Easier Said, Better Done

Love is Not a Feeling. It is Action.

In the humble village of Mahomet, IL, there is a bit of confusion surrounding something we Christians seem to take for granted. The new school season is about to kick off, and a lot of things are going to be different this year. Not only do we have issues surrounding Covid-19, but now adjustments are being asked to be made in the teaching of history and anti-racism. School board meetings have lasted for hours at a time in attempts to get everyone on the same page about how all of these things will be accomplished, and somewhere in the fog of confusion, there has been a fairly consistent snag.

On more than one occasion loving our neighbors as ourselves has been offered as the bulk portion of the solution to racial injustices, bullying, and other forms of inhumanity. In every instance of this suggestion, there has been push-back that says that doing so is simply not enough to affect positive changes to systemic racism within our community.

To be honest, I also believe that loving our neighbors rightly is a gigantic step toward bridging the racial divide. However, I have to admit that it has taken me quite a bit of time to understand why the push back against such a simple and kind principle is so strong. After having several conversations with other citizens in the community, it has occurred to me that saying that we love our neighbors is a whole lot different from actually doing it. What we’ve been missing is the practical application of what it truly means to love our neighbors as ourselves.

As Christians, we bear a responsibility to everyone around us to live the life we profess to believe. Anything other than practicing what we preach is mere lip service and makes us disingenuous. The push back, in my observation, is mostly from those who do not believe as we believe but are asking us to walk our talk. In their own ways, they are saying that if we truly believe this works, we should be able to prove it. So, for the sake of everyone involved (that would be all of us), I’d like to provide a breakdown of what ‘loving your neighbor’ looks like, where we got it from, and how we can all put it to good use.

Of course, we Christians get our instruction from the Holy Bible. There are many translations of it, and we each use the one that we best understand. Personally, I use several translations as I study. For this piece, I will be using the ESV (English Standard Version).

In our Bibles, the request to love our neighbors is not an empty one. In fact, it’s actually not even a request. It is a commandment.

Mathew 22:36-40 describes a conversation between Jesus and a lawyer.

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

“And he” [Jesus] “said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus gives the importance of His statement in Mark 12:31

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Here’s why. Love, as explained in 1 Peter 4:8, covers a multitude of sins. This means that, when applied correctly, love has the power to diminish all wrongs committed by anyone. This isn’t saying that people can just run around doing whatever they please without consequences, but it is saying that we can choose how we treat people based on how much wrong we are willing to love them through. What everyone needs to understand, though, is that this love business is SO hard! Yes, I said it. Loving everybody is hard work. I cannot allow it to be thought that we Christians somehow have this magic switch that flips when we accept Jesus, and we suddenly become these perfect, lofty beings who automatically know what love really is and always get it right. Trust me, we don’t.

Life as a Christian requires us to do a lot of things that go against our human nature. We are tasked with loving our neighbor, practicing self-control, being gracious – in EVERY situation! I would be lying if I said I don’t struggle with it. Sometimes, I could force myself into days of repentance in exchange for one opportunity to put someone in their place. It’s never worth it, though. As hard and messy as love can be, people are worth it. We are all human and desire to be treated fairly. We don’t, however, always have a clear view of how to go about treating everyone fairly.

Thank goodness for a comprehensive list of what love looks like.

Many of us have read or heard of 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, but I want to paraphrase it for the purpose of perspective.

No matter what we do, none of it will matter if we do not have love. Whether it’s speaking up, educating ourselves, practicing our faiths, giving to the poor, or sacrificing ourselves, if love is not our basic motivation, we are wasting our time. We might make someone feel good for a moment, but the gain is woefully temporary. Love is faithfully enduring.

Love is patient: Being silent while someone else is talking, giving people time to think and process information, thinking before you act or speak, not being angry when things don’t happen in the time frame you’d like, letting life be a process, etc.

Love is kind: Holding doors for the people behind you, picking things up that someone dropped, cleaning the table where you eat, complimenting someone on their shoes or achievement, offering an objective ear, being there when you’d rather be elsewhere, etc.

Love does not boast: Keeping your good deeds to yourself unless asked about them, being a good winner and a gracious loser, not filming and posting that time you give a homeless person a sandwich, etc.

