Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dare Twenty: Learning to Love Love

I have already placed my faith in Jesus as the Lord of my life and trust in Him for my salvation, but I also realize that in accepting Him daily I must learn to love love.  I John 4:16 says, “God is love,” and if I resist God at all I am resisting unconditional love.  The dare asked me to commit my life to God, “Dare to take God at His word.  Dare to trust Jesus Christ for salvation.  Dare to pray, ‘Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner.  But you have shown your love for me by dying to forgive my sins, and you have proven your power to save me from death by your resurrection.  Lord change my heart, and save me by your grace.’”  While I do trust Jesus for my salvation, I have been sincerely asking God to change my heart.  Instead of keeping God locked up in a room of my heart, I want to make sure that He has free reign in me.

God has been calling me to radically change my life.  I keep feeling his draw to give up certain things for his glory and to live my life in a special way devoted to Him.  One of the things that helped me see that I wasn’t fully abandoned to God’s will was the fact that I was stumbling so regularly in loving James in this dare.  This past week was a rough week for me.  I was selfish, rude, and I was not succeeding in love.  What I realized through the last dare and this one is that I cannot love with unconditional love if Christ does not have my whole heart in which to pour his unconditional love. 

The last two lines of the song I wrote yesterday were “I’ve let go of all I’m grasping for, I’m grasping for you.”  The life that God has called me to live is a life devoted to grasping after Him.  I am learning to hunger and thirst for God like I have never known before.  How does this have to do with the love dare?  I can only love my husband fully if I know the love of God in a real way.  If I tip my hat to God, then go on living my life, I am not receiving God’s unconditional love that I can pour out to my husband.  God loves me unconditionally and in response to that kind of love, I can love unconditionally.  I don’t deserve that kind of love, and sometimes my wonderful yet flawed husband doesn’t deserve that kind of love, but that doesn’t stop God from loving me, and that shouldn’t stop me from loving my husband.

How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
- Charles Wesley

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dare Nineteen: Reaching the end of me

The dare: “Look back over the dares from previous days.  Were there some that seemed impossible to you?  Have you realized your need for God to change your heart and to give you the ability to love?  Ask Him to show you where you stand with Him, and ask for the strength and grace to settle your eternal destination.”

All I can say about the effect of this dare on my heart is expressed in this song that I wrote as God called me to accept his love into every part of my heart and life.

Grasping for You

I’m down on my knees
I’ve reached the end of me
I’ve done all I can do
I’m nothing without you

Take me to the cross
It’s the starting place
At the foot of the cross
I surrender me to you

I’ve been blinded by my labors
Pressing forward on my own
After all this time of doing
I found myself alone

Take me to the cross
It’s the starting place
At the foot of the cross
I surrender me to you

Abase me for your name
Pour me out for your glory
Empty out my life
Dwell in me today

Take me to the cross
I abandon all I am
I’ve let go of all I’m grasping for
I’m grasping for you

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dare Eighteen: Dinner for Two . . . or Three

Last night, I cleared off the table, set the table with plates, napkins, and silverware, and lit a candle.  While the dare for yesterday was to “prepare a special dinner at home, just for the two of you," we also included our little guy in our meal, because it would be a little hard to leave the little guy out.  He hardly noticed that we were having a special dinner for two while he ate in his high chair.  The dare went on to say that "the dinner can be as nice as you prefer.  Focus this time on getting to know your spouse better, perhaps in areas you’ve rarely talked about.  Determine to make it an enjoyable evening for you and your mate.”

James did not know what the dare for the day was.  So when I made the table look all spiffy, he was left scratching his head.  The candle tipped him off to the dinner being a special effort, even though the meal itself was not all that special.  I made the Chicken Bog all by myself, but I made it two nights before.  However, this was the first time we got to sit down for a meal together to eat the dish.

Having put a little extra effort into preparing a special dinner, I realize that sometimes doing something special should be a part of my routine.  Why shouldn’t I set the table before dinner and clear the mail and extra items off of the table?  Why shouldn’t I make sure I know what I’m fixing more than 30 minutes before dinner?  I could probably spend a lot more time talking with James if I planned our meals in advance, even if he’s cooking for the day.  Maybe I’ll spend a little time making dinner special and have enjoyable nights like this more often!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dare Seventeen: It’s a Secret

I am a pretty good secret keeper.  If someone tells me something, I never go to another person and blab, “So, do you know what ____ told me?”  However, I have at times told a “secret” that should have been kept between me and my husband.  Maybe I was talking with the girls and wanted to share my husband’s worst problem or maybe I was mad at him for the day and let the “secret” slip.  The secret doesn’t even have to be really bad things.  Maybe he didn’t take out the trash, or he promised to set the alarm and didn’t.  The reason for it to be a secret is because I do not have to broadcast to the world my husband’s personal struggles or failures.

Yesterday’s dare was in regards to secret keeping.  “Determine to guard your mate's secrets (unless they are dangerous to them or to you) and to pray for them.  Talk with your spouse, and resolve to demonstrate love in spite of these issues.  Really listen to them when they share personal thoughts and struggles with you.  Make them feel safe.”  While the book did not go into detail what the secrets may be, I realize that because of a husband and wife’s intimate relationship (intimate meaning super close and knowing every detail about each other) we will ultimately know things about each other that no one else knows.  In order to make my husband feel safe, he has to have faith that I will be his protector and guard his secrets how silly they may be.

When we first married, I was more than willing to let any ear hear about our fights and his shortcomings.  Why shouldn’t everyone know that James had failures too?  I quickly realized that sharing these “secrets” made me feel better at his expense.  Sure, I was elevated for the moment as seeming better than him, but I brought him down in other’s eyes.  I did not like lowering him in other’s eyes.  In fact, I began to realize that I wanted others to see what a fantastic guy I married and to bring him up.

