My Suitcase Message: Love Yourself Enough

Years ago when I volunteered with YoungLife, I was trained how to create Bible studies specifically for the high school students I was discipling. The main gist was: imagine those students could only take 1 suitcase to college. What would I want to make sure was packed in there?

The answer was obvious to me: I wanted them to know they were loved, to value themselves enough that others couldn’t devalue them. It wasn’t self-help. It was biblical truth. It still is.

It was the blind leading the blind, or at least I can look back and realize how blind I really was. Next year I’ll hit that proverbial hill and yet I’m going through my second divorce. Yes, second.

Insert mental picture of me hanging my head in shame.

But this isn’t about shame. Not even sympathy. It’s about our suitcases. You see, a friend made a comment a while ago, something about my picker being broken (“picker” as in the thing that helps me select the men in my life). She’s right.

This broken-picker girl is back on a mission to help pack suitcases, but my targets are different this time. First victim: me! Next up, my girlie.

She hadn’t heard me use the cliche “do what I say, not what I do,” until the final threads of my second marriage began unraveling. And along with that old standby, she also hears, “Make sure your picker is working properly.”

I guess I say it more than I realize because last night she made a comment that surprised me, restating an answer I forgot I’d told her previously.

“Micayla, do you know why my picker was broken?”

“Yup. Because you didn’t love yourself enough.”

Oh, sweet tears. If all this pain and agony I’m going through only results in my girl coming to love herself enough, it will be worth it all. Yes, every stinking tear I’ve cried at all of the most inconvenient times: worth it in full.

If I can keep learning this on the other side of the hill while teaching my girlie long before she even spies it, well, let’s just say it’d be a life well lived in my book.

And so we pack our suitcases. Lean into Love, for of course loving enough can never come from within, for that would only produce a mere illusion, a puffing up of something that doesn’t deserve to swell. Oh, but to sit at the feet of the one who made us? To listen to what He has to say about us? To believe we’re more than mere dust or happenstance. To believe. Accept. Embrace. Wrap ourselves in the truth and as we do, to see that same truth covers others. It isn’t a comparison game. A better or worse than. Just a pure, unadulterated enough.

I’m beginning to think we really can’t ask for more than enough!

Oh Father, forgive me for the countless times my thoughts or actions try to say that you goofed either in making me or in the depths of your love for me. I don’t mean to discredit your love, but it’s so vast that I can’t comprehend it. Stretch my mind so I can get a better glimpse of who you say I am. Give me the boldness to do what you ask of me. Help me live fully–fully alive, fully obedient. Help me wear your love and be transformed and renewed by it. And let me love others the way you desire, even when it costs so very much. And of course, please help my love for you grow more and more every day. Lord, I love you. Amen.


Life without a Commentary

It’s a painful story to read if ever there were one: a boy adored by his dad and despised by his brothers, a man betrayed by family and sold into slavery, a slave rising in power to the second highest in command, then thrust into jail unjustly.

Joseph’s story is littered with pain, hardship, turmoil, blessings, and just about everything in between. My heart wants to break for him as I read his account, yet it has a lilt to it, a commentary available to those of us reading about him centuries later that wasn’t offered to him at the time.

The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.”  Genesis 39:2

From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.” Genesis 39:5

The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” Genesis 39:23

“The Lord was with Joseph.” “The Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.” It’s these backside commentaries that draw me forward into Joseph’s story, a promise that God was with him and a foreshadowing that something good was about to happen.

But the reality is, Joseph didn’t “see” those commentaries. He didn’t psychically see God with him, and he lived in a time before the coming of the Holy Spirit, so perhaps he didn’t really know that God was still with him, even in the pit of a well or on the trek to a foreign country after his brothers sold him, or while sitting in jail, or in many other situations.

He didn’t have a copy of the verses above since they weren’t penned yet. He simply knew his life.

Just like you and me.

It reminds me of a story I heard long ago. I’ll butcher the retelling of it, but it goes something like this:

An old man’s son broke his leg. The townspeople said he was cursed.

War broke out. The son couldn’t fight because of his leg, so he stayed home while all of the other men went to battle, many of whom never returned. The townspeople said the man was blessed.

The man’s horse ran away. The townspeople said he was cursed.

The horse ended up finding a herd of wild horses, which followed the horse back to the man’s house. The townspeople said he was blessed.

