Reclaiming Valentine’s Day

Okay, I’m about to write a SUPER cheesy post in which I admit something SUPER unpopular:

I like Valentine’s Day. 

*ducks as people hurl conversation hearts at me*

Yeah that’s right, I said it!  It’s one of my favorite holidays!

I’ll admit, I didn’t always like Valentine’s Day.  I loathed it.  Like many, it just seemed a painful annual reminder that I was single.  But over the last few years it’s really grown on me.  And then it became one of my favorites.  I didn’t flip flop because I found myself in a relationship.  Hallmark didn’t finally convince me.  And it’s not because I wanted an excuse to eat candy — who needs an excuse to eat candy?  🙂  Admittedly, maaaaybe I like it a bit because of red.  I do like red after all…


It’s because a few years ago, I inadvertently reclaimed Valentine’s Day.

As I sat sulking about another year without a significant other, I thought about all of the other single people also out there wishing they weren’t single mid-February.  Part of me wanted to go find all of these people and give them a hug and remind them that just because we’re single doesn’t mean we aren’t lovable and don’t still have value — something I was struggling to remember about myself.

And I wanted to do something, though I wasn’t sure what.  So, while watching TV I started cutting out hundreds of colored paper hearts.  And then on Valentine’s Day morning I scattered them in the snow on a busy pedestrian path near my home.  Sure, it was technically littering and some people probably saw it and scoffed at the sentiment.  But I also prayed that others would see it and feel loved and valued and special — even if just for a moment.  That it might brighten their day that there was someone out there thinking of them when setting up this colorful mess.

After I did it, I realized something.  Valentine’s Day didn’t just annoy me because I wanted to FEEL loved.  It also annoyed me because I want to EXPRESS love.  God is love, and we were made in his image.  Therefore I think we all desire to have avenues where we can express affection to others.  I was surprised how much joy I discovered creating an expression of love for random strangers.

Ever since then, I’ve discovered that I like Valentine’s Day because it reminds to me to be grateful for the people in my life and my community.  If Thanksgiving is being thankful for everything, for me Valentine’s Day is being thankful for people specifically.  And also to remind them that they are loved — directly or indirectly by me, and absolutely and thoroughly and completely by God.

It’s a shame that we hear the word “love” and default to associating it primarily with romantic relationships.  No wonder people abhor Valentine’s Day and have given it the nickname Singles Awareness Day!  We’ve been brainwashed to think that the only love that counts is love between significant others.  That’s great, but we sure need to broaden our perspective to see and appreciate and celebrate all of the other great relationships around us.  (The advertising industry doesn’t help at all in this by bombarding us with messages that Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and flowers and diamonds and sex and — above all — not optional if you’re in a romantic relationship.)

Don’t get me wrong: being in a loving relationship with a significant other is amazing.  But it CANNOT completely fulfill your need to BE loved and TO love.  And it isn’t meant to!  Thank goodness because that’s ENORMOUS pressure.

There are many ways that people have shown me love and kindness.  Like the coworker who left a doughnut on my desk a few weeks ago just because she knows I like doughnuts.  And another coworker who gave me a cute little Angry Birds Valentine today.  Like the friend who was driving past my house and stopped to rearrange some rocks on my front porch into the shape of a heart, just because.  Or another friend who randomly bakes cookies, cakes, and truffles and shares them with me.  Like when staff at church send me a card in the MAIL (yay, fun mail!) just to say thank you.  Like how every year for over a decade my dad sends me Valentine’s flowers to remind me that he loves me.  #parentingdoneright


All of this is just a cheesy post to say that — like so many things — Valentine’s Day is what we make it.  And like Jackie DeShannon sang: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…  No, not just for some but for everyone.”  We’re doing a great injustice to one of God’s greatest creations if we hold our ability to love in reserve, or only direct it at our significant other.  Take a risk, unstopper your heart, and sprinkle some of that love around.  The more you give, the more you’ll find you have to give.  And you might find some joy as a bonus.

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.” -Mother Teresa

Random citizens of Boulder, if today you encounter some rocks painted with hearts on a bridge it’s a message from me to you:  You are special.  You are valuable.  You are loved.

End of cheesy post.

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Secretary Tales, Issue #14 — bacon and doughnuts

Me via email: “Hey guys, we have that 8:00 meeting coming up on employee empowerment.  There’s little money in the budget for catering, what should we get?  I know you all are going to say ‘BACON!’ but there’s still some vegetarians in the building, too.”