That change was dramatic.  Instead of broadcasting his failures, I always make sure to tell others about how wonderful he is.  And he is wonderful.  Not because he never messes up, but because he is my husband and I am his support.  God has given me the amazing job of building him up, and I am not doing that job if I am tearing him down.  I choose to make him feel safe in our relationship.  When he shares his struggles, he trusts that the conversation is between only him and me and that he won’t be seeing his struggles being posted on Facebook or hearing about them from my friend’s spouses.  The “secrets” are for me to build him up in prayer and to show him that I am there for him, and not for me to tear him down.

While I am not perfect in regards to keeping James’s every shortcoming a secret, I think I make sure everyone knows that James is the most wonderful man that I know.  He is a great father and someone that I learn so much from day to day.  I have faith in his leadership, and I trust his judgment.  Instead of bringing him down, I choose to build him up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dare Sixteen: Dare to Pray

About a year ago, I began reading the book Power of a Praying Wife, and I never finished it.  Yesterday's dare reminds me about that book because the dare challenged me to “begin praying today for your spouse’s heart.  Pray for three specific areas where you desire for God to work in your spouse’s life and in your marriage.”  Both Power of a Praying Wife and The Love Dare make me think there must be something to praying for my spouse.  As if as a wife, I am made to lift him up in prayer.

The chapter mentions that we as spouses recognize all of the negative traits and habits of our spouses.  The reason the book gives for this insight and awareness is that I am supposed to be the best possible person to lift up my husband in prayer.  Since I know him more intimately than any other person, I can pray for him better than any other person.

Let me tell you, when I notice one of James’s negative traits, my first thought is not to drop to my knees in prayer.  Even if I did pray, my first tendency would be to ask God why and to pray that God fixes him.  However, that is not what the love dare is suggesting.  As his teammate, I should recognize his faults and lift them up to God for his power.  Sometimes in lifting them up to God, God might show me that I am the one who has the faulty thinking and not James.  In addition, God can work in James’s heart where I cannot, and He can work in my heart when I cannot.  Prayer invites God into the situation.  Prayer invites God into the marriage.

I feel challenged to step up my praying in regards to James.  While I have a whole section of my prayer journal dedicated to James, sometimes I skip over it in order to pray for "more pressing matters".  What is more pressing than my husband and my marriage?  Sometimes I think I have more important things going on in the day than to stop to pray at all.  I love a quote that I found from Martin Luther, it reads, “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”  I want to have this attitude about prayer!  In John 15:5, Jesus says that we can do nothing apart from him, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  I want a fruitful life and a fruitful marriage.  Prayer is essential, just as vital as bread and water.  As a wife, I must pray for my husband and my marriage.  As a human, I must pray for those around me and the world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dare Fifteen: Interested?

Listening has never been one of my strong points.  Maybe it is because I am highly distractible or maybe because I choose not to be interested, but listening does not seem to be second nature for me.  When the dare told me to: “choose a way to show honor and respect to your spouse that is above your normal routine.  It may be holding the door for her.  It might be putting his clothes away for him.  It may be the way you listen and speak in your communication.  Show your mate that he or she is highly esteemed in your eyes.”  I immediately knew that listening would be a good way to honor James and to show him that he is esteemed by me, especially since I normally take the “I’m too distracted to listen” approach.

Concentration and interest are pivotal for listening.  Sometimes when James wants to talk about something (whether the topic is banjos, cooking, or an article he has read), I am normally not interested and not even trying to concentrate.  Why should I concentrate when the topic has no importance to me?  Yes, I really am that awful.  So yesterday, whenever he began to talk with me about a topic, I stopped everything, made eye contact, and feigned an interest.  Whoops!  Did I write that last part?  I guess the truth is I have trained myself so much to show no interest to things James is interested in that I actually had to fake an interest to show him love.  While this may seem insincere, the truth is, sometimes we have to force ourselves to do things until we do them naturally.

I may not have an express interest in woodworking a banjo or baking bread, but the more I pay attention to James and his interests, the more my interest will build.  Just like someone can tell themselves a lie that they begin to believe, I can tell myself the truth and I will begin to believe it.  Right now, I realize that I need to keep telling myself that I am interested in my husband and his interests.  Of course, I love James, but I have pushed away a lot of the things that makes James who he is.  I have to embrace him and who he is, which includes a world of trumpets, historical landmark visiting, woodworking, cooking and baking, photography, and any new hobby that he takes on.  By rejecting his interests, I have been telling him that I do not esteem him enough to be interested in him, in who he is as a person.  That has to change.

Through the dare’s challenge to honor James, I have realized that I have to honor him exactly the way that he is.  In order to honor him, I have to honor everything that makes him who he is a person.  I cannot show distain on his interests, but then tell him that I honor him.  I esteem him for the fact that he is the man that I married five years ago.  He is a man of many talents.  He shows his positive attitude by showing interest in anything and everything around him.  I could take a few tips from him.  Disinterest is dishonoring, and just as I want to honor James, I need to honor God by showing interest in all that He has created.  By honoring James, I also honor my Jesus.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dare Fourteen: Yes (Wo)Man!

I came close to failing this dare.  The dare asked me to “purposefully neglect an activity you would normally do so you can spend quality time with your spouse.  Do something he or she would love to do or a project they’d really like to work on.  Just be together.”  Sometimes life has responsibilities that cannot be ignored like children and schoolwork.  I couldn’t exactly drop my schoolwork, nor could I just stop taking care of Josiah, so I didn’t complete the dare yesterday . . . but I did complete the dare today.

Monday’s end up being my rest up day from the weekend or my day for getting everything done for the rest of the week.  However, in honor of the dare, I did not rest up and just relax all day, and I did not dive in on my schoolwork.  Instead, I got ready for the day . . . and joined James in cleaning the house.  Why did he want to go and clean the house on my Monday?  I really did not want to clean the house today, but together we picked up our room, together we picked up the living room, and together we went through our messy cabinet in the kitchen.

The idea of the dare was taking delight in my spouse and to do something he wanted to do appreciating him while I did it.  Whew!  That was hard, when what he wanted to do was clean the house.  I had to appreciate his determination, I had to appreciate his resolve, but I really did not want to appreciate his decision to clean.  I did not delight in cleaning, but I delight in him.  Where is the balance in delighting in a spouse and delighting in the things that they want to do? 

