The Secret to Relationships: “Turning Toward”

As a romance author, I write a lot about “turning”. A lot. I just searched my work-in-progress and found 43 instances of the word.

For example:

  • He turned his head slightly to the left, showing off his dimple.
  • Why did I care that she had turned me down?
  • She turned around in her seat.
  • Her expression turned sour.
  • It was my turn to laugh.

Hmm, while this makes me think I need to find a new word to use (lol), I also had a realization about real life: there’s a lot of turning involved.

More specifically, our relationships require us to turn. When we talk to someone, we turn to look at them. Eye contact is even more crucial when it comes to listening. Without this kind of interaction, there really is no connection.

But what is connection exactly?

I think connecting with someone starts even before you can see them. It starts with the heart.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from almost 19 years of marriage and 13+ years of parenting, it’s that I have a choice in how I approach my husband and kids. Do I choose to turn toward them or away from them? How do I respond to them, not only in a physical sense, but in my heart?

As anyone who’s human can attest, people are messy. Having a relationship with someone, any kind of relationship, means going through your fair share of ups and downs. People do things that can frustrate and annoy you and even hurt you. Sometimes it’s on purpose; other times it’s unintentional. All of this is fact and a part of life.

Before I became a wife and mom, I was oblivious to how hard relationships can be. I thought I was a loving, kind and patient person—humble, too, of course! 😉 Why wouldn’t I be? I’d rarely had my buttons pushed or been misunderstood or felt unappreciated.

Only after I was blessed with these amazing people whom I get to call my own, did I learn who the real me was. The real me is not a happy person when woken up in the middle of the night. The real me was a pro at the silent treatment in the early years of our marriage. The real me loses her patience when the kids don’t cooperate. The real me would rather turn away from the people I love instead of turn toward them.

Ouch.

It took me many, many years to realize how harmful “turning away” was. Turning away meant that I was essentially hardening my heart and closing myself off from my husband and kids. That heart change seeped into my attitude and behavior and cut off any desire I had for connection. I was like a kid sitting in the corner and holding onto my grudge until the other person behaved the way I wanted them to.

Eeks.

There’s a verse in Romans 2 that speaks of the kindness of God, and how it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. That verse has always stayed with me somewhere in the back of my mind, probably because it’s so far from my own M.O. The way I learned to operate was to show judgment and condemnation first, then acceptance and reprieve later, but only when the other person had “earned” it. But how amazing is it to show kindness, patience, and mercy first?! To turn toward the other person and to extend your arms to them … because you would want that same kind of mind-blowing grace extended to you?

Turning toward my husband and kids (especially my kids) is the only choice I (aim to) make now. I don’t always get it right, but I do find myself pausing more to check my heart. Is it soft or hard? Am I turning toward or away? It’s a simple question, but it can make a great difference. Our actions and words already have the power to make a lasting impact. Why not make the impact a loving, gracious one?

I grew up singing Leslie Phillips’ song, “Your Kindness”, in our youth group. The words and melody are so beautiful and still touch me to this day.

How often do you find yourself turning toward versus turning away?

Killing Your Spouse with Kindness

I watched “War Room” this week with my mom and sister (at my mom’s request for her birthday girl’s only hangout). It was a good movie with fairly good acting, funny and touching moments, and above all, a good message. I came away with two reminders: one, that prayer is powerful and it works(!), and two, that marriages can be torn down by a single word.

The movie starts out with a husband and wife who do what husbands and wives do on occasion – they fight. With furrowed brows and clenched fists, they exchange mean words, throw around accusations and blame, and retreat to their own corners till the next match. Every time they open their mouths, you know what comes out is not going to be pretty. And with each word they spew, the tension on the screen grows and grows until you wonder if the characters’ relationship will soon be irreparable. 🙁

But through a series of events and the not-so-by-chance help of an older, prayerful woman (she’s a fun actress to watch!), the wife starts changing her ways. The change comes slowly, but surely, as she renews her love for her husband and begins praying for him. Her heart softens to the point where she no longer has anything negative to say to him (or about him). Her words and attitude toward him are so different that at one point he wonders if she secretly poisoned his meal, and switches dinner plates with her when she’s not looking. 😛 And with time, God answers the wife’s prayers and works in the husband’s life and heart to soften him up, too. I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess that it’s a happy one.

