Love is a Decision

Watching my oldest move closer to the date when he will truly ‘leave his parents’ and begin the lifelong process of ‘cleaving’ to his wife, I find myself thinking more and more about love. This word, like many, has become one we toss glibly about: we love chocolate, we love Scandal, we love the flowers growing in our garden, we love pecan sweet potato pie (can I get an amen!) – the list goes on. But do we really love these things? And if we do, are they able to love us back? And if they weren’t able to love us back, should that make a difference to the quality of and our commitment to love?  Of course, these questions do not really apply to chocolate or pie especially since their brand of ‘love’ leaves them clinging to thighs, abs and chins and refusing to let go. That’s probably not a healthy love. But these are questions we must ask about genuine love relationships.

I have prayed long that my children would marry people who loved God with all of their hearts and souls, people who treasured, respected and honored my son and daughter. I’ve also prayed that whomever our children married would be folded into our family, without all of the negative drama so prevalent and normalized in our society. And my prayer has not been only for the future spouses but that our families would mesh, that we would love each other, be great friends and supports. In my vision, our families would merge so tightly that we provided a safe harbor in which these new family branches could grow and bear fruit.

This is the prayer of a person for whom family is very important, the prayer of a person for whom love has often seemed more like something captured in a colander than a bowl. At times I’ve watched love slip through the holes and wondered what happened. Sometimes I have carelessly pressed it through those holes. I’ve also floated in it, riding the gentle swells. confident in the ability of the container to hold true. And still I believe… I seek… I desire to love and be loved.

Over the years I’ve learned something very important about love. It’s not the overwhelming, mushy feeling of the movies and romance novels. Love is much more than that. Our emotions are fickle, contrary and very often totally and deliberately deceitful. Strong, mushy feelings are important. Who hasn’t loved so much that you wondered if your chest could contain all of the feelings! But emotions are really only a fraction of the story. Love is a decision we make and purpose in our hearts to act upon. In the traditional wedding ceremony, the officiant asks the bride and groom if they promise to love, not, do you love this person already but do you promise to love through whatever life throws your way. That implies making a conscious and continuing decision!!

I’m rejoicing because in a few short months I’m going to have a truly wonderful daughter-in-love. I already adore her. Yet, the truth is, we don’t fully know each other right now and that’s okay. We have a lifetime to get to know each other. It will take time for the seeds being planted now to take root and blossom. That’s the future. In the present, I know enough to be willing to choose to love her. I know she loves my son. I know she loves God. I know she loves her family and I know she is willing to love ours. So, I deliberately make the choice to love this young woman. I make a conscious choice to make room in my heart for her and for the rest of those she loves. I choose to love her now and I’m going to love her as long as we both shall live. If that sounds like the wedding vow it’s because it is. When two people marry, they join FAMILIES! There really is no such thing as marriage between two people. Other cultures have a better understanding of this concept than Americans and it’s time we do a better job of comprehending.

Choosing to love is not always easy; sometimes it would seem simpler just to walk away or turn your back. Love is risky business at the best of times because we are flawed individuals. Because we are, it is inevitable that we hurt each other, that we step on toes by mistake, that we get so caught up in our own stuff that we are negligent or careless with others. Yes, deciding to love is risky but the rewards are tremendous. You and I are recipients of deliberate love. God’s love for a deadbeat, hard-headed, recalcitrant humanity (that would be you and me in case you missed it) was so deep that God made a decision that would cost Jesus His life. God did that for us, not because we deserved it but because God loved.  This is how Vanessa Bell Armstrong’s song, For God So Loved The World, puts it:

God could have chosento never love again,
fallen man could go his wayand die in his sin.
But God in His compassion said,“I’ll pay redemption’s price”,
so He took on the form of man and became the perfect sacrifice.

That’s the image of love, personal sacrifice, a decision to love when you don’t feel like it, when the other person gets on your nerves, when you feel misunderstood…. even when your heart is broken. Love is a decision. What is your choice?DSC05979

This photo was taken after Mom and Dad Cox celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. This is one of my favorite images of sacrificial love!

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Getting Healthy Instead of Skinny (Lord, can I have both?)

Now that I’m in my mid-50s I realize more fully that gaining weight is EASY, losing it is just the opposite. I’ve been a yo-yo dieter most of my adult life. You know everyone knows it when a former student asks  ‘What diet are you doing now, Dr. Cox?’  That’s too much.  Something has to give – once and for all.

I also realize that getting healthy is much more than fitting into skinny jeans (there is NO bikini in my future). Getting healthy means taking a holistic approach to life and determinately seeking health in the ways that matter: God, family, friends and self.  Jesus is the model. We are told in Luke that Jesus grew in wisdom (training the mind and learning to apply the knowledge garnered),  stature (attending to the physical body) and in favor with God (developing a knowledge and relationship with God that informs decisions and actions) and with (wo)man (developing and sustaining right relationships). Jesus also understood the value of knowing who He was, whose He was and following His purpose with passion. Jesus didn’t get His value from external sources.

The gift of life is a wonderful thing, a precious gift that we often take too lightly, especially when faced with a double chocolate fudge brownie with ice cream, a platter of fried chicken or lounging on the sofa surrounded by greasy snacks watching a good movie. Nurturing the gift is not going to happen by accident. Being healthy requires intentionality, making good decisions in the here-and-now. I’m a planner so it is very easy for me to create a detailed, lofty plan for eating, studying, working out, connecting with family and friends, praying… the list goes on. Actually FOLLOWING the great plan is another thing altogether, one I’m not so good or consistent at. However, I’m determined to learn to take things one step at a time.  As Pastor Doug said, I’ll ‘do the next right thing.’ That’s it. No magic formula. No huge plan. No falling into the pit of despair over not following the lofty plan.  When I begin to do the next right thing purposefully and consistently I believe I will be healthier and maybe, just maybe, a bit skinnier.

 

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