Week 3: Words of Affirmation (Foreign Languages)

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I was going to wait and save Words of Affirmation for last. After all, it’s the one I’m the WORST at, which obviously means (you guess it), it’s my husband’s primary love language. And I was hoping that by the end of this series I’d have some more encouraging illustrations to report on how much I’ve grown in this area.

But then a gentle voice whispered to me, “who are you kidding?” and I sucked in a deep breath and decided to just go for it.

Because, y’all, I’m the WORST at words of affirmation. And I personally need some serious help in this area.

What’s interesting to me is that I’m great at telling people I’m not as invested in how awesome and wonderful they are. Friends, acquaintances, even my kids are a piece of cake (okay, totally invested there). But when it comes to my husband, I suddenly clam up and throw a loose jab onto his shoulder and mumble under my breath.

It’s as if I suddenly feel like I’m 14 years old telling a teen boy how much I like him and I feel all goobery.

“Oh you, you’re such a great provider and you work so hard for our family.” (arm jab)

“You’re like, really cute, and I’m so proud to have such a good looking husband.” (mumble mumble)

See? I’m awful. I feel those things and more, and I could write them all day long, but to verbally speak them to Greg is so very, very hard for me.

And that’s the whole point for a words of affirmation person — they need to hear it verbally.

Words of affirmation is all about encouragement and verbal appreciation for your loved one. It’s acknowledging their importance and value they bring to your life. It’s giving them uplifting words and not devaluing ones; giving words of appreciation and not nagging; speaking truth in love, not lies.

THE MAP

How can you know if the country you’re traveling to is a one of words of affirmation? Here are a few ways to tell:

  1. They speak words of affirmation to you. Greg speaks things to me all. the. time. He encourages me, tells me he thinks I’m beautiful, tells me what a great mom I am, etc. He speaks encouragement to every single person he knows — telling them they’re doing a great job, he appreciates their service — all day long he speaks words of affirmation.
  2. They ask you questions to get words of affirmation out of you. This is SO easy to overlook. Your friend might ask you what you thought about her writing piece or painting. Your husband will ask how he did leading the small group. Your mom will ask how she looks and do you like her shirt. It might seem frustrating at times…like you can’t tell them enough…but that’s exactly what they’re trying to tell you: you’re not telling me enough!
  3. They ask, not demand. Your husband might say, “If you get a chance, would you mind going to the cleaners for me today?” instead of “Go get my clothes, woman!” They’re courteous in their requests, because they want courtesy reciprocated.

KEY PHRASES

Here are some easy ways to literally speak love to your loved one:

  1. Say thank you. In and of itself, a simple ‘thank you’ for their help with the groceries, or cleaning, or meal will not fill their love tank. But verbally acknowledging them with gratitude is a start. When your husband gives the kids a bath and puts them to bed, make sure to clearly say, “thanks for your help with the kids tonight, honey. It helped me a lot.” Again, it’s not going to fill them up, but it’s a great first step.
  2. Compliment them. Tell your man the shirt he put on for work looks really good on him. If it feels awkward, say it in passing as you’re about to blow dry your hair. Walk past and say, “that shirt looks great, babe” and keep moving on so you don’t feel like a tongue-tied tween in front of Justin Beiber. (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.)
  3. Be aware of your tone. You’ve experienced this — someone says one thing but their tone says something entirely opposite. Be aware of your presentation and tone of voice as you say “thank you” or “nice shirt.”
  4. Use humble words, not demands. Ask your spouse, “Think you’d be able to get the stuff down from the attic this weekend?” instead of “Geez, sure would be nice to have the boxes out of the attic.” Or if your friend calls but it’s a bad time to talk, say, “Oh my gosh, I so wish I could chat right now but I wouldn’t be able to give you the attention you deserve. Can I call you back tomorrow instead?” and don’t say, “Dude, there’s no way I can talk right now. I’ll call you back.” Soft and humble words are much smoother.

CLOSED ROADS

Words of criticism, discouragement and negativity are absolutely toxic to those who have words of affirmation as their love language. When words are the primary way they feel love, negative words absolutely crush them…especially if their tank is already low or on empty. That doesn’t mean you should never have honest conversation, but it means to be very aware of your presentation in sharing, and use a compliment sandwich: speak a compliment, say the truth, speak another compliment.

You are probably going to feel like it’s ridiculous that you should do that, after all, aren’t they grown ups and should be able to handle it? But just as neglect makes a quality timer wither inside, irresponsible harsh words will tear down your loved one.

CHALLENGE

In Psalm 81:10, God says, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” And honestly, that is exactly what the challenge is going to be — simply opening your mouth to speak affirming words. You can determine ahead of time that yes, that’s exactly what you’re going to do…and then when the moment comes, your lips are cemented together and you just cannot open them.

I know, I’ve been there.

