{I think I have to credit the movie The Family Stone with this phrase.  Sorry if that makes you cringe.}

I will always love you, Coach Fox.

I will always love you, Coach Fox.

{I wrote the post below on Monday night. It’s been on my heart for a while, this idea. I’ve had multiple conversations about it with multiple friends and my husband. I’ve found it commanded in scripture and necessary in real life scenarios. I’ve thought about possible ways to integrate this phrase and philosophy into our home in such a way that it becomes a focal point in our parenting strategy. And so I was finally convinced that it was time to dust off the ol’ bloglet and just write about it for goodness’ sake.

So, on Monday night, while my son was eating dinner, I jotted it down at near stream-of-consciousness speed (because doing anything slowly and deliberately during toddler wake-time hours is not a thing that happens. Which explains why I am writing this on my Notes app, in my grandparents’ guest bedroom, with my screen brightness turned all the way down while my son is asleep next to me in his pack n play). I finished the post, but it still felt like some key component was missing. Like I still wasn’t getting across exactly what I wanted to. So I saved the draft and promptly forgot about it.

The next day, my son and I traveled to visit my grandparents. I checked my email one last time before bed, and lazily opened a new message. I was halfway through the third sentence when I realized that I was reading an email from Jen Hatmaker telling me that I had been chosen to participate in the launch team for her new book, For The Love that releases in August.

Um, what?

A few days prior I had filled out an application for said team. The application form was short and simple, so I filled it out quickly (see above info re: toddler time-frames) and with exactly no nervousness since I was 100% sure I would never be selected.

Long story even longer, it’s now Wednesday night; I just finished the introduction to For The Love, and I now see why my original post was not translating like I wanted it to:

It’s because I forgot to say that it’s all because of love.

What I’m calling generosity of spirit is not a masochistic ritual to be endured. It is a joy. It is a privilege. It is a gift given to us from Jesus himself. It is a Biblical denial of self For The Love of God and his people.
So, there will be other posts about Jen’s book in the near future (I’m still beside myself that this is happening), but for now, here is my original post…with a bit more emphasis on the love.}

Recently a good friend of mine had her third child.  Her kids’ ages are now 4, 2, and newborn.  So, about 10 days after his birthday (I make it a point not to visit a mom of a newborn in the first week of the baby’s life unless I am explicitly invited, but that’s another story for another day), I had an opportunity to visit my friend sans my toddler (I also make it a point not to bring my rambunctious child when I visit a mom of a newborn).  I made a pit stop at Target on the way and got various healthy/tasty/filling snacks and some nursing pads for my friend as well as some goodies for her two older kiddos.  All in all, it cost me a few bucks and half in hour in the store.

As I drove away from her house after our visit, I felt full to the brim.  Technically, the gesture did cost me something.  If we’re going to look at the ledger, I should be partially depleted. But what I have learned, and what I want my son to learn, and what the Bible teaches, is that giving generously does not deplete, it fills up.  Where physical, temporal resources decrease, eternal joy and glory increase.  I did not feel poorer.  I did not feel tired from the shopping trip.  I did not feel anxious about the monetary expense.  I felt appreciation for the resources God has given me.  I felt thankful for friendships with sweet women.  I felt love for my dear friend and her babies.

And here’s the real kicker: this also applies to the immaterial.

Generosity of spirit.

Giving generously when it comes to your time, your emotions, or your words can be costly.  It can cost you your pride, your comfort, your entitlement, your self-indulgence.  But, when given from a true sense of generosity flowing from appreciation and understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will always give more than it takes.  It will give life to dying relationships.  It will give joy of an eternal nature to ceaseless striving.  It will fill your heart with love for God’s children as it eradicates annoyance, anger, and indifference.

You may be thinking, “That sounds great, but how am I supposed to live this way?  That sounds difficult.”  It is.  But there’s a helpful secret.  This secret is the key to finding joy, happiness, freedom, love, you name it.  It’s four words.  Get ready.  It will change your life.

It’s not about you.

“What isn’t?” you say.

Everything.  Nothing.

Everything is not about you.  Nothing is about you.

Marriage.  Parenting.  Relationships.  Church.  Life.

It’s not about you.

It’s about Christ.

“But wait,” you may say, “I have to take care of myself in order to be the best [wife] [parent] [friend] [church member] [person] I can be.”  You’re right.  What I’m saying, though, is that you “take care of yourself” so that you can be the best [all of the above].  And the point of you being the best [all of the above] is so that you can love and serve the other people in each of those equations for the glory of God alone.

“This is why we live and breathe: for the love of Jesus, for the love of our own souls, for the love of our families and people, for the love of our neighbors and this world. This is all that will last.”

Jen Hatmaker, For The Love

I know that’s the point because that’s what the Bible says.  Because the Bible says that loving and serving others means we love and serve God.  And that’s the point.  That’s what “it” is about.  This life is not our own.  This life is not my own.  I have been bought for a price by the blood of Jesus.  I am a child of God.  Called to a higher purpose.

And for me, a selfish, self-absorbed, ego-centric, anxiety-ridden, approval-seeking, sinner, that fact is my freedom.

