled back to a nearby field and jumped out of the car. He searched in the dark for two daffodils he had spotted earlier that day and picked them for me. It meant more than a dozen roses. 
22.  Pick up random items that you know they love, and then surprise them when they need a lift: ping pong balls, homemade caramels, a mug, a tool or kitchen gadget. 
23.  If they call during the day and tell you they’re sick, offer to pick up meds, a favorite magazine, comfort food, or a movie. 
24.  Bring out the kid in them: invest in bubbles, balloons, or a simple toy from the dollar store and have fun together. 
25.  Big ticket items are nice too. A gift certificate for a massage, a weekend away, or tickets to a concert or play they want to see. If you plan to surprise them, make sure their schedule is clear and that they know what to wear so they’re comfortable and relaxed. 
26.  Commemorate the time you’ve been together with items that represent specific memories: a coffee card from the place you met, a t-shirt from where you spent your honeymoon, a framed picture of a favorite family time. 
27.  Surprise them on their birthday or holiday with something they mentioned wanting months earlier. Cell phones are a handy way to snap pictures of the item and price details, or keep a running “wish list” they don’t know about. 
28.  Give them a day to enjoy with a best friend, parent, sibling, or child that they may not feel they can spend money on. It shows you value the other relationships in their life too. 
29.  Give a gift in remembrance of a deceased loved one: a plant for the yard, a photo album of pictures, or something they can use frequently that reminds them of fond memories. 
30.  What are they passionate about? Would they appreciate clothes or equipment to workout in; is there a tool they would love; a magazine about their work or hobby; is there a conference, museum, or event they would love to go to?

Tomorrow, in part 3 of “Fifty Ways to Say I Love You,” we’ll look at the last two love languages: Quality Time and Meaningful Touch. I hope you will check in then.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fifty Ways to Say I Love You, Part 1

With Valentine’s Day coming up, you’ve probably been trying to think of inventive ways to show love to the special people in your life. You want it to be meaningful, as well as memorable.
All of us experience love a little differently, so what makes you feel warm and fuzzy might not connect with someone else. So many factors play into our view of love. A lot of it begins in childhood—how our parents showed us love, or what we missed growing up that left our hearts depleted and hungry.

Gary Chapman wrote The Five Love Languages in 1995 and revolutionized the way we view love. He pointed out our best efforts often miss their mark, if we speak a different love language than our loved one. First, we need to ask and observe what their two highest love languages are, then focus our energies on filling those needs.

The five languages are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Meaningful Touch. With these in mind, I’d like to offer 50 ways to say I love you, giving 10 suggestions for each love language. I’m sure my list will give you ideas of your own. I hope you have fun as you plan to bless and surprise the ones you love.

Words of Affirmation: Encourage With a Stamp of Approval
This love language is for people who treasure the spoken or written word, especially from the people they care about. You can tell if this is a person’s love language simply by their response to cards or a personal note, and how they lean in for compliments. 

  1. Praise the work they’ve done on a recent project. Tell them specifically what you like about it.
  2. Tell them how much you love a certain quality of their personality—their cheerful attitude, how well they adjust to changes, how organized they are. Again, be specific.
  3. Send a note for no reason at all and say what you love about them—texting is good, but a card is better. They will savor this and read it again and again when their soul is hungry. Our kitchen wasn’t finished yet when we were first married. My husband and I wrote love notes and scripture encouragements all over the plywood counter top. It still makes me smile to remember all the sweet messages hidden beneath the tile.
  4. Ask if their ears were burning today, because you were telling people how wonderful they are. Then let them know the nice things others added in response.
  5. When they have a good idea, praise their insight, even if you wish you’d thought of it first.
  6. Refer back to something they’ve told you in a previous conversation that has helped you in some way. This not only proves you were listening, but that you value their knowledge.
  7. Notice growth in an area that’s difficult for them. For instance if they’re trying to eat right and get in shape, comment on their muscle tone, self-control, or consistent exercise, especially when it’s been hard to keep it up.
  8. Let your first comments be positive, even if you notice flaws in their presentation, project, or wording. Be generous.
  9. Tell them what you like about the way they look, without expecting to get anything back. For instance: that you like the way their nose crinkles when they smile; you like the changing flecks of color in their eyes depending on the light; you like the texture of their hair; you like the way they look over their shoulder and give you that smile that’s just for you.
  10. Compliment their interaction with others—the way they show compassion or help others; the way they share their knowledge without condescension; the way they get down and play with kids; the way they take the lead and get things done.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at another 20 ways to say I love you, using the next two love languages: Acts of Service and Gifts.