When we dated, I chose to be interested in things he was interested in, but in marriage, I have begun to make a clear distinction between “Brooke likes” and “James likes”.  Only, I think that the distinctions were made because I decided that I was happy just thinking about myself and what I want to do, not thinking about James and what his interests are.  While I won’t be interested in everything he likes to do, I should care enough to participate and be excited about his interests.  Sometimes, my lack of quality time with James is a result of me being self-centered.

I need to recognize when I am being reasonable or just being plain selfish when I am considering joining James in an activity.  Honestly, I think that most times I’m just being selfish!  When I am not busy with other legit tasks, I need to just ask myself, “Why not?”  I’ll be an honorary “Yes (wo)man”.  Maybe I’ll learn to like all the interesting yet weird hobbies that James has, if I learn to ask myself “why not” and jump at chances to spend time with him.

Dare Thirteen: Don't throw dirt!

Sure, when it comes to children we are quick to tell them, “Don’t throw dirt!” but as adults we toss around more dirt at our spouses than children ever toss at the playground.  While I am sure everyone intends to be fair in all things, few people succeed at being fair when it comes to having a fight.  Whether by throwing punches under the belt or hitting a spouse while he's down, every couple tends to think that fighting fairly is a "fair"y tale (excuse the pun).  So throwing dirt becomes a normal part of arguments, after all, “he did it first!”

Saturdays’ dare lays down the line about throwing dirt.  What stops a child from throwing dirt?  Previously established rules.  The dare challenged me to “talk with your spouse about establishing healthy rules of engagement.  If your mate is not ready for this, then write out your own personal rules to “fight” by.  Resolve to abide by them when the next disagreement occurs.”

James was more than happy to talk about rules of engagement; after all he is in the Navy.  The Navy cannot operate without rules of engagement.  In order to keep peace with other nations, the U.S. has rules of engagement to help everyone “play” fairly.  In the same way, James and my marriage can have rules of engagement to help us keep the peace.

The Love Dare gave suggestions for rules for couples and for each spouse to consider.  Some of them we already live by, such as never mentioning the “D” word.  However, others we decided could really help us keep our fights or arguments at a calmer level.  One suggestion was about calling a “time out” when one of us needs to cool down.  With that we had to discuss honoring the call for time out because sometimes one of us wants to work it out right away rather than taking a little extra time to let things calm down first.  We decided to honor “time out” and make that a new rule for engagement.

I have been working on my own new rules for engagement, but I had not written them down.  I tend to yell about things that just do not matter, so when The Love Dare mentioned establishing the rule “I will speak gently and keep my voice down,” I really felt that I should accept this rule as my own.  Even today I caught myself raising my voice about something getting moved in the house, and then I realized it was not worth yelling about.

Through this dare, we both realized that we are both responsible for how our arguments play out.  Setting boundaries on our fusses lets us actually work through things rather than to get lost in the fight.  Too often one of us gets hurt then the argument becomes about that hurt instead of the original problem.  The original problem may have been almost insignificant but when feelings get hurt in an argument everything can get out of hand.  Instead of continuing the cycle, I will begin to practice the rules of engagement to help the cycle stop with me*.

*Check out the book Love & Respect to read more about the cycle of hurt within arguments

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dare Twelve: Putting up the white flag

While I had planed to wait until day twenty to reveal my secret life of dares to James, I decided yesterday that telling him sooner was the right thing to do.  He felt like I was hiding something from him, and even though I was only hiding something good, I did not want him to mistake my stealthness for distance.  Instead of pushing him away by continuing secretly, I decided to pull him towards me by letting him in on the blog and the dares.  His entire attitude changed for the better as he took in all the things that I had been doing for him because I loved him.  Now instead of an unknowing participant, he is now my support and partner on the dare.

Interestingly, I never thought about the fact that telling him could have been a completion of yesterday's dare.  Yesterday's dare was to "demonstrate love by willingly choosing to give in to an area of disagreement between you and your spouse.  Tell them you are putting their preference first."  James and I were slightly disagreeing over things because of him not knowing what was going on, and I chose to give in.  Though letting him in on the secret was sort of a fulfillment of the dare, I still made an intentional effort to complete the dare later that day.

This Friday was date night for James and me.  We sometimes go out to eat or maybe catch a movie, but this Friday we were able to see a friend of ours perform in his band Back 2 Soul.  Then came the argument, I mean, the "unresolved discussion".  James and I could not agree on whether I would take Josiah with me to pick up the babysitter or if Josiah would stay with James at home while I went.  While neither one of us was greatly upset about the matter, we just could not resolve the issue.  I was ready to just take Josiah to make the issue disappear when James told me that I did not have to let him walk all over me just because of the dare.  He actually reminded me that I did still need to "give in" on an argument for the dare.  I told James that I would take Josiah and thanked him for reminding me about the dare.  With James knowing about the dare, I may have a few more challenges, but yesterday, James ended up reminding me about completing my dare without even knowing it.

The nature of love looks for ways to help the person I love rather than insisting upon winning every fight.  James did that by telling me that I did not have to let him walk all over me.  He was looking out for me and was less interested in having his way.  Then I was able to look out for him by taking Josiah with me and letting him get some things done without any interruptions.  Instead of looking at each issue as a competition, when we look out for each other and put up the white flag we end up both winning.  I am going to lift high my white flag as I begin to learn that taking care of James is taking care of us both.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dare Eleven: I Cherish You

My husband’s mother had surgery for cancer yesterday.  While most of my day went by as normal, in the back of my mind I realized that my husband must really be upset today even if he isn’t showing it.  The dare yesterday was about cherishing my spouse.  “What need does your spouse have that you could meet today? Can you run an errand?  Give a back grub or foot massage?  Is there housework you could help with?  Choose a gesture that says, “I cherish you” and do it with a smile.”  Cherishing James on that day meant supporting him when part of his world was a little shaky.

My husband loves his mother a ton.  She put her entire life into raising him into an outstanding person.  While James doesn’t always wear his feeling on his sleeve, as his wife, I knew he was upset about her surgery.  I can’t read him like a book, but I know his book by heart.

