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‚ÄĒhumble, too, of course! ūüėČ 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?

Making Time for Relationships

I am such a task-oriented person, it’s not even funny. Especially not to the wonderful people in my life who sometimes have to jump up and down with their hands in the air¬†for me to notice that I’ve been neglecting them (sorry hubby and munchkins!). But I was reminded today (thanks, E, for asking me to breakfast!) of the importance of making time for people.¬†Because there are certain things you can only learn in a relationship, such as …

~ listening to others

~ being vulnerable and open with others

~ bearing with each other when dealing with different personalities/preferences

~ supporting someone through the hard times

~ giving your time, energy and heart to someone else

~ receiving feedback from others

~ and so much more!

If you didn’t notice, there’s a theme to the list above, namely the use of the words “others” and “someone”. Moreover, if you’ve lived for any amount of time on this earth, you’ll agree¬†that we were born into relationships and we cannot survive without them.

Sometimes though the relationships we have in our families or with friends or colleagues are not the most healthy ones. Sometimes they’re just plain hurtful and damaging. But the good thing is that there are other healthy, supportive, and reliable people out there in the world who know how to love you more wholly and healthily. And there’s hope to be found in those relationships.

God didn’t mean for man to be alone‚ÄĒand as much as I’d like to think that only applies to the male species, I know us gals need relationships, too. ūüėČ

So, let’s make time for the people in our lives who need us and whom we need as well. To-do lists and deadlines can wait, but love cannot.

Two of my favorite people in the world. :D (Look how tall they're getting!)

Two of my favorite people who have made me more relationship-oriented. ūüėĬ†(Look how tall they’re getting!)

Here’s a fun song about relationships, Paul McCartney’s “Got to Get You Into My Life”.

Who¬†are your favorite people? ūüôā

Taking the Practicality Out of Relationships

Ask any of my girlfriends and they’ll tell you I have the best mother-in-law in the world. God totally blessed my socks off with her, and I’m forever grateful that we have a good relationship. The original Mama Ho¬†is a sweet, spunky lady who¬†once caught a fish with her bare hands when she was a little girl. She LOVES pizza, possibly more than my cheese-lovin’ son does, but moreover, she loves her family through her words and deeds. When the munchkins were small, she stayed with us for extended periods and helped us out by cooking and cleaning. There were times when I found her on her hands and knees cleaning our bathrooms, and boy, did I feel terrible (not to mention, embarrassed about the state of the toilets)! Even when I insisted she didn’t need to do that, she would always say, “You’re busy with the kids; I have nothing to do” and continue to bless me. She also prays for us with the sincerity and earnestness of a mother’s and grandmother’s heart.

These days, she and my father-in-law have their own place about twenty minutes away and just so happen to live about ten minutes away from hubby’s workplace. And because my mother-in-law is always thinking about how to help us, she’s been cooking for us for the past few years. Twice a week, hubby will stop by her place after work and pick up a hot, home-cooked, yummy meal, and bring it home. Let me tell you, it’s amazing to have dinner just show up on the dining table. (If you can’t tell by now, cooking is not one of my favorite pastimes!) And my mother-in-law takes her “job” so seriously that she hardly ever misses a day and she’ll even be disappointed when she can’t cook for us.

Which is why when hubby changed jobs a couple of years ago to work in the city, he still made a weekly trip to my mother-in-law’s. Back then, his commute home consisted of a one hour ride on BART (the Bay Area’s public rail service) where he usually had to stand the whole time due to a lack of seats. Then when he picked up his car in our home city, he would drive another 60-90 minutes¬†(roundtrip) to get dinner. By the time he reached home, he was pooped. ūüôĀ

It wasn’t long before I began thinking that it wasn’t¬†worth it for my mother-in-law to continue cooking for us. I really didn’t mind making dinner if it meant hubby could come home earlier and not have to sit in¬†bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. So I relayed my thoughts¬†to hubby, but was shocked to hear his perspective.

“But my mom loves to cook.¬†I don’t mind picking up dinner. Sometimes letting other¬†people help us, helps them.”

WHAT?! All the practical, no-nonsense alarms¬†went off in my head and I wanted to spew off a list of reasons of why it¬†didn’t make sense. It was not efficient, economical or a good use of time. Right?¬†But then, hm…. I thought about his statement and began to understand what he was saying.

