Loving your Neighbor

An excerpt from my book, Love Isn’t Selfish about loving your neighbor


Automotivespace / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“I encourage you now, reader, to stop and think of the neighbors in your life. Start with those who typically come to mind. Your first thought is probably your next door neighbor. Does your neighbor keep the radio up too loud? Or maybe the neighbor’s dog keeps getting into your trash and they refuse to keep it chained or fenced. Maybe, they’re just hateful and criticize seemingly everything you do. How do Jesus’ words apply? Your neighbor doesn’t have to be likable to be lovable, right?

Now think about other neighbors in your life. Think of your coworkers, employees, or bosses; are they your neighbors? Yes. The cashier at the grocery store is your neighbor, too; as is your hair stylist, doctor, dentist, dog walker, postal carrier, coffee shop barista, baby sitter, fellow shoppers, banker, insurance salesman, bookstore clerk, the stranger in the next car over… Get the idea? At any moment in time, one of these neighbors could be having a distracted or self-absorbed moment and do something that may hurt your feelings or offend you in some way. You may experience this when someone cuts you off while you’re driving to work, if your boss is grumpy, if the barista is less-than-cheery, or if your hair stylist says, “Oops, I forgot you didn’t want that cut short.”

What matters is how you respond. When looking at the responses to a situation, it is important to look at what you think about the situation, as well as the emotions at are elicited by those thoughts. For example, as a youth pastor, I once gave each member of the youth group a little slip of paper. Half of the notes said, “To give a penny to someone means that you think they are valuable and special.” The other half of the notes said, “To give a penny to someone means that you think they aren’t worth a cent.” Each teen was then given a penny and asked to discuss what emotions were experienced as a result. Of course, the responses were mixed. The teens who believed the gesture to mean they had no value reported feeling hurt and discouraged. The ones who believed the penny to signify that they were valuable and special reported that receiving the penny was a positive, encouraging experience.

Often, as we function in society with other fallible humans, we encounter events in which interpretation dictates response. If someone at work avoids eye contact and gives very curt replies, it would be easy to believe that the coworker was trying to avoid talking for some reason or was angry about something. This, in turn, may result in negative feelings such as rejection, irritation, frustration, or indignation. In turn, these emotions may lead to inappropriate, self-centered behaviors if they are not held in check.

How many arguments or feuds have begun by such an incident? To think of possible motivations for the coworker’s behavior, it could be considered that she had an argument with her spouse that morning and was overly distracted from current conversation, or perhaps she was merely feeling rushed and trying to focus on what she was doing. There are many possibilities, but in all of them, it’s easy to see how assumptions and emotions may play a part in our relationships with others – especially neighbors with whom we are not intimately familiar.

Emotions are part of being human. We all have them, and they play a big part in our interactions with one another. Earlier, we discussed how we were designed to be relational beings. Emotions serve as a way for people to connect. They help in relationship building as well as self-preservation. It is vitally important to learn how to manage emotions so they serve to benefit relationships rather than end them.”

 

Keri

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

How’s the Atmosphere?


kevin dooley / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

How would you describe the tone in your house? Is it relaxed? Tense? Anger-filled? Dark and depressed? Chaotic? Stressed? Peaceful? Do you and your family tip-toe around for fear of someone’s outburst?

Every household has an atmosphere. We may not always be fully aware of the atmosphere in our own homes because home is our comfort zone. Sometimes, though, our comfort zones are not very comfortable.

We’ve all been around people whose attitudes are contagious. Positive or negative, the people who surround us may be capable of setting the tone of our own mood if we allow them to do so. After a while, mood can become habitual. I’m sure you could probably think of people who are in the habit of being in a bad, negative mood, and you could probably also think of people who are in the habit of being optimistic and cheerful. Which are you?

If your atmosphere is draining you, maybe it’s time to work on it.

  • Call for a family meeting to discuss the atmosphere and ask for possible solutions. TALK about the issues everyone tries to avoid. if your family has difficulty doing this on your own, seek help from a professional counselor for your family. Misinterpretations, hurt feelings, etc. may cause tension in all families at one time or another. Remember that when issues are swept under the rug, they do not disappear; they only pile up and cause everyone to trip.
  • Monitor what you allow IN your home. TV shows, Movies, Video games – the themes matter! If you allow your home to be filled with violence, horror, disrespectful attitudes, etc., it may very well set the tone for you.
  • Make spiritual growth and family time top priorities, and learn to say “no” when it would be best for your priorities to do so.
  • Model a godly atmosphere by responding as lovingly as humanly possible in ALL situations (pray often!).