The need that James had was in regards to encouragement.  He needed support.  While it was simple and took little time, I wrote him a special note that let him know that I was on his side.  I would be there for him.

His mom’s surgery went well.  God has her in his hands.  While cancer is a scary thing, so is life.  We never know what tomorrow may hold, but we can trust God no matter the outcome.  James is doing well too.  He is encouraged by the good report from his mother, and I think he was encouraged to know he has his family behind him too.  Saying “I cherish you” can be as simple as letting my spouse know that no matter where he is in life, I am right there beside him.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dare Ten: Love is a choice

Sometimes showing love to your spouse does not look very romantic to the rest of the world.  In fact, the one intentional thing that I did to fulfill yesterday's dare would be absolutely dumb to anyone else.  The dare said to "do something out of the ordinary today for your spouse - something that proves (to you and to them) that your love is based on your choice and nothing else."  Well, yesterday, I bought James Organic Chicken Better Than Bouillon!

I knew that James had wanted some more Chicken Better Than Bouillon, and I also knew that he would love that I found it in organic.  Fulfilling the dare meant going out of my way, putting off a few other things that I needed to be doing, and visiting the Coast Health & Nutrition off of 49.  I had to choose to show my love in that way.

James loved it.  He found it in the bag on the sofa before I got home from Growth Group last night.  I pulled it out of the bag to show him later on, and he said that he had seen it.  Not only did I get a smile out of the deal, but I could see that he knew that I had done something special for him.  While I thought this was the completion of the dare, I had no idea that this dare was going to be tested again this morning.

James lets his alarm go off time after time in the morning.  The second time it went off, I woke up.  Unlike my typical bad attitude upon awaking to a blaring alarm, I simply asked him if he would please get up so it would not go off again.  He did not want to get up, and wanted to keep sleeping until the alarm went off again.  I was hurt.  I shared my feelings and told him how I knew he wanted sleep, but that my sleep was being disrupted by the alarm.  Again, he was not moved to action.  Finally, the alarm went off once more.

He decided to try to prove his point about not wanting to get up when I asked him by asking me if I would like to get up to fix him breakfast.  It was not really the dare, it was not really me trying to prove a point (though maybe a little), but I really wanted to show him that my love was unconditional.  I got up out of bed upon his request and fixed him breakfast.  He thought I was just trying to pull a "holier than thou", but I explained that I love him that much.  I wanted to do what he asked.  My reaction was my choice, and though he did not have the best attitude this morning, my love is my choice.  When I choose to love, it is not dependant on his perfect attitude.

I honestly did not expect to be fulfilling this dare with anything but the Organic Chicken Better Than Bouillon.  God's grace was more than sufficient, and He gave me the strength to show my love this morning.  I really surprised myself by not getting mad.  I think I surprised James too.  The more I open up my heart to true unconditional love, the more I realize that I am opening up my marriage to God's power.  Not only is The Love Dare teaching me how to love my husband, it is teaching me to open up my life to God's love.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dare Nine: Greetings Hubby!

Howdy partner!  I am experimenting with my greetings today.  Since yesterday's dare, I have been thinking about how I greet my husband, but also how I greet everyone in my life.  Specifically, the dare challenged me to "think of a specific way you'd like to greet your spouse today.  Do it with a smile and with enthusiasm.  Then determine to change your greeting to reflect your love for them."  What this has all brought to light for me is that I am a terrible greeter!

All throughout the New Testament, there are references about Jesus and the disciples greeting those who they encountered.  If I were writing about James's and my life together, I would never make any big reference to greetings.  My greetings are standard and I generally put no extra effort into them.  If greetings are mentioned as such a frequent and loving activity in the Bible, maybe I need to rethink my attention to greeting my husband.

Matthew 5:46-48 says:

"If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

What do I see in this verse?  First, I see a reference to loving others and how I am called to love more than just the people who love me.  Then immediately following, the verse talks about how easy it is to greet those who I already know, but that I should greet people that I do not know as well.  Basically, in following Christ, I need to love even the people who do not love me, and greet people that I don't even know.  If that is the case, how much more then should I be greeting my own husband?  This greeting thing is going to be a bit of work!

When I talk to James on the phone, I need to greet him and not just act like we are picking up where we left off on the last call.  When he comes home, I need to greet him and not just assimilate him into my day.  I should greet him because he is a person, I should greet him because it is respectful, and I should greet him because it is one more way that I can show him how much that I love him.  While I normally do not put much thought into greetings, I think that I have been mistaken.  Greetings matter.

Yesterday while attempting to do this dare, I found that it was not anywhere close to second nature for me.  Giving a greeting takes a certain amount of time, it takes a bit of thought, and I have to work at it since I am not used to being intentional about greetings.  I see that "hi" doesn't always cut it.  While hello is a formality, a greeting is a pouring out of well intentioned love.  Here are a few specific Biblical ideas about greetings:
  • Greet by using their name: 
    • 3 John 1:14 - "Greet the friends there by name."
  • Greet with a kiss:
    • 1 Peter 5:14 - "Greet one another with a kiss of love."
  • Greet with a note:
    • II Thessalonians 3:17 -"write this greeting in my own hand"
  • Greet warmly:
    • I Corinthians 16:19 - "greet you warmly in the Lord"
Due to this dare, I am going to be more intentional about my greetings.  Instead of issuing words without meaning, I will greet out of love.  The more I think about the words that come out of my mouth, the more I realize that each one matters and needs to be overcome by the love of Christ.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dare Eight: His Biggest Fan

The dare that I had for Valentine's Day was about jealousy.  The dare was to "determine to become your spouse's biggest fan and to reject any thoughts of jealousy.  To help you set your heart on your spouse and focus on their achievements, take yesterday's list of negative attributes and discreetly burn it.  Then share with your spouse how glad you are about a success he or she recently enjoyed."  Besides getting a headache from burning the list, this dare went fine.  I do rejoice in James's success.