V: “Bacon… and carrots.”

Boss: “Bacon… and beets.”

L: “Bacon, bagels, and fruit.”  <– a bit more helpful

D: “Em-Power-Ade.”

Me: “D wins.  You all fail.”

L (who is new to the dept): “Clearly I need to work on developing my sense of humor.  Maybe eating more bacon will help.”

V: “It will come with time, bacon or not.”

Boss: “But bacon will hasten the process!”

* * * * *

Boss: “A reminder there’s that two-hour presentation this afternoon, and all of you are invited to attend if you wish.”

L: “I have a meeting.”

T: “I’m presenting at her meeting.”

D: “I’m supposed to attend that meeting, too.”

V: “I need to work on the budget.”

Me: “I have work to do… and I just don’t want to.”  Everyone laughs.

L: “Besides, I mean, you haven’t told us anything about if there will be snacks.  Food increases our likelihood of attendance.  Like bacon.”

D: “Yeah, or doughnuts.”

V: “You know, every time I eat a doughnut I’m disappointed.  I’m like ‘that wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be’.”

Me: “I completely and totally disagree with that statement.”

L: “Me too.”

V: “Okay, fine, maybe if it was a high quality doughnut.”

Me: “No, not even then.  I think everything except three-day-old stale doughnuts.  Doughnuts are amazing.”

L: “Yeah, I guess we just have lower standards than you.  And we’re okay with that.”

(An hour later, L sets a box on my desk containing a doughnut.  She’s my new doughnut soul sister.)

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Perfect pressure

I like rules.  I suppose that’s weird.  Maybe it’s because I like things black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.  At work when our compliance coordinator gave me a list of 100 criteria we’re required to meet for our accreditation, I jumped into it.  I liked knowing where we were doing well and what we needed to fix.

And then during our accreditation survey last year we got marked for partial compliance on two criteria.  Three years ago we got partial compliance on a few dozen and still passed with full accreditation.  Only getting dinged on two out of 594 is basically unheard of.  It was the best survey result my boss had seen in decades of work in the industry.

While I was proud that we had improved, I was also sad that we weren’t perfect.

I’m that annoying person who got As in basically all her classes.  I wish I could say that it was only As, but a couple of Bs did sneak in there.  And I was so disappointed with myself when they did.  (Even over a decade later, I can still list which classes they were.)

I took a logic class in college and I got every homework question right the entire semester… except one.  I went to the teacher afterwards and asked how to solve it, he showed me, I facepalmed, and when the identical question showed up on the final I got it right.

In my first performance evaluation in this job, I got a 390 out of 400.  Despite the fact that it was my first year learning a job, that my boss didn’t believe in giving perfect scores, that it landed me in the top performance category, AND that I got a promotion, I sulked over those ten little points.

I know.  I’m sick.

This desire to follow the rules and be perfect bleeds over from my school life and my work life into my spiritual life.  I put pressure on myself to be a super Christian.

Just believing in Christ isn’t enough for me.  I also need to go to church every week.  And serve in kids ministry.  And read my Bible regularly.  And lead a team each year at Fall Fest.  And volunteer at other events.  And tithe at least 10%.  And and and and and and…

…and this is all incredibly stupid.  I don’t know what I think I will prove.  Yeah, there is a part of me that wants to prove something to God.  As though my doing all these things will gain me more favor — not necessarily more than other Christians, but more for myself just for me not in a competitive way.

Last year in addition to all of that, I was also helping out with high schoolers.  It was fantastic and I really enjoyed it.  But I was also exhausted.  Even though it was only one night a week, I felt frazzled and worn out and over-scheduled.  It wasn’t the high school ministry stressing me out; it was my life pace.  (The fact I was running / training more than I ever had before probably didn’t help — even if it did result in a year of great performances.) When my seniors graduated in the spring, I didn’t sign up to continue this year.

This year, my life is very quiet and my schedule is much less full.  There’s a part of me that really wants to go back to high school ministry because it was great, but there’s a stronger voice in my head telling me that I NEED to go back and berating all this free time I now have and how I should be filling it up with things to serve Christ.

Never mind that I can NEVER do enough things to serve Christ!  That my feeble little works and gifts and acts of service don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to how much Christ has done for me!

Why am I doing this to myself?  What am I so reluctant to accept grace?  Why do I think that God’s grace got me INTO salvation, but it’s my works that KEEP me there?