The story continues, the labels of blessing and curses alternating throughout. This story resonates deep because I long to put a label on things: my new job is good, getting divorced is bad. But life doesn’t operate so succinctly with “good” or “bad” labels for everything, for even with Joseph, the things we would quickly label as bad, God deemed good. Stop and reread that.

The things we would quickly label as bad, God deemed good.

I think Joseph would have done himself in if he spent all of his time trying to figure out the label to each situation he found himself in. Rather than deciding which points had “bad” stamped across them, he remained faithful.

Again: he remained faithful in the good times and bad, which perhaps were one in the same, or more accurately, intricately woven together. If you’re familiar with Joseph’s story, you know he ultimately saved his family’s life when he provided for them during the years of famine. But even Joseph knew that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for God’s presence with him AND for the times we so quickly want to write a bold “BAD” by: jail, slavery, false allegations, betrayal and more.

We, like Joseph, don’t have the luxury of seeing the commentaries that go along with our stories, those God-eye views that us non-gods can’t possess.

I imagine this means something different to all of us. To me, it paints pictures with grays rather than mere blacks and whites. It means the challenge to recognize that crazy hard times can bring something crazy good, even if the crazy good is a refining of our outlook, our thinking, or our very souls.

One truth I’ve recently discovered lends itself strongly to this life without commentary attitude, this ceasing to label and instead living faithfully. It’s highly personal and isn’t the point of this blog, but I’ll share it just as an example. You know I’m going through an ugly divorce, a situation I long to put a big BAD across the file tab. But even in this “bad,” here’s my reality: it took getting divorced to know how deeply I am loved. I ask you: could you label that as BAD? Me, neither.

So I’m taking the Joseph challenge and am trying to stop with the labels, the Stacy-determinations of if God is for me or against me, and instead I want to remain faithful and trust His goodness. Always.

Who’s in?


Hold on to Truth

There are all kinds of anti- things these days, things that fight against something else, like:

  • Antibiotics. I’m so very glad for these on my oh, so sick days.
  • Antiperspirant. Another one I’m extremely glad for!
  • Anti-wrinkle. I haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but it could be in my cards.
Image Courtesy Flickr: Paul Appleton

Image Courtesy Flickr: Paul Appleton

But how about a new one? Anyone heard of anti-perish? I know what you’re thinking: I’d be a millionaire if I could create it, a fountain of youth type thing. Well, the reality is, it exists, just not in the way we’d expect.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, emphasis mine

Sounds a bit extreme, right? I mean, are we really going to perish just by refusing to love truth? In a nutshell, yes.

If a boat is sinking and a passenger abandons the damaged vessel and clings to driftwood, you better believe they will do just that: cling. They will hold onto it for their life.

In a world of relativity, we must ask ourselves if we’re willing to cling onto Truth, to love it wholeheartedly. To let it shape, redeem, transform, save.

Oh Lord, may your truth penetrate and refine me.

signatureLinking in with 5 Minute Friday, writing prompt “Hold”




Preparing for an Attack: Lessons from a Chokehold

Many of you know I got a new job (yay!!). I’ve gone through various trainings, one of which included a day on how to get out of a chokehold, what to do if someone bites me, how to put someone in a restraint, and more. I can’t begin to tell you the problems this caused for me, the inner turmoil that rumbled throughout. Am I really voluntarily putting myself in a position where I’m prone to be attacked?

Granted, my training process has been a bit backwards: I was offered the job after the initial overview of the company as a whole was offered, the one that would have offered the big picture of the job. I hadn’t even completed my hire packet before hearing about the many risks of the job, along with physical ways to try to alleviate them.

For the birds is just one of the phrases I’ve been heard saying these past few days. Why, oh why, would I put myself back into a place where I could get hurt?

So I had a heart-to-heart with the lady in Human Resources, sharing my concerns and fears.

“Those are extreme cases and you most likely won’t encounter anything like (being put in a chokehold), but we’d rather you be prepared in the event that something were to happen.”

Truth be told, this jury is still out. I want something a little safer. No, wait. Much, safer. But sometimes we aren’t called to live safe (but I’m saying to live stupid, nor will I ever, ever condone abuse. Never ever. Run to safety. Break down the walls of silence. Trust me, if you aren’t safe, you’d be surprised how many people will come to your aide to make sure you are).