In fact, the idea of being jealous about his success had not crossed my mind until the dare proposed it.  I could see where I could be sad that I did not get to move to Nashville to follow my career dreams, but I made the choice to marry James and I knew that he was planning to be a career Navy man.  No surprises there.

James is wonderful at his job.  I really respect his success, and I respect how he handles situations in his job.  While I know this does not make this dare seem like a challenge, I do not think every dare will be a challenge.  Hopefully in some ways, I do love my husband well.

Still, I am sure I could think of more ways to be his biggest fan.  Instead of wincing when he begins a new project, I could tell him how much I believe in him.  Instead of cringing when he starts pulling out bowls and pans in the kitchen, I could tell him how much I appreciate that he cooks. 

Think about the fans of rock bands or of some of those teen boy bands, shouldn't I be as big of a fan of my husband as some of these fans are about their stars?  I'm not saying I'm going to be taking my bra off and flinging it at him while he is at work . . . like some of the crazy fans . . . but I need to be excited about having him as a part of my life.  The opposite of jealousy is appreciation, and I need to be appreciating each moment that I get to be a part of James's life.

Dare Seven: The Valentine's Day surprise and the dare

Two days ago, I took on the Seventh Dare.  The reason that I am writing about it now, as opposed to yesterday, is because Valentines Day was a busy day.  Not commercially busy, not busy with thing that didn't matter, I was busy showing James how much he means to me.  Before I share about the dare, let me share about how I showed James my love yesterday.

I had it all planned out.  My friend was able to bring my little guy to her day care, then I was free to make Valentines Day as memorable as possible.  Only, the first store was not open for another fifteen minutes, daggone it!  Having to wait a few minutes did not deter me at all from my goals, but unfortunately, the Exchange did not have everything I needed.  Moving on, I went to Wal-Mart.  In general, Wal-Mart tends to have everything a person could need for any holiday, but not on the actual day of the holiday.  Wal-Mart was bone dry in regards to Valentines Day.  I searched through the dregs and went to a few other departments, but I was still missing a few key items.  If all else fails, go back to the store where you first saw the item for sale.  Rouses, here I come!  I was looking for Valentines Day static cling window decals and Rouses had them with Snoopy characters.  James loves Snoopy.  Here is my list of attained items from my three store shopping trip: Card, bag of red balloons, Motown love CD, Brach's conversation hearts, static clings, tacky putty, and red window paint.  My plan was to decorate James's truck while he worked.

James and I were also meeting for lunch for our Valentines Day date.  We went out for Philly subs.  Not the standard meal for such a holiday, but the sandwiches were delicious.  As we arrived back to his work, he mentioned how he needed to go to the Exchange to try on a new uniform.  Well, he could not very well take his truck from the parking lot when I needed to decorate it!  I volunteered, "I'll take you to the exchange, honey!" So off we went to the Exchange where I would stand and wait for him to try on uniform sizes for the next 45 minutes.  I dropped him off at his building, drove away, and came right back to the parking lot in front of his building.  Time to get busy!

First, I hopped in his truck and put the CD in his CD player; I made sure that when he turned on his stereo the song, "Baby, I Need Your Loving", would come on.  Then I proceeded to blow up the entire bag of red balloons securing them on the tops of the seatbelts, placing one on the front of his truck under the windshield wiper blade, and the rest all over his seats.  I signed the card and left it behind the CD in his center console.  The outside of his truck was next.  I pulled off static cling after static cling and put them all over the windows of his truck, and then I joined them with conversation hearts attached by the tacky putty.  The final touch was completed by writing “I Love You” on the driver's side window.  A hint of embarrassment mixed with a whole lot of love, perfect!

Sure he was a little bit self-conscious about having a truck covered in hearts, but he loved it.  James said that he even contemplated driving home a different way from work just so more people could see how much his wife loved him.  I guess love is embarrassing sometimes, but isn't it great?
Back to the dare, the Seventh Dare challenged me to get two pieces of paper and to write all of the positive things about my spouse on one and all of the negative things about my spouse on the other.  From the positive list, I was to thank James for having one of the positive traits.  The dare also explained that each list was going to be used in later dares.

My "good list" was sufficient, but as I wrote I realized that I rarely think about his good traits like I used to do.  I used to be enamored by his intellect and thrilled with his musical talents on the trumpet, but now, I was used to his positive traits.  He had them, and that was that.  However, shouldn't I spend more time thinking about how excellent he is?  The Bible says in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, 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."  This should definitely apply to my thoughts about my spouse.  As The Love Dare states, I need to spend my time in the "Good Room" and dwell on the wonderful things about James.

The "bad list" was plentiful.  I had no trouble filling the lines with the all the little things that bug me and things at which my husband fails.  However, I know that if James made a similar list about me, he would probably have to fill two pages or more to cover every aspect.  The list shows that I spend much more time in the "Bad Room" going over all of his shortcomings, when in truth that room does nothing but tear down and destroy.

The more time I spend going over my husband's shortcomings, the more time I am not spending thinking about why I married him.  I married my husband because he is my best friend with whom I enjoy spending time.  He shares my belief in a God who reached down and sent the greatest Valentines Day gift of all, his son, who died to bring the world life.  James is amazing with children and is the best Daddy I have ever known.

When I completed this dare, I wrote out my lists, and I had plenty to praise James about for the day.  James is a wonderful person, regardless of his bad points.  I didn't marry him because of what he isn’t; I married him because of who he is.  In the future, I think I'll be spending more time in the "Good Room", and a lot less time dwelling in the "Bad Room".

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dare Six: Love is not irritable?

Are you saying that I have an attitude?  I do not have an attitude!  I am irritable?  You are the one being irritable, saying I have an attitude . . .

Women are never irritable, right?  It isn't as if once a month something just comes over us and turns us into Mrs. Hyde.  Oh wait, it does!  I am so guilty of being irritable.  Just today, I found myself eating lunch and thinking, "Why did James have to do this?" "Why did James have to do that?"  I was being so irritable about everything!  Well, even though this dare was for yesterday, I am still thinking about how often I seem to be irritable.