Unlike last year’s no-spending challenge, I have no resolutions or challenges this year.  Instead I’m spending the month of January doing a type of fast.  I went into the fast with the idea that it would be a good time to listen to God and get direction from him on what he wants me to do next.

Now I’m wondering if that’s actually the opposite of what’s supposed to happen.  Maybe this time of refocusing needs to result not at all in ideas about things that I could do or should do, but entirely in redirecting myself to deeper life of worship for what Christ has already done.

Maybe I need to learn to be still.

Maybe I need to learn that God loves me through and through and through regardless of what I do or don’t do.

Maybe I need to let grace envelop me and seep into my bones like wrapping up in warm towels hot from the dryer.

Maybe instead of a year of challenge, I need a year of grace.

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Discipline of Celebration

I didn’t make any formal resolutions this year.  But one informal one is to embrace the discipline of celebration.

It’s hard to celebrate the day-to-day.  Wake up, brush teeth, pack lunch, go to work, schedule meetings, type reports, go home, make dinner, read, crash, repeat.  But there are million little moment crammed in there that are worth celebrating if I just pause.  Breathe.  Look around.  Mindfully relish the moment.

Yesterday one moment was this.


Seeing the spectacular sunset outside my window at work, and just pausing for five minutes to watch the colors change as the clouds rolled in over the mountains.  Being grateful for a God who made the skies but also made US with a sense of beauty to appreciate his creation.

Today it was bidding adieu to my old old old mattress that makes my back hurt.  But first this had to happen.

oldI only hit my head on the rafters once.

And then in under five minutes the AFW guys dragged it away and replaced it.

So then there was this.


And tonight I will sleep like the happiest person on the planet.

God, make me grateful.  Help me celebrate the little moments in life.  Because life is all little moments strung together like a series of pearls on a string, and each is here one moment and gone the next.

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Enough and more

I think there was always a runner inside me trying to get out.  I made several attempts at becoming a runner before I finally succeeded five years ago.  Each time I failed because it was harder than I thought and I didn’t have enough patience and perseverance to push through the difficulty.

Even when I did finally push through and make running a part of my life, I didn’t know where it would take me.  But I certainly didn’t expect to end up running a marathon.  I mean, really, marathons are long and hard and how could I ever do something like that?  I was the girl who didn’t participate in any sports or regular exercise until age 29.  For me to become someone who would run her first half marathon at age 30 and then a full marathon at age 33 seemed ridiculous.  I was just hoping to have enough dedication to run the Bolder Boulder 10K!

A few weeks ago I ran across this quote attributed to Socrates:

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”

It’s true that I had no idea what I was physically capable of until I actually decided to lay down my excuses and push myself and try.  I won’t ever be an Olympian, but I am so much greater than I originally thought.

How much moreso in matters of faith.

I admit that I also set limits on myself when it comes to my faith.  I read stories like the Pauline sisters who established Musana and think, “Wow, I could never do something like that!”  Is that true, though?  Or am I just holding myself back out of fear, afraid to dream big about the ways that God might use me?

I don’t think that it pleases God to see us live our little lives of safety — middle class existence, going to church and Bible study, helping out in kids ministry but never truly taking obedient leaps of faith into to unknown knowing that we serve a great big God who is more than capable of catching us.

I’ve been thinking a lot about two of my favorite verses lately.  The first is from Proverbs 30:

“… give me neither poverty nor riches.  Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.”

Obviously this was written in the context of material needs, but I’ve discovered that this concept of ENOUGH is just as true in mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.  When I started running I didn’t need the strength and energy to be a marathoner; I only needed the strength for today’s run.  Even when I started the marathon, I don’t think I had the mental strength to put in 26 miles — but as each mile marker past I found enough strength for just one more mile, just one more mile, just one more more.

Or when I look at an overwhelming amount of things on my to-do list at work and in despair think, “How will I ever accomplish all of this?”  But I pick it apart little by little, bit by bit, and find I have enough time and ability to get it accomplished.

God has always given me enough to meet my needs — physically, as well as mentally and emotionally.  And what continues to surprise me is that he doesn’t JUST give me enough.  In most cases, he gives me MORE.