 

Philippians 4:8

New International Version (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

 

Keri

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

Like a Buggy with a Bent Wheel…

Mmmmm spaghetti
mrgreen09 / Foter / CC BY

I was recently reading an excerpt from Dr. Dobson’s book, The New Strong-Willed Child. As he gave the analogy of pushing a shopping cart that glides smoothly along versus pushing a shopping cart with a bent wheel that requires constant redirection effort, I could immediately relate. Even now, as I write, I am watching my oldest son eat his spaghetti and meatballs (very messily, might I add… but hey, he’s a kid. I don’t expect him to be neat!). I know odds are when he’s done, he’ll either sling food in the floor or throw his messy fork in the floor. Because he does that every time. I address it every time. He’ll probably be upset when he has a consequence because he typically is. But… he keeps doing it.

For about 7 years, I was in a position where I taught parenting classes and did in-home therapy, most often for families of children with behavioral problems. As I worked to help family after family, I did a lot of research. I learned from experience and trainings about many useful, effective techniques. I know they work. I’ve seen them work, and work well! They work in general for my little strong-willed fella too, but he still has some areas that require constant redirection. Like a shopping cart with a bent wheel.

(And….. there went food in the floor)

As I watch my children grow, I have learned that any time I feel “stuck” as a parent, I can ask God to reveal to me more clearly how He “parents” us.

Most often, His answer is simply, “I love you anyway.” He gives us boundaries, He is consistent, and He is firm. Above all, though, He is loving.

So, I will continue to pray that  God gives me what I need when I need it so I can be the best (though human) parent I can be. I will continue to be firm and consistent as part of showing my children that I love them. No matter how many times I’m being told I’m mean.

 

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for putting up with our temper tantrums and strong-willed attitudes. Thank you for your patience while we kick and scream in the toy aisle. Thank you for redirecting, even when our “wheels” seem to be bent. Father, please give us the peace we need in order to be patient and loving while we respond in our frustration. Help us to parent our children as you parent us; with love, firmness, patience, understanding, and wisdom. Help us to strive daily to be more like you. 

Your humbled child, Amen.

 

Keri

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

Facing the Storms

cemeteryWe all have rough times. If you are married and your marriage hasn’t yet experienced difficult times, it will eventually. For any of you who know me or have visited my personal blog, you may already understand the difficult time my own marriage has experienced. In 2011, the relationship was under a great deal of strain due to the loss of one of our twins about 7 hours and 13 minutes after birth. Our daughter had been diagnosed with anencephaly, a neural tube defect, at about 16 weeks gestation. Anencephaly is always fatal, so we knew we wouldn’t have long with her.

Because of our loss, we’ve been forced into a “club” that no one wants to join. We are “baby loss parents.” We have two boys on earth, and a girl in Heaven. Since becoming a member of the baby loss club, I’ve learned how common it is for the loss of a child to lead to the end of a marriage. It seems very often that one or both individuals are afraid to acknowledge the pain, which leads to bitterness. The bitterness masks the pain and eats away at the marriage until it’s no longer strong enough to stand.

It’s heartbreaking.

When Aaron and I began life as a couple (after knowing one another for a good 15 years), I recognized and appreciated his ability to communicate. But, even though we both had relatively decent communication skills when we began together, we had plenty of room to grow and continue to do so. I had trouble feeling open enough to express myself early on but did better with writing, so I’d write. I remember one time, he asked me if I was okay about something, then added, “I’m not going to get an email about it when I get home, am I?” As time went on, we continued to build trust and our communication improved. It has proven to be a very useful and vital skill for our marriage to survive. As we’ve endured the storms we’ve faced, I am very thankful that we’ve managed to keep an open line of communication about what we were thinking and feeling. It’s not always easy, and we’re not always perfect at it, but we keep working on it.

Every relationship has its storms. Some are bigger than others, but they will come. Communication is essential. A marriage requires that its members communicate about their thoughts and feelings.

  • Share with one another what emotions were behind the anger (hurt, disappointed, scared, frustrated, etc.) or came along with the happy (excited, loved, content, appreciated, etc.).
  • Help one another identify the thoughts that led to hurt feelings and talk out your plan of action to address a difficult situation.
  • If you don’t express your emotion  in some form, you will begin to experience unhealthy symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and anger. These symptoms can add strain to a marriage in addition to the original stressors. Remember, a marriage is a team, and teams can’t function without communication.
  • Above all, PRAY together. Remind one another who God is. Communicate your needs and lay them at the feet of Jesus. Regardless of what storm you are facing, God still loves you and has a plan for you. He’s not toying with you for His own amusement because He IS Love and Love isn’t selfish. He WANTS marriage to succeed.