Now I don’t profess to have a perfect marriage (hubby can vouch for that!), but one thing I do appreciate about our relationship is the courtesy we extend toward one another. Oh, we have our share of disagreements and messy moments that require lots of forgiveness and humility to move past, but most of the time, we try to be kind with our words. Because we know that words have the power to heal or destroy. As in the words of Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

It’s amazing what a simple  “please” or “thank you” can do to soften your spouse’s heart. Or what the simple act of willingly getting out of a warm, cozy bed to go downstairs to stick the wet clothes in the dryer means to the spouse who gets to stay in the warm, cozy bed (thank you, Honey! :D). It’s just plain and simple courtesy, but when each word and act of kindness are added together, they can produce a mutually respectful and loving marriage.

All it takes is one kind word or one kind gesture to tip the scale toward kindness. And it just takes one person to start. So let’s be that one person. 🙂

P.S. I’m adding this picture as a reminder to myself of one way I can be kind to hubby, by making him breakfast. It’s something his mom used to make for him when he was a kid. 1 hot dog + 2 eggs = 100%. It was meant to be an encouragement to do well in school. So Asian, I know! 😉

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Here’s proof that your kind gesture doesn’t have to look pretty! Haha

Here’s Selena Gomez’s song, “Kill ‘Em with Kindness”. There’s some good whistling in the song, too.

How can you share kindness with your spouse or a family member today?

Showing Kindness to 200 Kids

What a week! 🙂

For five days I helped assemble breakfast, snack and lunch for 80+ first to sixth graders at an academic camp put on by our church. And let me tell you, it was tiring, but a blast.

Here are some of the snacks we served – can you guess what the theme was? (Hint: Something that’s related to tents, campfires and the great outdoors.)

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I found out recently that our school district only has one summer school site for the entire district, which means each school can only send one or two kids from each grade to attend. There are so many kids who need the academic help that summer school offers, but they can’t get in! This is why some teachers from our church decided to put this summer camp together for the underprivileged kids in our community. Last year we served close to 100 kids on one campus, and this year we expanded to two campuses! By God’s grace, we were able to reach out to almost 200 kids in all.

Each child who came was touched by the registration folks, the group leaders, the teachers (for science, reading/writing, math, PE, crafts and music) and the food crew. They received one-on-one attention and were affirmed on how valuable and loved they are. Over the course of the week, the kids really opened up and blossomed. One child who showed up on Monday was so quiet and shy that she needed her group leader to speak for her, but by Thursday she had gained the confidence and courage to sing a solo in front of her whole music class! This was just one of many stories I heard over the week that proved it’s possible to make a huge impact on children in a short, but meaningful time.

As part of the food prep team, I particularly enjoyed seeing the kids’ smiles when they received a meal or even for something as small as a carton of milk. These are kids who don’t have much (a couple of them live in motels), but they were so polite and thankful and enthusiastic. It really made my day to know I could play a role in helping their minds and bodies be ready to learn and grow.

I ended the week with this quote on my mind:kind

Life is hard, so let us be kind to one another. Even a smile can go a long way. I know the smiles the kids gave me this week made a big dent in my heart and will stay in my memory for a long time.

Here’s a short clip of the kids singing Josh Groban’s song, “You Raise Me Up” for their families on the last day of camp. 🙂 May these little ones inspire you to raise someone up with your kind words and actions.

How have you shown kindness to others recently? How has someone’s act of kindness made a difference in your life?

Justice, Kindness & Humility

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 7+ years, it’s that parenthood is one looong, continuous lesson on love.