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work WITHIN US, to accomplish INFINITELY MORE than we might ask or think.” –Ephesians 3:20-21 (emphasis mine)

Just like God didn’t give me only enough strength to just do a 5K, but a 10K, then a half marathon, then a full marathon, he also gives me more in other areas of my life when I need it.  Like when looking around in exhaustion at the chaos of kids ministry thinking, “I don’t have the energy and patience and attention to give to all of these children!” but I start with just one for a few minutes and I find I’m energized enough to move to another, and another, and another.

God gives us enough faith to make it through the day to day even when it feels like the world will crush me.  But behind that enough, shockingly, there’s more.  According to Paul, infinitely more.

So what could God do through me if I stepped out in faith, trusting that he will not only provide enough for me to accomplish what he calls me to, but more?

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Breaking my New Year’s resolution is better than keeping it


All this stuff was bought in 2014.

I made a resolution for 2014.  Big surprise, lots of people make resolutions.  But here’s the thing I realized about New Year’s resolutions.  The big ones, the ones that matter, and that you really really REALLY want to keep and be successful?  Ideally they’re not just for one year.  They are habit-changing LIFE resolutions.  People don’t want to lose weight for a year just to gain it back.  People don’t want to quit smoking just to start again 365 days later.  People don’t want to get out of debt just to do an about-face back into it.

My resolution this year was The Compact, defined by Wikipedia as “a social and environmental movement whose members promise not to buy anything new for a year”.  I was excited about this resolution, and I loved it.  It was a great year.  But, it’s not the type of resolution that you can sustain for life.  Because even if I can put off buying a mattress for the year, eventually one day I do need a replacement.  (That’s my agenda for January 1, by the way: playing Goldilocks shopping for a bed – and I’m SUPER excited.  Did you know you’re supposed to replace mattresses every 5-10 years?  No wonder my back hurts after.. uh.. much longer than that…..)

So here’s how my Compact experience went.  In the first four months of 2014, I only bought two things: a birthday gift for my grandma, and something I had already known I would need to purchase and established as an exception on the day I set the resolution.  Keeping this resolution was surprisingly easy – realizing that I didn’t need these things that were temptations – and even freeing – not even being distracted wandering through the aisles “just to look” because I wasn’t going to buy anything anyway.

And then things changed.

As the year went on it became clear that there were some things more important than keeping my resolution.   I didn’t immediately fill up a shopping cart at Target, but I did start to shell out some bucks.  Two of my friends published books; in support of their years of hard work I bought copies.  In January I had no idea that before 2014 was over I’d have to train for and run two very long and difficult races; in support of my health and safety I bought replacement running shoes.  I went to Uganda and met widow merchants creating goods to support their families; in support of these women and the local economy I didn’t hesitate to spend freely and bring their wares back home with me to share with friends and family.

This morning I made a list of everything purchased in 2014.  It fits easily on a 3×5 card.  But what’s most interesting is that I can recall every single thing.  Every item on that list was purchased deliberately and with consideration, nothing was bought on a whim or because it was cheap or on sale.  Looking back at that list, I don’t regret any of those purchases.

So, technically, I broke my resolution.  But I’m okay with that.  Actually MORE than okay!

I went into 2014 with a goal of decreasing accumulation, spending, and waste.  But if I came out in 2015 with the same habits I had in 2013 and prior, what would the point have been?  Instead, I’m going into 2015 with a continuing life resolution to be thoughtful in what I own, how I spend my money, and the amount of waste I generate.

Living – and breaking – The Compact taught me a lot of things this year that I hope to carry well beyond a one-year resolution:

I have enough, MORE than enough!   I need to be more grateful for what I have, never taking it for granted.

I need less than I think.  In fact, there are some things I don’t “need” at all.

Stuff doesn’t have to be new, shiny, and in perfect condition to still be useful.  I don’t need to replace something as soon as it breaks – or possibly at all.

Quality is better than quantity.

Generosity is better than stuff – by not buying I freed up funds, and found I was delighted to treat friends to lunch or a movie, or redirect those to people in need.  Best “purchases” of the year, hands down.

Stuff is awesome and there’s nothing wrong with having stuff.  But it should be accumulated thoughtfully, responsibly, and with gratitude and joy.

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So I ran a marathon

Did I really just type those words?  It’s been almost a week, and it still hasn’t actually set in.

I mean, I know that I ran for a really long time.  I know I passed signs with numbers on them reading “23… 24… 25… 26…”  I know that my whole body hurt.  I know that I stopped running when I went under a sign that said “Finish” where someone put a medal around my neck with a ribbon in my favorite color, red.

