Then Comes the But

Someone I love dearly was trying to compliment me some days ago. It started out so well, “Your hair looks really nice today, but…” Now, I’ve learned to really hear the first part of what he says, because that’s where the gold is. The second part is where he sometimes loses sight of his original intention.

But usually, it looks like you just came out of the barn, which is kind of true I guess…”

I laughed a little, and shrugged, “I just brushed it. Which I do everyday.”

“Yeah, yeah, it looks nice but…

Another but…

“you should brush it more often.”

Why does there have to be a but after a compliment? I heard once that everything you say after “but” is all someone hears/absorbs. When I heard that message (I think at church, but I could be mistaken) I purposed in my heart to listen different. Instead of letting the but hurt my feelings, I decided to really hear the first part and let the rest of it slide like water off a duck’s back.

Most of the time, it works.

As I listened to my Dad with his compliment-but routine, I just kind of laughed to myself. He’s been communicating like that for years. The but part used to hurt my heart badly and I never caught what came before. I’m thankful that has changed.

I then thought about how I communicate with my kids, and whether or not I insert a but at the end of every nice thing I try to say. No way, right?

“Thanks for taking out the trash but next time…”

“You did good on that assignment, but…

“Thanks for washing the dishes, but…

“Look you got yourself dressed! But…

“Thank you for getting up on time, but…

“You’ve been really responsible today, but…

I love you and I see you and I see you’re trying but you are just not quite meeting my expectations. You just fall short. Just try a little more. Give a little more. Do a little more.

What kind of mental/emotional/achievement economy am I setting up here? One where they just can’t quite reach the bar labeled The Standard? Where they are always just a little bit lacking?

Goodness, that is not my intention. That’s the trouble with intention vs. action though – sometimes we have to examine where our actions have split at a fork in the road and are betraying our intentions – because it was easy, we just didn’t think about it, we are trying to offer helpful advice, or a myriad of other reasons. Our actions don’t always easily line up with our intentions. Sometimes we have to really focus on the gap between and draw our actions in to match what our intentions really are.

So I do the same thing to my kids, what about my husband?

“I appreciate how hard you work but…

“Thanks for taking care of the yard but…

“Thanks for bringing me home a treat but…

It’s a pervasive little word that really does cancel out the nice thing you are trying to say. So this week, I’m going to focus on eliminating the but in my words. I’m going to try to offer genuine praise and appreciation, without telling anyone how they could do better next time. I don’t want to create an achievement economy that says there is never enough you can do in a day/week/month.

Until next time,
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A Prayer to Share:

Dear God,

Adding a but after the things we say really cancels out the good we started out with. Please help us develop the ability to put the but aside. To offer genuine praise and encouragement to those around us. Help us to focus on building up and not tearing down – and reveal to us and in us the little things that we may not think matter, but that really do.

In Jesus’ Sweet name, Amen.

So You Married a Writer

So you married a writer, and in my experience, that means you married a thinker and a feeler. I’ve yet to meet a writer that doesn’t try to read between the lines, that doesn’t think things over and over and over again, that doesn’t feel the people and circumstances around them – near or far – quite deeply.

So you married a writer, someone good with words. Someone who likes to put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard and compose a message from the heart or the imagination. If you married a writer, you may have received letters, emails, or lengthy text messages detailing thoughts, feelings, events, or experiences of said writer.

Let me tell you, these lengthy, wordy messages are a craft of love, a pouring out of the soul, an opening up of oneself to another. These messages are communication from the writer to you – their spouse, their lover, their best friend, their partner.

Don’t take the words for granted, just try to understand what they are saying. And if you ever find yourself complaining that you don’t like the way they write so much, or wait to share their thoughts until they can write them, you might find yourself hearing less and less from them, about them… until one day, they feel as if they are becoming a stranger to you, not fully known, not fully loved.

You don’t have to love to write, or even like it, to love a writer and read the words they send you. You don’t have to write to your writer, really, it’s okay. You can call or wait for the quiet evening hours to fully share your thoughts, we like to listen when you talk. But sometimes words don’t make it as easily from our heads to our mouths as they do from our heads to our pens. Don’t make a writer bottle up what they need to say, simply because you don’t prefer to read. Let them communicate their way. They’ll make space to listen to your words if they come easier in speaking for you.

Marriage can be like a dance between people who do things different ways, if you both learn to give and receive in ways that are not exactly your preference, for the good of each other. It won’t always be your way, and it won’t always be your spouse’s way, it’s a little bit of both and as the years progress, you’ll look back on your hodge podge and see beauty in what once felt like a mess.

Until next time,

The Truth Behind Love Languages

I love the concept of love languages, and immensely enjoyed Dr. Gary Chapman’s book on the matter: The Five Love Languages. Ever since I first read this book, I’ve tried to consider which language someone is speaking when dealing with them – especially in my closest relationships.

The truth is, though, that love languages can be messy. Take this recent interaction, for example. I stayed out late one night, drinking tea and catching up with a precious friend of mine. It was literally the middle of the night when I got home.

My husband started with, “You were out too late.” I tried to not respond too harshly to that statement – he’s not the controlling type, so I didn’t think he was trying to come off like I had done something wrong, but I waited for more info. “You will be too tired tomorrow,” this statement was my first clue that there was definitely a deeper message than just what time it was. He knows I get very little sleep between the two babies and work, and he tries very hard to protect my rest. “I can’t sleep without you here at home with me,” was the statement that sunk in deep.

I waited for a moment, before quietly saying, “That’s the closest you’ve ever come to saying you missed me.” He hugged me close – one of those sweet hugs that I can never get  enough of. No more words were even necessary, I got the message right, he missed me and worried about me.

This interaction could have gone so much differently – if I had reacted to the first statement like he was trying to restrict my freedom, control my actions, or boss me around, we would most likely have had an argument. It’s easy to react to the first words out of someone’s mouth, but if we are slow to speak, slow to anger, we can often get to the bottom of an “issue” before it is truly an issue.

Honestly, I don’t know which love language my husband speaks for sure. But I try to filter his words and actions with the knowledge that he does love me, and looks out for me, which in turn makes me feel less defensive when we do have a big issue to face. Things don’t always go right, and it’s not something I’ve mastered, that’s for sure, but it is something I work on daily.

This last week I learned that if food is a love language, that’s the one my dad speaks. He loves to feed people, and when it’s an occasion that he’s deemed special, he likes to make sure that it’s the best meal it can be, for what it is. He reminded me to cook corned beef for longer than I did while visiting, so that it’s not tough. He made sure I started the 16 hour trek home with a warm breakfast. As I shared that breakfast with him, I thought back over my life, and specifically that last ten years or so, and all of the visits back and forth. Food is by far how my dad communicates that he cares.

I am adding to my prayers that God would help me accurately identify the love languages of my kids, and my closest family members and friends, so that I can love them in a way they understand, and receive their love fully.