If you had to rate the communication in your marriage on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the best…how would your communication rate?

 

Keri

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

A Challenge for the week

Sweethearts
adwriter / Foter / CC BY-NC

Take a few moments before reading further into this article to replay in your mind the words you have spoken to your spouse over the past 24-48 hours. If you had to estimate the number of criticisms and the number of encouraging statements, what would those numbers be?

In the busy realm of every day life, it’s easy to get into the habit of focusing on what is wrong instead of what is right. This happens all too often in marriages. It may start with one spouse forgetting to take out the trash and turn into a list of every other perceived wrong.

“You never help with the dishes!”
“You always leave the bathroom a mess!”
“You never put your dirty clothes in the hamper!”
“You’re never home because you spend too much time at work!”

Critical statements like these leave no room for the positive in their “always” and “nevers”. They stem from the indignant roots of a heart that feels wronged. It seems as though when we feel justified in our disgruntled attitude, we may look for other supporting factors. Pride leads us to seek justification to feel superior.

It’s as if we are saying, “See?! Look at all these ways you’ve wronged me! I have a right to be angry!”

Yes, you have a right to feel the way you feel. You do not have the right to invade the rights of your spouse and treat him or her disrespectfully because you feel hurt. It’s not healthy for you, your spouse, or the relationship. It is self-centered, and a marriage cannot survive if its members are focused on themselves. Love is a choice to not focus on self.

My challenge to you this week is to keep track of your criticisms and jabs as well as your words of encouragement. Make an effort to offer at least twice the amount of encouragement as criticism. At least.

Philippians 4:8
New International Version (NIV)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

 

Keri

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

What do you expect?

Angoscia
Funky64 (www.lucarossato.com) / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

As a therapist, I have found myself on many occasions discussing some of the reasons why clients experience problematic symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger. Through those many discussions, it has become clear to me that such symptoms occur when there is a conflict in some area of our lives, and those conflicts occur when our expectations don’t meet up with reality. This kind of interference may be related to any area of wellness (such as emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, etc.).

Typically, it isn’t possible to change the reality of the conflict (we can’t make other people do what we think they should do, and we can’t make the world work how we think it ought to work). Acknowledging the fact that in reality, things don’t happen like we think they should can help us adjust our expectations and alleviate some of the conflict.

If we tell ourselves people should always be loving and kind, we will likely find ourselves indignant when we encounter situations in which people are not loving and kind. The reality is that we can’t make everyone be loving and kind. Though it would be wonderful, all people are not loving and kind. It would be preferable, but it is not realistic to expect such a thing to happen. The truth is, we live in a fallible world, surrounded by fallible people…like us.

With that all said, I’d like to encourage you to examine the expectations in your relationships. What do you expect of your loved ones? Do you expect your spouse to respond to difficult situations in the same manner you do? Do you expect your children to respond like miniature adults? Are your expectations realistic or idealistic?

It’s easy to get stuck on an idea of how we think things should be. Take, for example, fashion magazines. We’ve been so inundated by the images of flawless beauties that we strive to do what we can to attain the same characteristics. We’re pressured to diet, tan, dye, bleach, wax, paint, and cover. The reality is that the models are typically made up and photo-edited. It’s an illusion we’ve been bamboozled into perceiving as reality. In marriage, a husband may expect his wife to run the household like his mother did, or a wife may expect her husband to respond like the character in her favorite chick flick.

“Philippians 4:8
New International Version (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

When you catch yourself expecting the unrealistic, challenge it with what you know to be true. “He should have known better!” Sometimes we just don’t know. “She should have had that done already.” She had a lot of things going on that required her attention. “I have to have it all finished tonight.” 20 years from now, your To-Do list for today isn’t going to matter- prioritize. “The kids should never misbehave.” Kids will test their boundaries, it’s how they learn.

Take time to just observe your families. Make an effort to examine your expectations of them. When you feel anxious, depressed, or angry, ask yourself if your expectations are realistic or if you need to make an adjustment. Satan is the father of lies, and will make any effort possible to distract you from what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy. Challenge the lies and focus on what you know to be true. Your loved ones will thank you!

Keri

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

1 Simple Tip for a Happier Household

SMiLE!
Toni Blay / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I was recently inspired to write an article about something that could make a quick difference to my readers. I spent some time thinking about something simple that anyone could do that would help increase peace and love in a home.

Then, I realized there was something I started doing that makes a world of difference for me. So, I knew what I wanted to share.