But marathon?

That word has so many implications.  In my mind it has an almost mythical status.  Like people who summit Everest.  Or win a Nobel.  Marathons are hard!  Even though there are more people that do them than those that summit Everest or get a Nobel, they’re still hard.  I remember once writing a bucket list that included “be in shape to run a marathon” — just be in shape but not actually run one because, seriously, me?  Like I could run a marathon.  Me.  Ha.  Don’t be absurd.

Yet somehow I ran a marathon.  Did I really just type that again?  Not only do I have a medal and finisher’s shirt to prove it, my time is on the internet.  Pain is temporary, but your finishing time is on the internet forever.

My friend and I argued all weekend about whose fault it was that we were doing this marathon.  Was it hers — for applying for and being accepted by this program for people benefiting from medical technology to run this marathon — or was it mine — for alerting her to the program’s existence and writing a nomination letter to accompany her application?  She told me if she got accepted that she’d bring me along to fill her complimentary guest entry.  I guess that means I should have written a lower-quality nomination letter.

But actually if I’m honest, I think it is my fault.  Because I think I was up for the challenge.

A marathon.

An actual marathon.

Twenty-six point two miles.  Plus all that walking in the starting corrals and after the finish line to pick up my stuff — I really think that should count for something.

I hate anticipation.  Hate hate hate it.  I get super nervous.  I had panic attacks before going to London.  I had panic attacks before going to Uganda.  Before doing the Pikes Peak Ascent I sat on a curb with my head between my knees gasping.  If there is enough time for me to overthink and get stressed about something, I will.  I’d rather just be surprised by big things than know they are coming.  Unfortunately there’s no way around that when it comes to a marathon, because you need to train for months beforehand.  You can’t just wake up and decided to do one.  (I mean, maybe if you’re superhuman like Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher…)

So it was kind of surprising that Saturday night I was fairly calm as I laid out everything I’d need the next day.  And that night I slept soundly.  When I woke up at 5:30 I dressed as though this was just another day.


And then we got on the school bus to head for the start line.

And I lost it.

It probably didn’t help that the heat was cranked up to 120 since heat makes me light-headed.  Or that we sat in the last row where every irregularity in the road surface was magnified, jostling the breakfast in my stomach.  I leaned my head against the back of the seat in front of us, pressed my hand to the icy window to ground myself, and focused on breathing.  My friend — who has seen me freak out about pretty much everything possible — silently rubbed my back.

I just need to start running.  Once I start running I’ll be fine.  This anticipation is killing me.   I just need to start.  

Finally we got off that stifling bus.  Finally we found the bag check truck.  Finally we found a spot in the corral.  Finally we started moving in the mass of people toward the start line.  And then finally we crossed the timing mat that signaled the end of months of preparation and anticipation, and the beginning of a big day.

And then I was fine.  It was just another long run.  A long one in a city I’d never been to before surrounded by 12,000 other people — but just a long run.

People say there comes a time in a marathon where you freak out and panic.  “I still have 23 miles to go?”  “I’m just halfway?”  “I’m only at mile 20?”  That moment happened for me… never.  I know, I’m surprised too.  I thought I’d wish I was bad at math every time I passed another mile marker flag and mentally subtracted it from 26.  But instead with each one that came into sight I thought, Another mile down!  I’m getting there!

Despite this being six miles further than I had ever run in my life, as soon as I started running there was not a doubt in my mind that I would make it to that finish line.  The only question was how long it would take me to get there.  And how much pain I would be in by the time I got there.

Yes, I was in pain.  A lot.  I went out too fast (yay, low altitude = more oxygen!) and started hurting at mile three.  Each time I passed an EMS station I considered asking for ibuprofen, but I was too afraid they’d DQ me after all I’d been through to get here.  My plan had been to run-walk the whole race.  By around mile 17 it took just as much effort (and pain) to walk as to run, so I wanted to keep running.  I had to force myself to drop to a walk knowing I still had many miles left.

Predictably, I eventually slipped into that zombie-like just-keep-moving-forward state.  I had podcasts playing on my phone, but I only passively listened; hearing someone else’s voice kept my mind from thinking too much.  Even though we had driven the course two days earlier and seen how beautiful it was, I couldn’t focus enough to appreciate it.  There were a fair number of people on the route for such a long course, and my brain was functioning just enough to read the signs that they held.  “Hot dog, you’re all weeeners!”  “Worst parade ever!”  “Motivational sign!”  “You think running is tough, my arms are getting tired from holding this sign!”  (Been there, and yes, it IS hard — you guys are awesome.)