But listen, it’s easy to brush it away as being “too hard for me,” and “they know I love them.” But that’s not fair to your loved one, especially if they’re making efforts to speak love to you. The devil will do anything and everything he can to create division in your marriage and relationships — do not let your awkwardness win when it comes to speaking love languages — it’s too important.

The hardest thing about words of affirmation is initiating it, especially if you grew up in a home that didn’t speak encouragement. Speaking another’s language is always uncomfortable. But to the recipient, it’s not so much about succeeding as it is making the effort. If words of affirmation isn’t native to you, but you simply say one day, “you’re so naturally gifted at math (or public speaking or whatever).” I guarantee: love tank fill up.

The key to making all this work is grace and motive. If you trust your loved one’s heart is to please you, it makes it so much easier to forgive them for not being fluent and for mispronouncing a few words.

At least they’re trying.

What about you? Do you speak words of affirmation, or does your spouse? What has and hasn’t worked for you?

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Week 2: Physical Touch (Foreign Languages)

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He gets up from the couch to walk into the kitchen, and as he passes by her he places his hand on her shoulder, just for a brief second.

Love tank fill up.

She sees that her friend doesn’t have the usual smile on her face at church, and without asking a single question, she just embraces her into an enormous God-sized hug.

Love tank fill up.

They are on a date, early in the relationship. They haven’t said “I love you” or kissed or anything yet. As they watch the concert, he reaches over and quietly grabs her hand. For the first time.

Love tank fill up.

They’re at the movies, sharing a popcorn and anticipating the show. As the lights dim and the previews begin, she rests her head on his shoulder and puts her hand on his knee.

Love tank fill up.

While for some spouses physical touch equals s-e-x, more often than not, it’s a very non-sexual love language. Speaking physical touch is simply a physical expression of your affection and love for them, given in an adoring and tender way. And most of the time it’s small gestures given in high frequency.

THE MAP

How can you know if the country you’re traveling to is a physical touch one? Here are a few ways to tell:

  1. They touch you. Sounds easy enough, right? But it’s easy to miss. If it’s a friend, it might be one who loves to hug you — for any reason, any time and every time. Maybe it’s your husband reaching out to put his hand on the small of your back as you walk together into the restaurant. Maybe it’s your parent or sibling brushing your hair away from your face while you talk, or giving you a foot rub. Maybe it’s your child who continually asks for her back to be scratched. The acts of touch themselves to not have to be long — they can be quick and brief moments — but they happen frequently.
  2. They ask for touch. Again, easy, right? But if physical touch is not on your radar, it’s easy for it to go unnoticed. Do they frequently ask for back rubs? Does your husband joke about the lack of intimacy in your relationship? Sometimes those are longings to be touched physically disguised as “help” or fun.
  3. It can be disguised as closeness. Often, someone who speaks physical touch will put themselves in physical proximity to you. If you’re working in the garden, they sit on the porch reading. If you’re in the kitchen cooking, they’re at the counter on a stool near you. If you’re on your computer, they’ll plant themselves in the same room. They just want to be as near to you as possible.

KEY PHRASES

Here are some easy ways to speak physical touch to your loved one:

  1. Touch them. I know — DUH. But sometimes we complicate uncomplicated things, right? When you walk by your spouse on your way to the kitchen, place your hand on their shoulder without a word and then keep moving on. When you’re meeting with a friend, reach out and grab her hand as she shares, or embrace her into a hug that’s just a little longer than you normally are comfortable with. With your kids, just scoop them into your lap for a snuggle, even just a couple of minutes several times throughout the day.
  2. Let them touch you. When your parent begins stroking your hair, resist the urge to shrink and hide. If you’re driving with your spouse somewhere and they reach out and grab your hand, give it a little squeeze and hold tighter than normal. If you’re watching a movie with a friend and they sit by you on the couch, don’t scoot over to the side as far as you can. Be an open touch canvas.
  3. Be near them. Bring your laptop into the living room if they’re watching TV and work in the same room as them if you can. If they’re working in the yard, go sit with a book on the porch. You don’t have to engage in conversation or quality time for closeness — simple physical proximity is more than enough.

CHALLENGE

Don’t not touch. For physical touch speakers, the avoidance of touch is a deafening silence. Even more so, don’t touch with any harmful intent — even if it doesn’t seem harmful to you. Don’t snatch papers away from them harshly; don’t shrug out of their hand-holding with disdain. Try not to do the “stiff as a board” hug where you stand there with a blank expression, arms dropped to your sides — or one-armed side-hug that communicates you think they might have cooties.

The hardest thing about physical touch is initiating it, particularly if you grew up in a non-affectionate household. Speaking another’s language is always uncomfortable. But to the recipient, it’s not so much about succeeding as it is making the effort. If you don’t speak physical touch, but allow a sibling or friend to snuggle into you while you watch a movie, love tank fill up.