Yesterday the Love Dare challenge was to choose "to react to tough circumstances in your marriage in loving ways instead of with irritation.  Begin by making a list below of areas where you need to add margin to your schedule.  Then list any wrong motivations that you need to release from your life."  At first I had no idea what it meant by adding margin to my schedule.  Really.  I had no idea.  Then I realized it meant breathing room, a deep breath, time of prayer, or a moment of calm.  The book mentions that stress leads to irritability.  How true!

When trying to list areas where I need to "add margin", I realized that I had plenty of time that I was simply misusing.  My stress occurs when I have procrastinated so long that everything is riding on the last few moments.  In those last few moments, I can be a monster to be around.  The added margin needs to come from me using my time wisely so that the monster stays in her cage.

Practically, I need to designate home days, where I stay put and get done things in the house instead of going out with friends or going shopping.  I need to plan my meals so that last minute I am not flipping out because everyone is relying on me for food.  Besides planning, I need to learn to rely on God as my peace.  No matter what storm is raging in my life or soul, He can calm the storm.  Not only is He my peace, but He also promises that his burden is easy and light.  Instead of taking on the world as my personal burden, God can handle the world and He asks me to simply follow Him.  My added margin can be had by relying on God as my strength instead of expecting myself to be Wonder Woman.

By way of my motivations, I tend to be motivated by what I think I should get out of a situation. I tend to think about how I am inconvenienced by something James does or how I did not get my way out of a situation.  Though my motivation should be love and following Christ with my entire life, I get distracted by my desire to flip on the television and get lost in a show or my desire to be liked by other people.  There are only two people whose opinions should matter to me, that of my husband and that of my Lord.  I need to begin thinking about what causes me to take certain actions.  Why should I do things without even thinking about why I am doing them?  Motivations matter.

Fortunately, even though I have been stressed out lately with school deadlines, Josiah's care, and tending the house, I have sought to be loving in my reactions to James.  He came home from work last night at 11 p.m. and I was going crazy because I had one more DVD lesson to finish up before taking a test.  Instead of exploding at him, I just explained to him what was going on with my schoolwork and how I was feeling about the situation.  The result of the even-tempered conversation was that he unpacked while I finished up the DVD.  Normally, I would go off on him about how stressed I was, how I had to get this done, and how he needed to just vacate.  I think talking to him calmly about what was going on worked a lot better than reacting as I normally would.

If love is not irritable, then love isn't irritable even once a month.  It isn't irritable on a bad hair day, and it isn't even irritable when my husband leaves nasty shaving fuzz all over my sink.  Instead of having my stress level sky high or my motivations out of whack, I have to keep myself even balanced so that I can love James to the best of my ability.  I treasure my marriage much more than I treasure my stressful schedule or my other motivations, so any stress or motivation that challenges my marriage has to take the backseat.  Being irritable is a choice; it is not something that I am helpless to stop.  From now on, I am going to notice when I am being irritable and find out why.  Loving James is worth choosing to not be irritable.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dare Five: Love is not rude

In regards to love, I Corinthians 13:5 says this, "It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs."  Yesterday's dare was about treating each other with respect and not being rude.  Specifically, the dare stated, "Ask your spouse to tell you three things that cause him or her to be uncomfortable or irritated with you.  You must do so without attacking them or justifying your behavior.  This is from their perspective only."  How often do I listen to I Corinthians 13:5 about love being kind and patient, and completely leave out the second verse about love not being rude?

Since James has been constantly at work this week, I decided to give him a call to talk with him and attempt to gracefully turn the conversation towards asking him about three irritating or rude things that I do.  Honestly, I have no idea how I pulled this off without him catching on to exactly what I was doing.  We got on the phone, and I told James about our morning so far.  Then I explain to him that I'm reading this book and it got me thinking about how I act and about rude habits that I may have.  I proceeded to ask him if he could tell me three rude things that I do that make him irritated or uncomfortable.

He acted like this was a hard question, but I am sure he was just scared that answering the question would get him in trouble.  Of course, James has no idea the dare keeps me from fussing at him regarding his answers.  Finally, he tells me that he really doesn't like it when I tease him.  He explained that sometimes it is fun just joking around, but that overall he doesn't appreciate it.  I could have guessed that answer.  I said nothing negative, and I just told him that I knew what he was talking about.

I proceeded to pry another answer out of him because he was getting ready to say he couldn't think of any more.  An idea popped into his head, he doesn't like it when I tickle him unexpectedly when he's looking for something in the refrigerator, bent down to pick something up, or any other situation where his sides are vulnerable.  Again, I just listened, and didn't give any feedback.

After that it took him a few minutes to come up with the last one.  It felt strange nagging him to get him to tell me negative things about myself, extremely counterintuitive.  I should be bugging him about his bad points, right?  Again, this all felt really backwards!  The last one he came up with was about how I fuss at him every time we go shopping.  Oh so true!  I hate going shopping with James.  I still did not give him any feedback, but boy, did I want to let him know why he deserved every fuss!  He had to go, and I simply told him, "Thanks!"  The strange counterintuitive conversation was over, and I had succeeded in the dare.

Let's summarize, I tease too much, I tickle meanly, and I fuss during shopping trips.  I am completely uncharitable about teasing.  This goes back to the spending dare that made me realize I have different rules for James than I made for myself.  I tend to think James shouldn't be rude, but I never think about me not being rude.  Honestly, all the things a guy should never tease a girl about, I have teased James about.  He is completely right, and I am completely wrong.  Then the tickling; I maliciously tickle.  I rarely do it for fun, and I most often to it as revenge or just to be mean.  I am a rude tickler!  At times, I have trumped it up to a weird quirk of mine, but I need to stop giving myself excuses and deal with my issues.  Finally, I do fuss during shopping trips with James.  Let me preface this with explaining how James is a unique shopper.  He takes off for unknown places as soon as we get in the store, brings tons of unwanted items back to the cart, and he makes things take so much longer.  Okay, now back to me.  Though James is an atypical shopper, fussing doesn't change him and fussing is rude.  Instead of fussing, James and I need to talk about my grocery store expectations and explain to him how I feel about his unique shopping style.  When I feel that I have a right to fuss, I fussing even though it is wrong.  I think that I am learning there is no "right to fuss".

