Sunday, November 2, 2014

the dirty word


It's a word of death.

Death to relationships.

A close friend spoke some hard truth to me seven or eight years ago, while I was living in California. At the time, my feelings hurt because she hadn't had much time to spend with me, and I felt like maybe I cared more about her friendship than she did mine. It's not a good feeling to feel like you're in an uneven relationship, is it? And in wisdom she warned me that those unspoken expectations I had in my mind about what she "had to do" if she was a "real friend" would kill the friendship quickly. She didn't stop there. She went further and warned me that she noticed I had placed expectations over relationships with everyone in my life- my parents, my family, my friends, my husband. All of them had certain unmentioned bars, so to speak, that they had to achieve or else I was convinced they didn't really love me.

I don't know where that came from....that scale I set that let me protect isolate my heart. I don't have traumatic stories from my childhood or bad breakup stories from my youth. But still they were there. Stealing relationships and threatening to cause me to become an island unto myself.

It's because those words convicted my heart so strongly that they have stayed with me through the years. I still see them creep into my heart, if I'm not guarding it vigilantly. And I see them in others. Because I'm looking for those ugly expectations.... the dirty laundry list of made-up tasks to prove a person's/relationship's worth.

And every time I identify them, they make me ANGRY. I would argue it's a just anger.

Expectations are so destructive! They take relationships and remove the grace. In the devastated ruins of expectations, there isn't room for understanding of busy seasons of life, or differences in how people relate, or favorite methods of communication. Instead there is a refusal to accept love that isn't being shown in just the right way.

Or not enough.

Or not in time.

But where expectations kill, grace breathes life. When those imaginary lines we draw in the sand for others to prove they value us are erased, there is understanding. Understanding for what? For busy schedules. For different love languages. For failed attempts, time after time after time.

What if, when the phone call doesn't come, we respond with a reiteration of our knowledge that they still indeed value us because years can't be erased by days. Or weeks. Or even other years.

What if, when they stayed late at work "again," we pointed to our hearts the love notes that were left, or the favorite candy that was brought home, or the broken drawer that was fixed? And we realize that we all show love in different ways.... and that one way isn't better than another.

What if, instead of assuming what they must do in other relationships, we look for the ways that our relationship is special and unique to us because we are unique and no two relationships can be alike... and different love doesn't mean unequal love.

Wouldn't that change things? Wouldn't that make the load lighter?

Every time I am greeted with grace in a relationship, I am renewed in my determination to replace expectations with grace.

I'm still horrible at grace. In every sense of the word.

But at least that gives me something to work on.

live to learn

I'm convinced that we'll learn a lot in this life if we just keep our eyes open.

I was standing in the Target checkout line. Henry was asleep in his carrier and the older two boys were at home playing a rousing game of FIGHT with Daddy. And as I wait for my turn with the cashier, I pass the time scrolling through my cartwheel app, trying to add coupons for my groceries that day.

As I scroll, I can hear the father in line behind me admonishing his boys repeatedly to stay behind me and give me space. But you see, I was standing in front of the candy bars and gum. Who can resist that?! And so "Boys, stay back! Give that lady space!" became the background music. (Side note: I've achieved "lady" status now!?!? Might as well give me a walker and admit me to the home, dude-guy! Thanks for that gift.)

My turn. How-about-that-weather chatter with the cashier. And then I lay eyes upon the candy-lovers. Two boys, 8sih and 12ish. "Um, excuse me. Do you need help putting the bagged groceries into your cart?" I melted a little bit, and started to thank them but insist I could get it. Girl power, and all that jazz. And then I stopped halfway through my "No, but th-"

I realized that if they were MY sons who were offering to serve someone, I would want that person to let them. It's easy to be strong and independent. It's hard to lay down your pride and let others help you. But if we don't give people the opportunities to surrender themselves to us, we take away the joy they'd get from doing it. It's funny..the way that works.... When someone offers to serve us, we can serve THEM by letting them serve us. And I'll be honest, it's that truth I clung to when I let those two little guys serve me. If I had said no, I would have robbed them of that service; of the joy they got from doing it.

And so the register beeped as it scanned each bar code, the boys lifted each bag into the cart, and the cashier listened in participation as the boys' father and I chatted. I had questions for him- because obviously he was raising boys to be admirable, and he was just a season ahead of me. I was taking mental notes furiously.

And when my cart was full (and my wallet was empty), I slipped the dad a $5 and asked him to let the boys pick out a treat from that darned wall of candy bars. And we exchanged parental looks of gratitude on both our behalves. His because of the opportunity his kids received and the small thank-you for a job done well. And mine for a very profound understanding of the road ahead of me. Because oh, how I'd love to turn those tables one I hope to be the mom watching her boys serve the young mother in front of us.

To the father of those two boys, who made sure they offered to help: thank you. 

Thanks for preparing those two boys to be a gift to the world. To make the load lighter for those around them.

And thanks for showing me what it looks like to parent my sons well- with real life as a teacher.

I accept the challenge.