The key to making all this work is grace and motive. If you trust your loved one’s heart is to please you, it makes it so much easier to forgive them for not being fluent and for mispronouncing a few words.

At least they’re trying.

What about you? Are you a physical toucher, or is your spouse? What has and hasn’t worked for you?

(I can’t end this without saying…if you’ve experienced pain from physical touch previously in your life — through abuse of any kind — please seek professional help and understand this love language cannot be spoken or received without true healing in your life. Find a professional Christian counselor who, through prayer and training, can guide you toward restoring this expression of love in your life.) 

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Five Minute Friday #38: REST

I link up with Lisa-Jo on Fridays for a writing flash mob…throwing caution to the wind and gathering to share what a few minutes of free writing can buy. 

Today’s topic: REST

CHILD LAP

GO.

It’s time for bed and every night after he gets his PJs on, he grabs The Book — the dinosaur book that used to be his daddy’s — and shuffle-skips over to me with it. I fake a groan which delights him to no end and I sit on the floor leaning against the bed with my legs extended all the way. He climbs onto them and curls into my lap and rests his mussed head against my chest.

And I sing-song the book the whole way through.

At the end of the day when we’re all finally allowed to be lazy, she grabs my fuzzy blanket and hurries over to me before he can. I’m in My Chair and she climbs into my lap and all 9 years of her are so tall that I can’t see anything unless she lays her head to one side. But she’s too squirmy and is never still and so we keep bumping noses and heads.

And then finally we find our groove and sit together until my lap falls asleep.

What is it about The Lap? At some point every single day they want to crawl up and have Their Time. No matter how fast they grow up, they never outgrow this lap — this place of comfort and solace and rest.

This place where a Mama’s love abounds regardless of the barking of orders or nagging or failures I had that day.

This place they want to curl up at day’s end knowing that despite all of it, my love has not wavered even one iota.

I still need The Lap, too, and maybe I need to be more like my little children and just crawl up into it at the end of every day. (tweet)

That place where a Daddy’s love abounds regardless of my failures.

That place I can curl up and end the day knowing that despite it all, His love has not wavered even one iota.

His lap. God’s lap. The lap of a thousand miles where His legs never fall asleep.

STOP.

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Week 1: Quality Time (Foreign Languages)

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When Greg and I were dating, it took me a good while to realize we spoke different languages. We seemed so compatible and everything seemed to just flow. But as our dating continued and got more serious, it became evident he was speaking Swahili and I was more of the !Kung dialect.

The first time I realized quality time might be my love language was when Greg and I were dating. We had planned spending an entire Saturday together — we didn’t have anything specific in mind, just that we’d be together. I was overjoyed at the idea of an entire day with the man I adored.

We grabbed some lunch and when we were done, Greg mentioned that he told a friend of ours we’d stop by his baseball game.

I suddenly became very quiet and very grumpy and couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with me. I think I chalked it up to PMS.

Fast forward to the first few months of marriage. Our ministry and marriage all happened simultaneously, and suddenly our calendar became not our own. Week after week was event after event, and nothing was left for just the two of us.

One morning at the breakfast table I had a semi-nervous breakdown, and couldn’t quite identify what the problem was. Again, I dismissed it as PMS.

And then started taking Black Cohosh to get my mood swings under control

Eventually, I remembered the book The Five Love Languages and started putting two and two together. And I actually got to four, believe it or not.

I sat down with Greg and explained to him what was going on, and it was right then we began our annual planning for our lives. We still do it. At the end of every year (well after church annual planning is done), we sit down and plan out everything for the year — date nights, family date days, vacations, conferences, Georgia football games — all of it. And unless it’s a wedding or funeral, we try very, very hard not to move those dates.

Because once I know quality time is coming, I can handle everything else that takes up our time. (tweet this) This past fall and winter, Greg handled (with incredible grace and determination) his full-time job, doctoral school work, and assistant-coaching high school basketball.

Had it not been for weekly breakfast dates and occasional date nights, I would have absolutely lost my mind. Quite literally.

For someone whose love language is quality time, I think it’s important to first identify what quality time is not:

  • It’s not a date with another couple or a night out with friends
  • It’s not simply being in proximity with each other
  • It’s not time together where you’re both on phones, tablets or watching TV

Simply put, for someone who speaks quality time as their love language, it’s one-on-one, undivided attention time. It can happen in a restaurant, a coffee shop, the couch or the bedroom. It’s knowing that at that moment, the other person is focused on nothing else but you.