Love does not envy: Not being upset when someone has something you don’t have, congratulating others on their accomplishments, being a gracious loser (again), learn about new things you don’t understand, etc.

Love is not arrogant: Being humble in your victories, putting your pride aside even when you’re right, listening to understand, remembering to be grateful, etc.

Love is not rude: Being gracious in your answers to questions that might concern you, not saying anything if you don’t have anything nice to say, controlling your facial expressions and body language, putting a lid on your gut reactions, etc.

Love does not insist on its own way: Not having that fit when you don’t get what you want, adapting to the needs of the situation, being willing to compromise, considering the fact that your way is not the only way, etc.

Love is not irritable: Finding your calm before entering a stressful situation, choosing to walk away rather than argue, actively avoiding personal triggers, considering the fact that life is hard for everyone, etc.

Love is not resentful: Remembering to be grateful (again), learning how to forgive, allowing yourself to be forgiven, letting go of past wrongs, taking every situation on a case-by-case basis, etc.

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth: Acknowledging a truthful thing from someone you don’t like, interrupting bullies, graciously calling out wrongful speech or behavior, standing up for the unpopular, etc.

Love bears all things: Not allowing everything to become a fight, walking away even when offended, understanding that every action has a root reason, etc.

Love believes all things: Accepting the struggles of others as belonging to them, validating the existence of another’s feelings, separating the thoughts of others from your own when in conversation, etc.

Love hopes all things: Desiring good for everyone, looking for the best in everyone, expecting the best when preparing for the worst, actively practicing the change you want to see, etc.

Love endures all things: Working your way through hard encounters, knowing when to leave the past behind, choosing joy over anger or vengeance.

Love never fails: The practice of the above definitions of love creates the atmosphere necessary for healthy relationships to prosper. While it is not necessary to have a ton of close friendships, it is necessary to keep our relations with one another civil and gracious.

Working backward through my Bible, I’d like to point out why God finds it so important for us to love our neighbors. Not everyone has an understanding of the depth of God’s love for us. I believe, however, that his primary motivation for our existence is so that He can love us and be loved by us in return. As the creator, He could very well demand this love, but He would rather it be our choice. Choosing to love Him makes our love authentic and solidifies the relationship between us. And so it should be with our relationships with one another.

For every relationship, there should be ground rules and boundaries. The commandment to love one another stems from the first-ever ‘ground rules’ given which are the 10 Commandments as listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6. These commandments are guidelines by which we can all build enduring relationships and set healthy boundaries within them. To explain:

The first 4 Commandments give us guidelines and boundaries for our relationship with God.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me. (God made us, loves us, cares for us, protects us, and has given us dominion over every other living species on the planet. There is nothing else worthy of being placed above the God of all creation.)

2. You shall not worship any carved images of ANYTHING, not even Me (God’s power cannot be harnessed or controlled through any object, so there is no need to bother with statues of Him.)

3. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain. (Unless we are praying to or speaking about God, we should not use His name loosely, especially as part of a curse or swear. If it isn’t holy, keep Him out of it.)

4. Remember the sabbath and keep it holy. (We all love our mental health days, and we could very well consider this commandment as such. Even God, the creator of the universe, took time to rest and reflect over all He had done. In like fashion, He wants us to take care of ourselves, and a big part of that is taking at least one day per week to rest and reflect on all that God has done for us.)

The remaining 6 Commandments are guidelines and boundaries for our relationships with one another.

1. Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long on the Earth. (While many of our child-to-parent relationships are strained, honor is still required from us as children. This guideline is not easy to follow at times, but knowing its purpose helps.)

2. You shall not murder. (This is all about respect for the value of human life. God knows the difference between self-defense and homicide, and He wants us to understand it as well.)

3. You shall not commit adultery. (This guideline warns us against having physical and/or emotional relations with a person who is…)

a. Not your spouse

b. Someone else’s spouse

4. You shall not steal (If it is not given, purchased, earned or inherited, leave it there.)

5. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (God is not a liar, and bearing His image, we should be delighted in the truth. One of the best ways to avoid lying – speculating, judging, bashing, gossiping, etc. – on your neighbor is to mind your own business. It is way more profitable for everyone to have conversations with one another than to assume we know things that we really don’t.)

6. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house (To covet is to desire and to desire is to be tempted. To be tempted is to consider action. From there, it is a whole train wreck. Sweep around your own front door, and let others sweep around theirs. If you like something that someone else has, go buy your own, but there is no benefit to being jealous or sour over someone having something that you don’t.)

All of this is being shared to say that the position of the Christ-minded individual is not to only pray or to just passively observe with our hands folded in our laps. We are called to act, but our actions have guidelines attached. We see no need to be angry, force agendas, or inspire guilt. They weigh too much and are incredibly exhausting.

What we can do is include ourselves in the efforts being made within our community. It is notable that many non-believing members of our community are attempting to do things that we believers have also been called to do. They are fighting against bullying and racism, advocating for special needs individuals, donating to charities, fighting for equity, and pushing for policy changes to benefit everyone. While we might not like some of the ways these topics are approached, that doesn’t mean we get to dismiss them or avoid taking action ourselves. In fact, we too are asked to:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, please the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17

By this instruction, we should be helping our neighbors in this fight. We have powerful tools on board that can add proper fuel to their efforts and help get things going in the right direction. We were never meant to oppose non-believers, but to instead, attract them to the love of Jesus by our own examples of that love.

There are way too many of us Christians butting heads with non-believers in this land. If we are arguing with one another, we are off course. If, however, we are using what we understand to walk alongside our neighbors without expectation of their seeing everything from our perspective, our relationships will become more solid, more enduring, and more productive.

To my non-believing friends and acquaintances, I am very sorry for the times I have been a bad example of my own beliefs. Please, forgive me and allow me to do my part in helping us all be the change we want to see. I have not always been gracious when you didn’t understand, and I regret that. Instead of pushing my own narrative, I should have been more patient and more kind. You deserve better.

My intent is to do better – to show what loving my neighbor truly looks like in thought, in speech, and in action. I don’t want to do it just because God commands me to do it. I want to do it because He loves me and I know He also loves you, too. Call me an old softy, but that’s good enough for me.

Love: A Wholesome Illustration

Love is work.

Love is hard work.

Love is worth work.

Love is…

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NKJV)

Relationships are hard.

We all know that.

What we aren’t always clear on is why they’re so difficult.

Regardless of how our relationships start out…at birth, at first sight, by chance, a gradual pull, circumstantial, environmental…at some point they just go off the rails in ways that confuse and misdirect us in our efforts to repair them. Sometimes, a relationship can go so far off the rails that the love we profess starts to feel like a huge lie, and suddenly we find ourselves in a season of loss that could have been avoided if we had a deeper insight into how relationships actually work.

First of all, things in a relationship are going to go wrong. In our humanity, there is simply no way to avoid it. In our frustrations, it’s very tempting to start using words like ‘toxic’ and ‘narcissistic’ to make it easier to start building our exit strategies, but what if what we define as toxic has nothing to do with the designation of victim vs. villain? What if our view of love is passing through environmental filters? What if those we regard as enemies are just as lost and bewildered as we are?

Our friends who are brutal in their honesty. Our spouses who trust us so much that they are careless with the worst parts of themselves in our presence. Our co-workers who have very different definitions of healthy competition. Our children who are at their absolute worst at home but just ‘the sweetest things’ to the old lady down the street. The stranger who has no sense of personal space or the manners required to say, “Excuse me”. These people are not our enemies, and neither are we theirs. We are all simply human, each one of us different according to the lenses through which we view this world.

The only lens, however, that can ever show us the truth about ourselves and one another is that of love.

In all transparency, when I started this business, I only had one motivation in mind: to love people. Period. No conditions, qualifying standards, or filters. I simply want to meet people right where they are, regardless of how high or low of a point they may be on their journeys. With love as my weapon, going up against fear, division, and hatred has always seemed a worthy task to me. John Lennon says it this way: “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.” In an ideal nutshell, if we all understand and apply the basic attributes of love, we will stop being so afraid to love one another rightly. I realize, though, that loving people, while hard on the surface, is even harder the more you dig, and that is only because the definition of love itself is no longer clear in the national society we live in.