At one point I ran past two little girls holding a plate of fruit, and it wasn’t until I was five steps past that my brain registered, “Eat that!” — best bite of watermelon I’ve ever tasted.  Just as tasty was the orange slice a lady had handed me few miles earlier.  I have to say, formal course support was lacking.  There was plenty of liquids, but only ONE food station with ONLY Clif Shots, which I already had in my pocket anyway.  God bless the spectators with their offerings of random food!  Like the mile 15 banana people.  There was a mimosa station that I considered just for the OJ — but I knew that champagne would hit my legs like a sledgehammer.  Around mile 22 I saw a man on the side of the road opening a box for his wife and she pulled out a glazed doughnut; I considered veering over there and snatching it out of her hand.  (I didn’t want the whole thing, but one sticky bite would have been awesome.)

Finally between the trees I could see the dome of the capital building, where I knew the finish line awaited.  Then we came out on the top of a hill next to a beautiful cathedral where below me I could see the mile 26 banner and the finish line.  Yes, “below me”; the last 0.3 miles was downhill.  Praise God, praise God so much!

And then I crossed the finish line.  And was given a medal.  And my first marathon blanket.  I was a little delirious.  After running for over five and a half hours, it felt weird to stop.  I heard someone yell, “Hey!” and saw a man leaning over a fence holding my bag check; in my stupor I hadn’t seen the signs and nearly walked right past.  Someone put a bag of potato chips in my hand.  Another person gave me a black shirt and I smiled at a tiny little word on it: FINISHER.

I shuffled toward a striped tent, looking for one person: the person who was the reason I was here.  I glimpsed her there in her blue jacket with a medal around her neck identical to mine.  She turned and saw me and cried out, “YAY!!!!!” running to embrace me in a hug.


Silently smiling I put my head on her shoulder and I cried.  Tears of relief.  Tears of pain.  Tears of triumph.  Tears of joy.  Tears of overcoming.  Tears of everything.  Tears of a marathoner.

We sat down and I pulled out my phone to scroll through the dozens of text messages of encouragement I’d received from loved ones during the previous six hours.  Overwhelmed and not sure how to put into words everything that I was thinking and feeling, I just started sending them a picture:

IMG_20141005_140950nopmUpon further reflection while typing this and thinking about all of those text messages, I renege my previous statement.  It’s not my fault that I ended up in Minnesota at a marathon.  It’s hers.  And it’s yours, too.  You heard me; you’re at fault.  All you people who texted me.  Everyone who said, “Wow,” upon learning what I was doing, followed by, “Oh, you’ve got this.”  All you people who cheered for me via Facebook and prayed for me at kids ministry and Bible study.  All the coworkers and colleagues who excitedly asked about my race leading up to it and descended on my office upon my return wanting to know how it went.  Everyone who said they’re proud of me.  It’s completely and totally your fault.  Because you believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.  How could I have done something like this without all that love and support?

About one mile from the finish line, there was a spectator holding a sign.  It said, “You’re no longer a runner.  You’re a marathoner.”

I guess now and forevermore that’s me.  Alissa: marathoner.

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Secretary Tales, issue #13

My coworkers are weird.



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Another love language

In several conversations lately we’ve gotten on the topic of love languages. If you need a refresher, the “five love languages” are:

  • gifts
  • acts of service
  • quality time
  • physical touch
  • words of affirmation

I’m a fan of the concept of love languages – that is, that people both express love and feel cared for in non-universal ways. And that sometimes we think we are showing love for someone, but they have a hard time seeing it. Likewise that sometimes we may not feel that someone cares when really they’re just speaking to us in a different language.

While these five may be the primary or most well-known love languages, people have written about many other of their own love languages – silence, food, sarcasm, etc.  I feel like there’s an additional one – and I’m not sure if it’s actually it’s own separate love language or an underlying component of love languages in general. Maybe it’s both. I’m talking about knowledge.

I know, it’s kind of weird, so let me explain.  By knowledge I mean knowing someone well enough that you know their needs or likes or quirks and can respond to them.  It means that you’ve paid attention to someone and taken the time to learn about them.