While what I am about to share is applied to life with children, the tip is not limited to interactions with children, so stick with me. I recently left my job in community mental health to stay home with my two boys rather than returning to work after maternity leave. My oldest son is almost 3 and is just about as strong-willed (or overly-determined, as I like to say) as they come. Some days, when the baby is screaming, and the 2-year-old is doing everything he can to get my attention back to him, it can be tough.

In those moments that I have to issue a consequence because of directions not being followed or because of disrespectful attitude, my sweet little boy can act pretty hateful. He tells me I’m mean (is that an innate reaction or something?? I don’t know where he got that!). He screams and cries. Most days it’s mild and short-lived, but regardless of how grumpy he gets with me during a tantrum, I’ve learned to do one thing.

Hug him.

It amazes me how, even when he is furiously mad at me because he’s not getting what he wants (I mean, seriously, wouldn’t you be upset if mommy wouldn’t let you pet the Betta?), he still responds to me when I hug him and tell him I love him.

“Yeah, you too, mommy.” All while still crying. Even so, he knows that when I say no, I mean it, AND that I love him even when he’s being grumpy with me.

So, my one simple tip for a happier household is this: 

Always Show Love. Especially when you are most frustrated.

Not only am I amazed when my screaming, tantrum-throwing child wraps his arms around me and lays his head on my shoulder, following my lead, I’m amazed at what a difference I feel. It helps me stay calmer.

To break it down, when you catch yourself feeling like you’re about to have a temper-tantrum/ break-down yourself (whether dealing with a child or adult):

1. Pray. Even better if you can invite the other person to pray with you. Praying as a first resort can help keep you more focused on being loving in any interaction.
2. Keep your voice tone as calm and loving as possible.
3. For the kids, get down to or below their eye-level.
4. Acknowledge how they may be feeling (ex. I’m so sorry you’re disappointed that you couldn’t do what you wanted. -Even children’s emotions are real and deserve to be respected, regardless of whether or not they make sense to adults.) and what they have been saying.
5. Hug him/her (if they will allow it).
6. Say sincerely, “I love you.” (if the kids are still mad and try to argue with you and tell you that you don’t love them… because they do things like that…. either refrain from commenting, or if you feel the need, simply repeat, “I Love You.” )
7. Remember, arguing in that moment will do nothing but escalate the situation. If there are behaviors that need to be addressed, try addressing them after the tantrum is done (unless they are in danger of hurting themselves, you/others, or property).

Yes. I am fully aware that it may sound cheesy or awkward (at first), but let me give you three good reasons why it can work.

  • Many arguments occur because the other person does not feel heard. Acknowledging what they are saying and how you think they may be feeling can help diffuse the situation and present an opportunity for any clarifications to be made.
  • Reminding your loved ones that you love them helps put things in perspective for both them and you.
  • It’s how God deals with us. Even when He tells us no, He will still comfort us and reassure us of His love. 

 

What ways have you all found to diffuse tense situations while showing love?

 

Keri

 

 

 

 

 

(**Please note: all articles here are written with the assumption that both parties in a relationship are making an effort to be loving. If you are in an abusive situation and do not feel safe, please seek outside help.)

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

“It’s not me, it’s you…”

“It’s not (about) me, it’s (about) you…”

Heart
seyed mostafa zamani / Foter / CC BY

According to Scripture, God is love. (1 John 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.) Love is further defined in 1 Corinthians 13. ” 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.”

So, we know that God IS love, and we know what love means- Love is about relationship with others, and love isn’t selfish. I always feel excited thinking about what love really means because in reality, it is so very much different than what we see around us. We often see the word misused, whether in our own lives or in the media. The prevalence of divorce and broken hearts serves as proof.

Divorce and broken hearts are the byproduct of failed attempts at what love really is. Attempts fail when selfishness creeps in, and we’re all born with a selfish nature. As individuals, we naturally see things from our own point of view and feel the need to preserve our own wants and needs. However, if we truly aspire to be like Christ, we have to be willing to set aside our own wants and needs at times in order to be loving.

Don’t get me wrong, self-care is important and a necessity (if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re in no shape to care for others), but God’s model of love is about others. It’s not about you. To your spouse, it’s about you. To you, it’s about your spouse.

Marriage gives us such a wonderful opportunity to model God’s love to the world. Scripture even references marriages reflecting the relationship between Christ and the church. A Godly marriage will ideally reflect that kind of love. Are you showing the world what God’s love is all about in your marriage? Or, are you acting on your feelings of pride, selfishness, resentment, jealousy, etc.?