Just as it takes a whole lot of work to maintain a good marriage, it takes a LOT of work to be a loving, patient, kind, understanding—insert all the warm and fuzzy adjectives you can think of—parent.

I love my kids, don’t get me wrong. I can’t imagine my life without them. I love how I am probably the most important person to them in their lives right now (sorry hubby!)—and yet I also cringe at that thought. I cringe because every word I say, and especially the manner in which I say it, has great power. My words can either inject light and approval into their little hearts or instill gloom and doom. And once my words are out there, I can’t take them back. Sure, I can (and often do) apologize when I “lose it”, but the damage has already been done (sigh).

To be truly loving towards our children all the time may not be possible (we are only human), but it is something we can strive for – and believe me, there are plenty of chances to practice. Just the other day I had the unfortunate opportunity to show love to our dear son. I say unfortunate because it’s always easier to love our kids when they say and do what we want, however this time was not one of them.

For some reason which I can’t remember right now, he had a major meltdown 30 minutes before bedtime. The fact that he was very tired probably explains why he was sitting on the couch crying with his head thrown back, eyes clamped shut and mouth wide open. When he cries like this, it’s like a dam has opened and all of Niagara Falls is gushing out of him. It’s hard to calm him down or reason with him about anything at this point.

In my head I was thinking, Aiya, what now?!?!?! and starting to feel like a pressure cooker about to burst open. I looked at hubby who was already exhausted from a crazy week at work and saw that he was getting frustrated, too (which is rare because he is very patient with the kids). Before I knew it, my own dam cracked and I was spewing out some harsh words at our son, until hubby shook his head and said, “It’s okay.”

What?! It’s not okay!! I wanted to yell. Instead I shut my mouth and stomped into the kitchen. After a while, our son ran out of steam and tears and stopped crying. We then convinced him he was tired and needed to sleep, and off we went to bed.

The following day hubby and I had a chance to debrief, meaning I had a chance to vent. I asked him how in the world he had stayed so calm and he admitted he almost lost his patience, but reminded himself not to go there.

“He didn’t deserve it,” hubby said about our son. “He just wanted some attention. He needed compassion.”

Image courtesy of luigi diamanti/freedigitalphotos.net

WOW.

If you can imagine, I totally moaned in frustration and disbelief at hubby’s comment. That was such a classic “give me a pencil so I can poke my eye out with it” kind of moment.

Of all the things I wanted to give to our son during his meltdown, compassion was NOT one of them. What I thought he deserved at the time was a good scream-fest about how unreasonable he was being – because he was. I thought I had the right to feel frustrated and impatient over his behavior – and maybe I did. But I missed an important point. Even if I was upset over how he was acting, I didn’t need to give in to the moment. The very thing I wanted him to do – control his emotions – was something I needed to do myself. But why? Simply because my love for my son should be bigger than his temporary meltdowns.

If I could have taken a step back from the situation, I would have realized that pouring fuel on a fire never puts the fire out. It’s only when you douse the flames with water, does it die down. Yes, our son neither deserved nor benefitted from me pouring my wrath upon him. What he needed was my patience and understanding.

Oh, how I hate it when hubby is right! 😛 But I am oh so thankful that I learned something more that day about love. This verse from Micah 6:8 came to mind:

He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you,
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
I usually see this verse used for social justice issues, but I believe it applies just as much in our homes. Do we treat our kids justly? Do we show kindness to them? Do we acknowledge our weaknesses as parents and ask God to help us?

Sigh, sigh and sigh. So much for being a perfect parent! (I’m kidding, I know I’m not!)

I am really challenged by this verse. I almost feel like I have to go back to the “drawing board” and reevaluate the way I parent. At least I have a better idea of what I need to work on now and that’s justice, kindness and humility.

I just love this song by Chris Tomlin, “Kindness”, which speaks of our ultimate example of kindness. 🙂

What ideas and thoughts do you have about “doing justice” towards your children?