My husband Russell is an avid hunter. As in, has-a-special-closet-devoted-to-hunting-clothes avid. We have two deer and an elk hanging on our wall in the living room, not to mention countless deer skulls in the garage.
One night at the end of a long week, I was exhausted and climbed into bed. I had been asleep an hour when a loud crash shook the house. In a panic, I woke up and ran into the living room, only to discover a massive elk on my floor, surrounded by shattered glass.
The antlers left a scratch about a foot long and smashed a huge hole in the wall, obliterating my favorite wedding picture. Broken glass spread across the sofa, rug, and floor like a spilled drink. To make matters worse, I stepped on shards in my dash to the living room. I limped over to the sink, carefully avoiding another run-in with glass on my way to rinse my bleeding foot.
I wish I could say that I responded better, that I went to get a broom, laughed about it, and helped Russell clean up. But no. I was mad, tired, and now wounded. I thought, Who needs this many dead animals on a wall anyway? I complained about the broken frame—that my favorite picture now sported an antler-shaped hole where our faces used to be. Then I went back to bed, leaving him to clean up the glass. And I might have shut the door a little harder than necessary. Even though I knew it wasn’t his fault—after all, the other wildlife was still perched on my wall—I was frustrated and irritated, and I took it out on him.
Author Lysa TerKeurst says, “There is a beautiful reality called imperfect progress … slow steps of progress wrapped in grace.” It’s moments like this that remind me just how great that grace is. Too often, I think I understand it all. I grew up in church, went to a Christian school, and now work for a ministry. I’ve had Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” memorized since childhood.
I’m finding that even though these truths are ingrained in my mind, they aren’t always fully imprinted on my heart.
My husband and I just celebrated our first anniversary. Though it may sound cliché, it’s been an amazing year. He makes me smile and laugh as no one else can. His kindness is boundless, and he leads with a servant’s heart. But marriage isn’t easy—something I’m continually learning. Scripture tells me to “guard [my] mouth and [my] tongue” (Prov. 21:23). It teaches me to “be subject to [my] own husband, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). Such things don’t come naturally; I’d much rather do and say what I want. And I’m finding that even though these truths are ingrained in my mind, they aren’t always fully imprinted on my heart.
I’m convinced marriage teaches on a whole different level. I find that I can easily “love” in the professional, polite environment of work. Loving people I see twice a week at church for an hour isn’t challenging, either. And when my husband and I were dating, seeing each other only every couple of days, it was a joy to smile and say sweet things to him. Yet in marriage, our time together includes packed schedules filled with jobs, cooking, cleaning, yard work, and budgets. We have to make decisions about how to spend free time and when to see our extended families during the holidays. We both have bad habits and bad days. How I choose to respond to everyday irritations—and the big emergencies—is when I’m choosing to really love.
Over Christmas, I went to visit my grandparents. My grandfather is dying. He has dementia, has suffered several strokes that left him bed-bound, and can’t eat solid food. While I was there, I closely watched my grandmother. She bathes and feeds him, changing diapers and listening to him ramble. She holds his hand and sleeps on a cot beside his hospital bed in the living room. My grandmother, who loves going out and socializing, stays home to care for him. All with a smile. Even on the hard days, which are now more often than not, she serves and loves and bears all things.
How I choose to respond to everyday irritations—and the big emergencies—is when I’m choosing to really love.
She didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that she was going to love my grandfather. It took successive years of choosing to love him every day in the little and big things—an experience that laid the firm foundation she has now.
Instead of hospital beds and dementia, Russell and I deal with who takes the trash out or folds the laundry. So, I have to make the choice daily to love. I have to decide to be patient, to be pleasant, and not to be irritable—to learn how to be selfless and apologize without a defense in this moment—right here, right now. Because someday there will be something bigger and more difficult to deal with. And the only way to prepare for what lies ahead is to submit my life fully to Jesus.
Is submission to God easy? Of course not. Obviously, it’s something I will continue to struggle with. But I am learning. I’m learning to listen with an open mind instead of arguing back. I’m making an effort to reply with a pleasant answer instead of frustration. I’m trying to remember to take the trash can out and check the mail. I’m matching socks, even though I prefer just to throw them all in the drawer. I’m learning to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Because, in the end, love never fails.
The next day, I went to the closet to pull out the vacuum. I cleaned up the remainder of the glass—from the couch, the rug, the floor. I washed the blankets and pillows. And later that evening, with the elk on the floor looking up at us, my husband and I sat down, put in a movie, and hit play. Though small, it was an opportunity to love.
Editor's note: The author's grandfather, Richard Reynolds, passed away in January.