What has yesterday's dare taught me?  Rude is rude.  No excuse gets me away from the responsibility to treat my husband with respect.  My husband deserves to be respected when it comes to how I speak about him, he deserves to be respected even when I am being quirky, and he deserves to be respected even when he is being quirky.  The opposite of rude is respect, and to love each other best we both need to be polite to each other and show each other the courtesies that we would show a stranger.  My true challenge is to treat my husband better than I would treat a stranger, to treat my husband like a treasure.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dare Four: Being Thoughtful About My Love

Keep On Smiling Photography

I consider myself to be a relatively thoughtful person, so when I saw that yesterday's dare was about thoughtfulness I was convinced I had it made.  The dare presented in day 4 was to "contact your spouse sometime during the business of the day.  Have no agenda other than asking how he or he is doing and if there is anything you could do for them."  I mean, how hard can the dare be?

First, I called James, and immediately I began talking about the different events of the day.  He was asking about how things were going, and I was letting him know about cute things my little guy had done that day and what I was doing that day.  Whoops!  Half the phone call had already went by and I had not asked him about his day nor had I asked him if I could help him in anyway.  I tried to salvage the mission by asking him how he was doing and about his day.  James does not divulge information about his day without me having to ask more questions, so by the time I got around to pulling out a few details from his day he had to go.  That was not much of a "thoughtful" phone call.  All I thought about was me and my day!

Since this call was in the morning, I figured that I could call again in the afternoon to check in and do more to complete the dare requirements.  I called him back and he was busy.  He called me back and I was busy.  Finally, I got him late in the day and we chatted a bit but I never got to ask him if I could do anything for him.  Sometimes life does not agree with our best laid plans.

What I realized though is how I might think that I am thoughtful, but when I am talking to my husband I think about me.  I think about what I want to tell him and about my day, but I do not often stop to ask about his day and what is going on with his life.  As a woman, mother, and wife I really get caught up into thinking that the child raising, house cleaning, relationships, and Facebook dramas are somehow more important than my husband's life at work.  I am being selfish.  While I may have thoughtful tendencies, I need to be involved in my husband's life even when he is at work.  No, I am not going to be the over-possessive wife that calls to monitor his every move or ask every detail of his day, but when I ask him how his day went I need to mean it.  He does not tell me about his work life not because it is not relevant to him, but because he has come to expect that I do not care.  When I choose to be thoughtful about my love for James, I have to care about him when he is here and him when he is gone from me.

He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend.  Proverbs 22:11

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dare to Spend

The dare for yesterday was harder than I expected. The challenge presented was to continue to restrain from “negative comments” and to “buy your spouse something that says, "I was thinking of you today"”. While typically buying something for James is not very hard since he has more hobbies than anyone I know, I really wanted to find something that had to do with an active interest.

Ideas rambled around in my head. He loves photography, consumer reports, woodworking, computers, cooking, and even Legos. James even likes kites and origami. Let's just say his tastes are unique and eclectic, but that really makes James the fun guy that he is. However, sometimes having a broad range of choices makes giving thoughtful gifts harder rather than easier. What item would mean something special to him?

Finally, I remembered that he has been considering building us dressers for our room. Right now, James has the dresser that I grew up with since I was a child, I have a girl’s dresser that had been used by a child, and Josiah has the dresser that James had when he was a child. Obviously this dresser project is practical, and desperately needed. The other great thing is James has done nothing but pour over woodworking books looking at various chest of drawer projects. I decided to buy him a book on chests of drawers.

On Amazon, I immediately found the right book, Chests of Drawers: Outstanding Projects from America's Best Craftsmen. The book is published by Taunton Press, and I was almost sure that James has mentioned that publisher before. One click of the button and that book is on its way home, thank goodness for Amazon Prime.

James was at work all day yesterday, so I decided to call him up to let him know of my "thoughtful purchase". When he answered the phone I excitedly proclaimed, "Guess what! I bought you something!" I could tell by the sound of his voice he was surprised. He asked me if I had gotten some deal at a store. He always thinks I have to buy things only on sale (which is generally true . . .). I explained that I knew how much he had been interested in making a dresser, so I bought him a book on Chests of Drawers. Again, he was surprised, and asked me about the book publisher. Icing on the cake! I told him that Taunton published the book, and I could hear the excitement in his voice. Indeed, Taunton was the publisher that he had mentioned. Since he was in a meeting, he had to go, but I was sure that I had brightened his day.

The Love Dare mentions that where we spend our money, we also place our affections. So by investing in my husband, I am stating to him and myself that I care enough to spend money on him. In the past, I often have expected James to spend money on me on Valentine's Day or our anniversary, but I won't get him anything much on those days. I guess in just the same way that I rejoice for him to shower me in gifts, he probably feels appreciated when I spend money on him. Granted, it is not all about money, but when money is so trivial why not spend it on someone special?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dare Number Two

Before I share yesterday's attempt at following through with the second Love Dare, I feel the need to answer a question that may be plaguing the minds of any who read this blog. Why do I feel the need to openly discuss my experiences while taking this Love Dare? I have many motivations for completing and sharing this blog.

One of my biggest reasons for putting together a public blog for the Love Dare is accountability. Many people start the dare and few finish it. What could provide more accountability than sharing with the world that I, Brooke Shambley, will complete the Love Dare? In addition, the book has questions at the end of each dare that I knew I would need some encouragement to complete. This blog allows me to answer the questions in a meaningful way and challenge myself to really think about the results of each dare. Maybe I have a couple of reasons which include "look at me!" and "read my thoughts!" but in general my intentions are pure.

Yesterday was an overall success by way of the dare. The second dare issued by the book The Love Dare is "in addition to saying nothing negative to your spouse again today, do at least one unexpected gesture as an act of kindness." While I succeeded in doing one unexpected gesture of kindness, I also figured out that sometimes just doing an act of kindness is not enough.