I know it’s naive, but I’ve always feared being trained for something, thinking that somehow it will cause that thing to happen. I hated learning how to help a choking baby, fearing that somehow it might “make” my kids choke. Same with First Aid and CPR.

And maybe even with spiritual attacks.

Okay, not maybe.

I know the chances of facing a spiritual attack is infinitely higher than the odds of one of my kids dying from choking on a hot dog. In fact, it isn’t even a matter of if. Nor is it when. I’ve been there. Am there. And I’m not alone.

So while I might adamantly resist learning how to break away safely when someone grabs me by the hair, there is a major dose of prevention that I’m all over:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:10-17

Let’s not be unaware and pretend like nothing will happen. Instead, let’s armor up!


Finding God in Trying Times

Here’s the last installment of my mini camping series.

Whether or not you’ve ever camped, we all knows what happens when the sun goes down while staying in the great outdoors: lighting becomes a challenge. Flashlights, lanterns, bonfires and torches provide the necessary light to keep from tripping over tent stakes or making the trek to the smelly outhouse.

It goes without saying that its harder to see in the dark than during the daylight.


Mostly. Yes, it’s highly logical that we see best in the light, but I’ve found one major exception: the dark periods of life.

I met with a friend the other day and she talked about her Dark Years, those grueling days after her husband left and she had to figure out how to provide for her little ones.

“It took a long time, but I finally realized I could see God the best during those dark years,” she said and my heart instantly knew its truth.

I, too, have been walking through my Dark Days. This divorce is just agonizing. Finding a place to live. Looking for a job when all I have is a sporadic work history. Longing to best care for my kids when I couldn’t even promise where the next meal was coming from. And that doesn’t even touch on the emotional stuff, the deep angst and sorrow and confusion and turmoil.

You can’t wish days like these upon anyone, not even someone you dislike. But somehow, in its own way, these Dark Days are a beautiful gift of sorts, for in them we

see. Truly, truly see. We get amazing glimpses into knowing:

  • We can tell God over and over how much life hurts and He doesn’t get mad. In fact, we can throw little fits here and there and still be in a good place with Him.
  • He cares in ways we never could have imagined. In ways that go well beyond our hopes, beyond our dreams, beyond the wildest thing we could conjure up. They all fall short compared to what God is capable of–and what God does!
  • He provides in the most extraordinary ways.
  • He is BIG. No wait, let me say that again.

God is Big! So, so very much larger than what our minds try to comprehend, blowing the lid off the little box we attempt to put Him into.

I’m not going to list out all the things I’ve seen during my Dark Days because I know that if you’ve been in them too, you’ve seen it as well and you get it. But for you fellow Dark Days or Dark Years dwellers, I hope that you haven’t just seen the effects of the dark. I hope and pray that you’ve seen the Light!

My Bubba is sometimes scared of the dark, wanting a nightlight on in his room to displace any monsters. Sometimes we’re scared, too. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit this dark period has terrified me. I’ve cried. Screamed. Cried some more.

But through it all, I’ve been held.

And I’ve seen.

And for that, I’m beyond grateful.


Bug Spray Prayers

 In honor of Labor Day and the unofficial end to summer, both of my posts this week will somewhat pertain to camping. But don’t worry, you non-camping folks, you’ll still get it even if you’re idea is like my kids’ and you vote for a hotel over a tent.Bug Spray Prayers

I went camping a few weeks ago. The weather was incredible (at least on the first day. The next day was a different story!). I pitched my tent while donning shorts and a t-shirt.

Okay, let me back up a little: I went camping by a reservoir. Read: lots of water and yes, lots of mosquitos. Did I mention I was wearing shorts? Can you say exposed skin?

Problem was, I couldn’t change into pants until I got the tent up (well, I guess I could have changed without it, but decided to save myself and everyone around me that embarrassment). The bug spray was buried much too deep to figure out where it was, so my best hope was to get said apparatus of tarp and poles set up quickly so I could correct my exposed skin issue. As I did the how-does-this-thing work dance while swatting mosquitoes, I looked up and saw a V directly above my then almost-pitched tent.

Yes, two swarms of mosquitoes flocked above us (and on me!), forming a V as they tried to penetrate the tent (or whatever they were doing).