The gospel of Jesus is ripe with gorgeous paradox:  giving up your life for Jesus’ sake will bring eternal life (Matthew 16:25); the Lord will exalt the humble and will humble those who exalt themselves (Matthew 23:12); the last will be first and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16).

Give of yourself–give generously–pour yourself out, for heaven’s sake love on each other.  Seek Christ and his Kingdom.  Seek the Lord and his glory.  And as you are emptied you be filled with a joy eternal.  Amen and amen.

I hope he will remember playing with them: eyes wide, body still as he runs his finger over them. They clink as they move. They don’t quite fit together because they aren’t technically a set–the engagement ring Coleman picked out and purchased on his own, the wedding band we bought together a few months later.  Both white gold.  Both simple:  the solitaire diamond the only adornment.

They tell stories.

They speak of an evolution.  Two teenagers in love and unable, perhaps, to fully grasp the weight of it all.  A relationship that (as most do) ebbed and flowed, and dipped and peaked, culminating in a beautiful marriage that, though young, has already begun to be forged in the fires.

They shine in a wedding day memory darkened by tragic loss.IMG_2989

They whisper, if you listen closely, of a ceremony spent in a box while a stranger’s ring was exchanged on the altar.  Lost and found in time to go on the honeymoon.

He’ll hear those stories some day.  We’ll tell them to him with teary eyes and an appropriate amount of wistfulness.  Today, I just watch him as he watches them.

May he always remember me with those rings on my finger. May he see them as a reflection of his dad and me: imperfect, the diamond slightly flawed, the gold different hues.  Together, though, a pair–symbolic of the eternal covenant forged between us the day his dad slipped that band onto my finger, our marriage itself a physical reflection of the church and her Bridegroom.

May he always feel the security of the love and commitment that those rings represent.

May he always know the security of the love of the Father in Jesus Christ.

Yeah, the Russian male figure skater.

He’s a 31 year old European Champion, World Champion, and four-time Olympic medalist–which means he’s been the Olympic favorite for almost half of my life.  I’ve been watching him skate on Olympic ice in my TV since I was sixteen years old.  And I couldn’t stand him.  Something about his *ahem* interesting haircut, or his smug smile, or his confident air, something just never sat right with me.

This year in particular he seemed to really get under my skin.  The golden boy has come home to Sochi to win it for Mother Russia!  They might as well have just saved everyone the trouble and given him the medal without making anyone skate.  After all, he clinched the gold for Russia in the team competition, earning a hug from Putin himself.

So, in my annoyance, I said some ugly things about him.  Things that, I’m ashamed to say, I can’t bring myself to repeat here.  Sarcastic texts to friends, snarky comments in casual conversations.  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t even care that much about skating.  It’s not like I’m a superfan.  I couldn’t even have told you the names of the men skating for Team USA before last week.  And I didn’t tweet, or otherwise publicly share, my mean thoughts and comments with the public.  I wasn’t out for blood or defamation or anything.  It was just your everyday, “I don’t like him” ugliness.

Then I settled into my couch a week ago to watch the men’s figure skating competition.  They were showing the warm-ups, Yevgeny’s familiar blonde bangs flying in the breeze as he skated around the rink and…almost fell?  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I watched in disbelief as he skated over to the judges’ table to inform them that he would not be competing.  He had hurt his back and could not execute his jumps.

This will be his final Olympic appearance (he announced his official retirement shortly thereafter).  And it’s on his home turf, no less.  But for the first time in the twelve years that he’s been skating on my TV screen, he walked off the Olympic ice with no chance of a medal.  Instead of ending a long and dominant career with a final solo performance in front of a loving home crowd, he exits the arena having withdrawn from competition, head down, face wincing in pain of both body and heart.

Even as he angrily jerked away from the consoling touch of his coach and rudely ignored the word and gaze of the reporters desperate for a comment, my heart hurt a little for him.

A few minutes later, they showed the interview that he did finally grant that reporter.

He was calm and gracious and as eloquent as he could be speaking in a non-native language.  He talked about the physical pain he was in and how it was not possible for him to compete.  He seemed heartbroken, of course, saying that he almost cried while walking off the ice.  He said he felt sad for his fans.  He said over and over that “he tried…to the end.”  Then, in broken English he said, “I am not robot.  I am person.  Like you.”

And I burst into tears.

Suddenly I was so ashamed of the ugly things I had said about him, about this person.  This person I don’t even know.

I read a few articles that blasted him for not withdrawing sooner so that a fellow countryman could take his place.  Maybe they’re right.  I’ve also heard that he’s not “ruling out” the 2018 Olympics–perhaps another hint at arrogance.  The thing is, maybe in all reality Mr. Plushenko is not a very nice guy.  Maybe he actually is as rude and conceited as I once so boldly asserted.  I’ll never know, I suppose.  But it doesn’t matter.

After watching more than a decade of award-winning performances and remaining unaffected, the performance that finally got to me was the one that never was.  After years of watching him receive his medals, triumphant, I only ever admired him when gracious in heartache.

So, much to my surprise, Yevgeny made me cry.  And he reminded me of a few valuable life lessons:

Humility in defeat and graciousness in disappointment are much more powerful than pride in triumph.

Sometimes our judgments of people are wrong.  Sometimes they’re right.  But they always say more about ourselves than about the judged.

And, finally, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

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