If you’ve been selfish in your marriage (after all, it is our nature), it’s not too late to make an effort to change those patterns. I truly believe that when both people in a marriage are willing to be committed and make an effort, every marriage can succeed.

What are some ways you can show your spouse that he or she is your priority?

If you need some ideas, I encourage you to watch the movie Fireproof and check out The Love Dare. It’s definitely worth your time to invest in your marriage!

 

Keri

 

 

 

TuesdaysButton[1]

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

Tantrums, Tantrums, Anywhere

 

Little Shopper
eeskaatt / Foter / CC BY-SA

It’s an all-too-common scene to be in the aisles of Wal-Mart and find that you’ve become an awkward witness to a child’s emotional breakdown as she makes her demands through shrieks, stomps, and tears. The seemingly helpless mom looks around with her face growing increasingly red by the moment, with the embarrassment of knowing there is an audience developing. Often, the mom will give in, and the child will happily cling to her new prize- the reward for an act well played.

Have you been there? Have you been the parent? Better yet, have you been the child?

If you’ve ever been in a public place with a child throwing a tantrum, I’m sure you’re familiar with the emotions that go along with such a situation. Embarrassment, anxiety, helplessness, frustration…. It doesn’t take much for panic to start to set in, so the result is often that the child gets his way in an attempt alleviate the anxiety of the parent. Unfortunately, what this does is teach the child what behaviors are effective when he sees something he wants. This lesson is then reinforced time and time again if the pattern is not consciously altered.

As adults, if we’ve learned to get our way through manipulating the emotions of others, we will run into conflict after conflict. Because we know God as our Heavenly Father, we naturally expect Him to act in ways similar to our earthly parents because that is the model of a “parent” we have been given. When we see something we want, even if it’s not good for us, we think we can stomp and cry and throw a fit until we get it, if that’s the method that has always worked for us in the past. When we still don’t get our way (or if we do and decide it’s not what we want), it is easy to conclude, “Well, God must not love me.”

God, as our Loving Heavenly Father, gives us very clear expectations and firm boundaries. He lets us know what is expected of us and what will happen if we don’t meet those expectations. THAT is what we, as parents, need to be modeling to our children. Children need to know clearly what is expected of them and what will happen if the expectations are not met – because we love them and want good things for them. If children are allowed to manipulate and gain control over their parents, they won’t have the maturity to know what to do with that control, and may develop behavioral problems, anxiety and depression, a lack of self-discipline and a lack of understanding of God’s wise, loving guidance.

In the same line of thinking, beware of your own spiritual temper tantrums. If you find that you are angry that God is not meeting your demands, maybe it’s time to get up off of the floor, brush yourself off, and thank God for giving you boundaries based on His infinite wisdom. He knows what is good for us and is not going to give us something harmful.

Matthew 7:9-11
New International Version (NIV)
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

What have been the most embarrassing locations for your children’s temper tantrums? When was the last time you threw a spiritual temper tantrum?

If you've found this post helpful, please share!

Oh, Lord…

sad boy
woodleywonderworks / Foter / CC BY-NC

Oh, Lord…

This past week, my oldest son was a bit sick, so he was horribly grouchy with me. He fought naps, screamed at me and tried to hit and kick me frequently. He threw things and cried. A lot.

I cleaned up potty training messes and tried to patiently encourage potty time while the baby screamed wanting to be picked up. I wiped snotty noses and had snot wiped on me. I’ve cleaned up thrown food and been “the bad guy” when having to enforce the rules. I’ve felt like a broken record and at times, a bit of a failure. I was up often during the nights with both of them and have stayed exhausted.

Tonight alone, I stepped on a small metal car and when I finally got a few moments to actually wash my hair in the shower instead of the sink before the baby woke up again, I had to stop first to pick up the toys from the bathtub.

Lord, I just want to say….

Thank you. For every moment. I’m humbled and grateful for the opportunity you have given me. Not every woman who wants to be a mommy is granted the same. Why you have allowed me this great privilege is something only you can answer.

Thank you for letting me hold on to my boys here on earth while you hold my girl in Heaven. Thank you, Lord, for teaching me through these precious children more about what your love really means.

Thank you for putting up with our grouchy, willful, disobedient, selfish, human ways and loving us anyway. Thank you for your patience when we are lashing out at you for things you know are best for us in the big picture. Thank you for loving me enough to say no when you know what I think I want isn’t what I need.

And thank you, Father, for every sweet hug, every sticky, syrupy kiss, every dimpled smile, and every sweet giggle. Please help me to never take a moment for granted.

Your humbled servant,

A tired, grateful mommy.

If you've found this post helpful, please share!