When I speak of love, I am only referring to romance when working with couples. Every other time, I am referring to the actual characteristics of love which are all necessary to every interaction we make in our lives amongst other people. Love isn’t fluffy, pink, or made of chocolate. It is the hard work of internal battles that must be fought every time our thoughts and feelings get knocked out of alignment. Consider the passage below:

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)

I have no problem outing myself about the fact that I often get an ‘F’ on my life report card for patience, and that’s just the first one! Looking further into this passage, it’s no wonder we struggle so much with love. It is chock full of the things that are the hardest to hold ourselves accountable for. We, as human beings, want to have pride in ourselves, don’t we? It’s not easy letting go of those receipts when we know we’re probably going to have that same stupid argument all over again. We most certainly don’t want the pain and pressure of enduring through every hard circumstance. I mean, who does?

That’s just it, though. No matter what Alannah Myles told us, what love IS and what we want it to be are two different things.

Months ago, I’d asked Trinity, my daughter, if she would consider helping me with some things for Root To Branches. Since I do all of it alone and she works such short hours, it seemed reasonable to utilize her downtime and social media savvy to lighten my load. After a couple of days, she agreed, and I thought it was all fine. However, after the agreement, any mentioning of content, pictures, or schedules sent my poor child into some kind of weird attitude episode that I just did not understand. Eventually, I just stopped mentioning it and left her alone because I didn’t want to argue about it.

Yeah, right. Not arguing with my teenage daughter? How did I think I would get away with that one?

I don’t know what got into me, but just today, I asked if she would like to go over some content, and within 5 minutes, both of us were heated and distraught. She explained that the only reason she agreed to help me was because I’m her mother and she felt backed into a corner. She felt that saying ‘no’ would have made her a bad daughter. Even though I explained that I wouldn’t want her to help under duress, she was still angry and we had to part ways for a while.

10 minutes later, I receive a text from her that included the following:

“Love is…Putting aside your pride to help someone when you know they need it.”

Apparently, she had taken the issue to a friend who told her that she was being selfish, and that her helping me was a reasonable thing to do, all things considered. She gave it some thought, calmed down, and picked our media content up right where she had left it. She did it with her heart, and it blessed me so much! After crying and hugging it out, she explained to me that she is very selfish and anxious about her own time, and that she was very sorry for including me in that. I apologized for being unkind when it seemed as if I wouldn’t get the help I desired from her. I truly needed help, and she is truly comfortable in her own space. Neither of us was wrong in our needs or desires, but we were both wrong in our handling of one another.

I had wanted her to help me blindly with no consideration for her own feelings in the matter. She wanted her time all to herself. What we needed, however, was patience, kindness and circumstantial endurance. In this, we have several things to be grateful for, including friends who don’t co-sign our BS, but are bold in telling us the truth and holding us accountable for it.

While this seems so small and wholesome, the truth is that loving my child is hard work sometimes because it is by choice, not nature. She is, after all, a totally separate being from myself and is in possession of her own mind and feelings. I choose to listen, guide and comfort even when I’m feeling selfish with my own time. More importantly, though, I choose to give her and myself a break when those things don’t come easy. My choice is a healthy relationship with my daughter in spite of my feelings. This basic illustration of love is what it’s all about.

Healthy relationships are more honest than our feelings will ever be.

With whom do you need to be more patient? What do you not need to be so prideful about? What is wearing you down in the areas of hope and faith?

I encourage you to remember that we are all fighting against the same tides in our pursuits of happiness. If you are hurting and confused, I am very sorry that this is your ‘right now’. Think. Pray. Phone a friend, coach, or mentor who will be honest with you, and let them help you dig deep to find the root of your position. Give yourself and your opposition a break in your shared humanity for the sake of the relationships we all work so hard to build and hold on to. If they must go, let them. But hold your ground in loving well and loving rightly.

Love is work. Love is hard work. Love is worth work. Love is…

What is your definition of love?

Beauty for COVID-19

Rising From COVID Ashes Blog

•Out of The Ashes•

Not everything that burns is destroyed, and not all unfortunate circumstances end in tragedy. It is hard to remember this, however, in the face of so much frightening information coming at us from various media sources. We want to stay informed and make intelligent decisions for our own health and that of our families and communities, but even that is difficult to achieve when there is so much fear and panic going on around us. In fact, it’s hard to have peace of mind at all when it feels like our world is burning down around our ears. That’s the curious thing about fire, though. It’s not all bad.