I knew that James was running out of clean clothes, so I decided to finish up the laundry before he got home. Besides doing the clothes, I also cleaned up the house and started heating up dinner, after which I realized that nothing I had done so far was "unexpected" though all were helpful. This also made me realize that when I don’t do the expected kind things that I am not doing all that I can do to help James out. Not that I am the only one who has to do the laundry or clean, but I can alleviate his load and make life easier on him if I can get this stuff done while he is at work. So while I had a nice clean house, I still had to figure out some unexpected act of kindness to do.

James got home from work and he still had work to do for his job. He finished up making the soup that I had started warming, and we sat down to eat. Normally, I start in on him about how he needs to do his work at work and how he needs to spend time with me, but in honor of the dare, I just left him alone even though inside I still felt upset. This is where it started to get strange. Since I normally just let it all out and I was instead holding it all in, James kept asking me if I was okay or if there was something wrong. I was trying to not be negative so all I could do was tell him that everything was okay, but then his questions were making me more upset. Finally, I told him that I was not happy that he had work to do and I was not happy about the questions, but that I would be fine, really. Here is the lesson of the day; I cannot fake my emotions, but instead I have to be kind while still feeling my emotions. I can be both positive towards James and still be real with him. The love dare will not last if I do it with a fake smile.

The lesson was two-fold because I chose to do something that I hate as my unexpected act of kindness, which did make it unexpected. For some reason, I hate rubbing James feet. Girl's feet are pretty with cute little toes and stylish nail polish, but boy's feet are big and have bigger not so cute toes. As you may be guessing, I decided to rub James's feet. While I got through it without him knowing how much I was dreading it and while he thoroughly enjoyed it, I still think that in the future I should choose acts of kindness that will let me show my love without cringing. Still, he fell asleep happy and I finished watching my episode of Xena after successfully completing dare number two.

My main discovery about love during this dare is that faking love is not enough. I guess it can also called "going through the motions", but the main thing is that a smile must be from the heart or I may as well be scowling. Sincerity and authenticity are musts for love. As I continue the Love Dare, I am going to try to be as real about this as possible. There is no faking love.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The First Dare

The first dare was "to resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all". I admit that this task was easier than normal because I only saw James for about four hours yesterday. Still I recognized how easily I blurt out negative statements and tend to deride him in an instant.

When he was on his way home from work, I realized that when I am on the phone with him I tend to set the tone for the entire evening. I caught myself about to nag him about things that he needed to do around the house when he got home. Why do I get him upset at me before he even walks through the door? Instead of giving him "the list", I simply told him I was happy that he was coming home and that was looking forward to seeing him. The first conversation was over.

I was in a rush when he arrived home. I realized that it was Monday; the night of the girl's night out with my church. Fortunately, mostly everything was together for me to go, and James was a champ about the whole situation. I started to ask myself whether he was reading this book too; probably not. I kissed my little boy goodbye, told James a few ideas for their dinner, and rushed out the door. The second conversation was over, and so far no negative remarks were made.

The dinner was great, but after I left I kept stressing myself out over whether I had given my friend enough money to cover my part of the bill. Stress is not a good way to stay in a positive mood. When I got home, I immediately told James why I was so stressed and he figured out that I did give her enough money. I am so happy my husband is better at math than I am!

Josiah was already in bed, so James and I stretched out on the sofa. Here is where the challenges began to come up. First, he started in on one of his habits that I absolutely detest (gross, but not weird). I quickly asked him to stop, and then I realized that I was being negative. I told him quickly and sweetly, "never mind!" He was confused.

Then the television popped up with a reminder about his woodworking show while I was watching the end of Castle. The reminder is a big block message about his program that pops up right in the middle of the screen while I am watching my show, so frustrating! I immediately became angry and was ready to show my disapproval. Why am I so quick to get upset and give him what for? I frowned and growled, then swallowed it. I know that he knew I was upset, but I held back the brunt of the storm. Small triumph, but I need to work on it.

I think that I am figuring out that the little things that he does that annoy me are more about my issues than his. Sure he has bad habits, but so do I. The way I react, the way I handle these things, say little about him, but everything about me. Yesterday was my first dare and my first active pursuit to love my husband according to the dare's instructions. While I had a few minor failures, I can see the overall benefit of actively thinking about how I react. Patience could look really good on me.

Dare 2 Love 4 Valentine's Day

Yesterday, I decided to accept The Love Dare. In honor of Valentine's Day and in recognition of the perfect time to start, I decided to complete each love dare starting February the 7th and ending on March 18th. In order to recognize how the dare is affecting my marriage and love, I will journal my progress day to day on this blog.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this dare, The Love Dare is a 40 day dare to unconditionally love your spouse expecting nothing in return. Also, the book was featured in the movie Fireproof with actor Kirk Cameron who is most known from his television days playing in Growing Paints. Each day the book presents a new challenge for loving your spouse.

For as long as possible, I plan to keep my dare a secret from my husband, James. Without revealing why I am acting and reacting differently, I will go through each day and watch what happens when I actively seek to show love to my husband. I plan to take it one day at a time. I may not be able to commit to tomorrow's dare today, but I might do a decent job at handling it tomorrow.

While I have to make the decision to do this dare, God is my ultimate strength throughout this time. If I pretend that I am strong enough and good enough to do this all on my own, I will fail. God is love, and this is a love dare. I am reminded of I Corinthians 13:1-3,

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."

This dare is to gain something, it is to gain love. As it stands, my marriage can be considered a good marriage, but a marriage is not a thing that you have it is a thing you do. I am a part of a marriage, a member of a two person team. If I want to make my marriage better then I have to be active in my pursuit of the glue that keeps a marriage one. That glue is love. Because I prize my partnership, my marriage, I accept the dare to love for Valentine's Day, 2011.

If you want more information on The Love Dare, check out these links and consider taking this challenge with me. God can and will work in our marriages when we seek his love.

The Love Dare

The Love Dare on Amazon

Fireproof My Marriage


Fireproof on Amazon