As¬†a square gal, I often get caught up in the logistics of things. I want to make sure I use my time well and get the best deals. I aim¬†for practicality and efficiency. I want things done my way (which is of course, the best way, haha). But if there’s one thing I’ve come to realize since becoming a mom, it’s that not everything¬†can¬†be planned, organized or controlled. When people are involved, the intangibles outweigh the details. Personalities and preferences come into play. Feelings, motivations, and needs must be¬†considered.

Because sometimes it’s not about you. Okay, most of the time, it’s not about you. When you have a relationship with someone‚ÄĒa friend, spouse, child, or other family member‚ÄĒyou can’t always be practical. But you can always choose to love. And sometimes, loving means doing things that don’t follow your plan. It means seeing the bigger picture.¬†It can mean¬†letting others help¬†us even though it’s not the most efficient thing to do. Because most¬†all of the time, loving someone means treasuring the person’s¬†heart. And that makes the most sense of all.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/freedigitalphotos.net

Take a listen to this beautiful song, “For Good”, sung by Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel (from the musical, “Wicked”) that sums up how our relationships touch us. I love the lyrics: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good”.

Who in your life has taught you the value of relationships?

Conversations with a 6 Year Old about Relationships

C was in the middle of her bedtime routine when she asked me, “Do you love Po Po (maternal Grandma) and Gong Gong (maternal Grandpa) more or Bob (aka. Baba) more?”

In the mirror I saw her head tilt up as she looked at me, the top of her three foot frame nearly reaching my shoulders thanks to the stool she stood on. Her big brown eyes sparkled with intensity, waiting for an answer.

Hm? What was she getting at? And why do I always get asked the strange/deep/unanswerable questions?

Humph. But as any parent (and¬†therapist) knows, when you don’t have an answer to a question, you keep your cool and do the ‘ole switcheroo. So I asked the¬†question back, “Who do you think I love more?”

She¬†replied¬†without hesitation (because as usual¬†C already had it all figured out and was just testing me!), “Bob, of course. Because without Bob, you wouldn’t have me and E.”

Hee hee. Of course. ūüôā

Although her 6 year old logic had some flaws, she was right about one thing. Life is all about relationships.

No matter who we are, where we come from or where we’re going, we are all connected to other people. Our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, children, neighbors, classmates, coworkers, friends, enemies, strangers … the list goes on and on, especially if you include social networking.

My conversation with C got me thinking that as much as I’m an introvert and prefer to be alone, I am a better person because of the relationships I have. (I may have groaned as I typed that last sentence.)

The hardest things I have had to learn¬†have happened because of other people’s presence and influence on my life. I’m talking about the processes of acceptance, forgiveness and trust. There’s also¬†the acts of sharing, cooperation and encouragement. To put it simply, it’s the lessons of learning how to get along¬†that have built my character. (Okay, I did groan this time, haha.)

As complicated and messy and tiring as relationships can be, we would not be who we are without them. And I firmly believe the people we have in our lives are there for a reason.

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What’s that reason? It’s the¬†four letter word that seems to weave itself through all of our relationships: LOVE.

It’s a sense of belonging that we all want and need. It’s the idea that C has that she and E¬†are important to me, which is why I should¬†love their Baba¬†more than their¬†grandparents. I didn’t mention¬†to her that without my parents, I wouldn’t be around to have kids, but that’s beside the point. What I did say to her at the end of our conversation was this: “I love God the most¬†because He gave all of you¬†to me.”

And maybe that was a cop-out answer or the most brilliant answer I could have given, but it is what I know to be true. I am thankful for all the people that God has brought to cross my path. I may not always act like it (especially when I just want some peace and quiet!), but my world is so much richer because of all the relationships Рclose and far, in person and online Рthat I have had the privilege of meeting and doing life with.

So, here’s wishing you all a wonderful weekend of being with the people you love, especially the¬†moms in your life¬†this Sunday. ūüôā

And here’s a fun parody of the song “American Boy” by Only Won & Larissa Lam called “Cantonese Boy”. I picked it in light of C’s answer to her own question (that I should love hubby more) and also because I just celebrated 14 years of marriage with my own Cantonese boy. ūüôā

Who are the people in your life that you are sure crossed your path for a reason?