I went to a friend’s recently for dinner and – after greeting me with a big hug – she pointed at some of the food on the counter and said, “That has onions in it, but this doesn’t.”  It’s a little thing, but she remembered my allergies and took them into account when planning the meal.  If she had forgotten I wouldn’t have thought less of her, but the fact that she remembered made me feel loved.

In college when I would visit my family, my mom would occasionally hand me some Jelly Bellies or Lemonheads or Dots or some other candy she knew I liked.  Often times she had seen it weeks beforehand in a store, thought of me, and bought it to give it to me the next time she saw me.  Knowing specific things that I liked and wanting to make me happy with those made me feel loved.

I was at a restaurant eating a sandwich but all of the contents were falling out.  So I had to switch my grip to cup the sandwich in my hands to keep it together.  My friend watched at me with a mischievous smirk on her face.  I stared back at her and her smile kept getting bigger and bigger.  Finally I said, “You know I’m REALLY uncomfortable right now because my hands are getting dirty.”  Unable to hold it in any longer she burst out, “Yes!” with a huge peal of laughter.  Even though she was laughing at me, I felt loved because she knew me well enough to recognize and poke fun at one of my quirks.

Last weekend a kid came running up to me in Sunday school wearing his Minecraft t-shirt and creeper hoodie.  On a scale of 1-10 my Minecraft knowledge is about a 3, but in previous weeks I’d asked him about it and each week since asked about his progress. So on Sunday this kid ran PAST the scooters and bouncing balls and zipline (yes, we have a zipline) straight to me because he knew that I knew he loved Minecraft and would ask him how his progress was going on building an animal hotel.

So yeah. I think knowledge is related to love languages. And regardless of whether or not we claim it as one of our top love languages, I think it’s one we all need to work on in the way we express love to each other. Because we all have a desire to be known to some extent – whether that means “knowing” that someone’s primary love language is words or “knowing” to not bring up someone’s father because of a history of abuse or “knowing” that someone is stressed based upon signs you’ve learned to recognize.

In college I did a Bible study with some women on a book called “Do You Think I’m Beautiful?” Whenever the leader announced the study in large group and said the title of the book, the guys in the room would automatically say “Yes” before she could finish the sentence. They were trying to be funny, but I wanted them to know that this book wasn’t actually about physical appearance.

Because even though every woman wants to be known as and told that she’s beautiful (it’s true), the book was about more than that. It was about how that question is rooted in the desire to be known. “Do you think I’m beautiful?” could also be translated, “Do you see me, actually see the REAL me with all my features and faults, and STILL accept me and love me?”

Because God does. In fact he’s the only one that really can. He knows the hairs on our head and which breath will be our last and how much that person’s innocent comment actually hurt you. Psalm 139 days that he knew us before we were born. He is the fullest embodiment of knowledge and love. He knows us better than we know ourselves and yet loves us completely.

I struggle with speaking the love language of knowledge. Because it requires listening and paying attention, and then remembering instead of letting myself be distracted and making excuses. Which is hard. But I think it’s important. And it’s something I want to work on.

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Step one: Jesus

Recently I’ve often caught myself wishing I was better in the roles I hold.  A better Sunday school teacher.  A better employee.  A better friend.  You get the idea.  Not that what I am or do right now is necessarily bad, just that I feel– no, I know that I could be better.  There’s always room to grow, and though I can never do any of my roles perfectly I don’t want to become complacent.

With each of these aspects of my life – and more – I’m reminded that they all start at the same place: drawing near to God.  Because everything in my life is an overflow or outpouring that starts with my relationship with God.

To become a better teacher, I need to know God better to understand what I’m teaching.  To become a better employee, I need to know that everything I do is an act of worship to my Creator.  To become a better friend, I need to know selflessness and patience that I can only learn by letting God become bigger while I become smaller.

Through all of these and more, I need to understand more about God’s love for me and for people.  ALL people.  My kiddos.  My coworkers and customers.  My friends.  Only by discovering how much value they have in his eyes can I start to see them and love them they way that he does.

There are of course other steps after step one – like making time to study the lesson plan, working to eliminate distractions at work, and deliberately making plans to connect with people I care about.

But whenever I feel overwhelmed and hopeless I go back to step one.  Prayer, time in the Bible, worship.  Step one is always the biggest and most difficult and most crucial – as well as the easiest to forget.  But afterwards steps two, three, and beyond seem much more achievable.

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