THE MAP

How can you know if the country you’re traveling to is a quality time one? Here are a few ways to tell:

  1. They might suggest “doing” things as a way to spend time together. A parent might suggest a day of shopping. A friend might want to meet for coffee. A spouse might ask to have dinner and take a walk after. When I want to spend quality time with my children, it almost always involves going for ice cream, or playing at the park. Quality time (at least for me) is more special when it’s outside of the house because there are too many distractions at home.
  2. They eliminate distractions when communicating with you. If you’re having a conversation, they turn the TV off or the volume really low, so they can focus and really hear what you’re saying and maintain eye contact. Doing this is a way to show that you are more important than what else is happening, and is an indicator they would like the same courtesy. If you’re on the phone together, they might get easily annoyed at outside distractions like you having conversations in the background, or loud noises interrupting.
  3. Their time with you is focused more on fun than work. If during your time together they make a point to say they don’t want to talk “shop,” they might be craving time to just be. Sharing laughter, stories, dreams, desires — those can be an indicator of a quality timer — so bringing up budgets or issues will lessen the impact of your time together.

KEY PHRASES

Here are some easy ways to speak quality time to your loved one:

  1. Turn off the distractions. When your loved one walks into the room to talk to you, turn off the TV and put down your smartphone or iPad. Maintain eye contact and don’t interrupt. Show them that they are the only thing you are focused on is them.
  2. Suggest a date. Whether it’s a spouse, friend or family member, suggest time together. Go out for coffee, lunch or a movie. Take them shopping or out for ice cream. It doesn’t have to happen all the time, but the fact you suggested it will mean a lot — the fact you actually do it will mean even more.
  3. Focus on fun. Effective quality time dates for me personally do not involve discussing budgets, work, schedules, or kids stuff (unless it’s to talk about how cute they are). Don’t bring up issues or problems — just laugh, learn and love.

CHALLENGE

The hardest thing about quality time is starting to speak it. If you’re not a quality timer, it will feel so awkward and uncomfortable to suggest time together — you might feel like a middle schooler asking, “do you wanna go out with me?” Not only that, it will be downright tempting to not scroll through Facebook on your phone or send off texts in between conversation. After all, you’ll think, “how much eye gazing can one person do?”

Speaking another’s language is always uncomfortable. But to the recipient, it’s not so much about succeeding as it is making the effort. Greg’s love language is not quality time at all. For him, driving in the car together used to count because we were in proximity to each other.

Now that we’re 10 years into this thing, he gets that quantity of time doesn’t matter…it’s the quality of quality time. And I love and appreciate every effort — so I don’t hold him to the fire if he checks his phone when I run to the bathroom or turns on sports radio in the car.

Listen, if you visit Paris, you slip into your native tongue when you don’t have to speak French. You just can’t help it. (tweet this)

The key to making all this work is grace and motive. If you trust your loved one’s heart is to please you, it makes it so much easier to forgive them for not being fluent and for mispronouncing a few words.

At least they’re trying.

What about you? Are you a quality timer, or is your spouse? What has worked and hasn’t worked for you?

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Five Minute Friday #37 – HOME

I link up with Lisa-Jo on Fridays for a writing flash mob…throwing caution to the wind and gathering to share what a few minutes of free writing can buy. 

Today’s topic: HOME

STUFFED ANIMAL & SUITCASE-SEVENTIES

GO.

She padded downstairs well before 7 am and put her bags by the front door, ready to go and the sleepover isn’t for another 12 hours. She walked over proudly and said she was all packed and ready…and then, with the bravest face I’ve seen, declared Minnie wasn’t going with her to the sleepover.

My breath caught for just a minute because she just turned nine and I’m not ready for her to let go of Everything. And as soon as I was able to inhale the understanding dawned in sync with the morning sun.

Are you sure, honey?

Her gorgeous blue eyes filled with tears and she clung close and whispered, “I don’t want anyone to make fun of me that I sleep with her.”

My heart cracked just a little and I scooped her up onto the couch and we shared. We shared how real friends don’t make fun of each other; how the other girls will probably have things they sleep with, too. How she could hide Minnie in her bag or pillow case because just knowing she’s there will make her feel better.

She liked that idea — that she could bring Home with her and carry her around and no one even had to know Home came with her.

And I realized nine year-olds aren’t the only ones that do this — that carry a piece of Home with them when they’re stepping outside their comfort zone and maybe are a little bit afraid.

I brought Home with me when I ran my first race.

I brought Home with me to my first writer’s conference.

I bring Home with me any time I write and put it all out there for critique and criticism, or take a stand for something no one else understands.

Home is that courage-despite-fear and that excited-though-anxious feeling that falls like rain when we worry we’ll be made fun of and ridiculed. It’s that comfort of knowing we haven’t failed even if we’ve failed, and that we’ve succeeded even if we haven’t succeeded. It’s the assurance of the calling and the assurance of The One Who Calls — that’s Home.

And we all carry it. Whether we’re nine or 39, whether it’s a prayer or a scripture or a stuffed mouse — we bring it with us wherever we go.

The important thing is that we GO. What we have tucked away is just the ticket that helps us get moving.

STOP.

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