Depending on who we are, the word ‘fire’ is usually a bad one because it’s usually associated with destruction. We must remember, however, that fire also purifies. With pressure and time, fire helps to produce precious jewels. From the fire of a refinery, the strongest steel and precious metals emerge for work, battle, and even decoration. From the purified ground, covered in the ashes of destruction, life struggles forth…fresh, green and beautiful. It rises up in spite of the ugliness and desolation. With fresh roots, it reaches for the sky on a brand new journey with the hope that one day, it will be exactly what it was made to be…whole and fruitful…from its roots to its branches.

The deepest lessons come out of the deepest waters and the hottest fires.

Elisabeth Elliot

We are so much like the trees that force themselves through insurmountable obstacles. We are also designed to grow right where we are planted and thrive against the odds. No matter what it looks like, I want to encourage us all to remember that, even when it all burns down, We, the People, are meant to rise.

As we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty due to the threat of illness, economic downturn, loss of livelihood, or other negative repercussions of COVID-19, let us not be afraid of the fire. For all we know, it is divinely appointed to burn away fear, stress, and anxiety so we can refocus our priorities. We get to spend more time with our families and realign our minds and hearts with one another. Even better, we have been given a new opportunity to reconnect with God, to learn to trust Him more in our day-to-day operations and get to know ourselves through His eyes. This time has turned us back to the basics of living and loving, something so many of us have been in need of.

Now that we have set new rhythms to our lives, gained mega empathy for our children’s teachers, taken on new hobbies, started writing those books, baked all the goodies and fallen in love with our spouses again, what do we do when the social ban is lifted and our lives return to ‘normal’?

When we return to our regularly scheduled programs, let us not forget these blessings in the blur of the 9 to 5, but instead, use them to make more intentional decisions in our homes and fuel better relationships in our jobs and communities. Let’s not forget the basics…breathe, pray, listen, talk, write that book, play that game, read, and crack those jokes. Hold on to that new, healthy habit and leave the old, bad one behind. Keep living, loving and laughing for real!. Let this fire destroy what poisons us while it purifies what makes us truly beautiful as priceless human beings with invaluable purpose.

All About The Trees

real relationship goals

Better Together

| Learning Real Relationship Goals Through the Beauty of Trees |

When something in our lives breaks, we feel the need to try to fix it right away, paying very little mind to the fact that the rest of the world is, indeed, still turning. We are trying to survive, trying to be happy, and trying to win our race in this life. If the break is bad enough, we are often forced to pause in our efforts, and somewhere in that stillness, we begin to notice things we had been too busy to notice before…like people, nature, or the many precious little things that are often overlooked in our search for greatness. It was in such a pause that I began to pay attention to the beauty of trees.

Trees are not only beautiful and essential to our lives, but they also have such an interesting rhythm of life. Starting from single seeds, they form roots and grow according to how well they are nourished and provided for. As they grow, they ebb and flow with the changing of the seasons, shedding leaves or growing new ones depending on their environments. In fact, their environments teach them how and when to adapt to changes. These amazing organisms even depend on one another for survival.

Does that not sound so much like our lives as human beings? We definitely thrive when we communicate and work together toward a common goal. When we understand our individual needs and desires, we can truly see one another. We can embrace the collective value of differences in strengths, weaknesses and perspectives. To have such a clear view of others, we have to work on clearly seeing our own worth.

Our worth is not based on our occupations or the way others view us. It is based on the things that make us who we are, and by the virtue of being so thoughtfully designed, we are PRICELESS! There isn’t a number in existence that can be put on a tag to show the sum of your experiences, your skills, your talents, your gifts, your memories, or even the many tones of your voice. All of these things come together in the tool kit that you need to prepare for and fight the battles of your life.

Just like the tree that sheds its leaves for the coming of winter, you get to shed the things that will have no place in the adventures ahead. You get to throw away the baggage of shame, regret, and fear so that you can step into your brand new season, ready to bloom again! Sometimes, when things are broken, the breaks create room for more beautiful things…or people…to fill the gap. Just like the trees, we are beautiful. We are alive. We are essential…and better together!