You know the rest of the story. I quickly finished setting up the tent and dashed inside to put on pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Then the search for bug spray began, the hide-the-kids, Mama’s on a mission type search.

Once I found it, the squirt was on. I began spraying. And spraying. My mom offered to help me, yet was a bit perplexed since I was already covered in long clothes (and bites, too).

“Spray it everywhere!” I told her.

“But, but . . . even your clothes?”

“Yes! Everything. I want an aura!”

And that’s exactly what I got. I laughed with too much pleasure as I watched those nasty little insects start flying at me and then hit the invisible force field and turn away. Insert a wicked, menacing laugh and you’ll get the picture.

Victory over the mosquitoes!

So here’s the why–the why am I even bothering to tell you any of this? Because I realized it’s how I live, camping or otherwise.

I don’t normally use bug spray, and instead don a “what’s so bad about a few bugs here and there” attitude. Until.

Until there are swarms of them and blood on my hands (sorry animal rights activists. In my book, if something is stealing my blood without my permission, it deserves to die. Enough said).

Then I took action, but it wasn’t highly effective, so I then broke out the big guns in a big way (and yes, I’m so about buying one of those clip-on things that is supposed to repel bugs. Bugs: beware!).

But this isn’t just about bugs, is it? For me, it’s also about prayer. I carry it around like the bug spray that is supposed to always be in a pocket in my van, just in case. My analogy falls a bit short here ‘cuz I definitely use prayer on a regular basis, but my comparison is that I don’t really dig in until there are swarms out to get me or those I love or there is blood.

Then mama bear comes out, screaming down the gates of heaven praying on so much protection over myself and others that I might even get that same demented laugh as I realize I’ve helped put a shield around us (just to clarify, I don’t think God will shield us from all trials and struggles, but I also fervently believe in the incredible power of prayer).

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

James 5:16-18

Prayer is a powerful arsenal, allowing us to both connect with God, as well as plead for the Almighty’s help and perspective in all we do. It’s such an incredible thing that I want an aura–not a mystical thing, but I want to be covered by the One who loves me more than I could ever imagine.

What about you? How do you view prayer?


Separated by Fear

Flickr Creative Commons: Courtesy Malavoda repost from Nelson Mandela   It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?   Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Flickr Creative Commons: Courtesy Malavoda repost from Nelson Mandela
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

“Don’t leave me here!” a friend screamed.

“You don’t understand. I can’t come back,” I replied. Thirty to forty feet separated us, with a snake bridging that gap. Bridging the sidewalk actually.

“But you have your dog. She could scare it off.”

My dog had just stepped over the snake without realizing it was there. She wouldn’t be any use. “Are you kidding? She’s a wuss,” I answered.

“But what do I do?”

“Just go up the hill to get around it.” Um, the grass-covered hill where the snake probably came down from. My friend instantly saw through my faulty logic as she took off around the path, going much farther than intended to steer clear of the large reptile.

When Shelly rejoined me, I told her of my incredible fear of snakes (the one that propelled me forward when she screamed “snake” while she jumped backwards). I’ll do most anything for my friends, but walking past a snake on their behalf isn’t one of them, especially since I’d had another encounter with a snake just days previously.

I’d been hiking and was near the end of the trail when I discovered something long and slithery lying across the trail. He (yes, all snakes are male in my mind) covered so much of the path that I jumped backwards and scrambled back up the hill. Once I (almost) caught my breath, I tried to figure out how I’d get to my car. I could backtrack and take a different loop down, but that would add several miles and would make me late in picking up the kids. But there was that snake! Going down really wasn’t an option (can you say, sorry kids?).

I stood there, hand on chest, trying to get my heartbeat to normalize while devising a plan when a man walked up the path.

“Watch out! There’s a snake up ahead,” I yelled. I had to repeat it several times before he grasped what I was saying, but once he understood, his reaction was far from what mine would have been.

“A snake? Cool. Oh, look, it’s just a bull snake,” he said as he stood inches from the snake studying it. I think they call it a bull snake because its bull that I shouldn’t be scared of it.

After examining said reptile for much too long, he continued up the trail. “Nothing to worry about,” he said as he neared me, the one with her hand still plastered over her chest and fear oozing out every pore. My feet glued me to the ground, for not even his words could propel me forward.

They say dogs smell fear, but I think when it comes out in such large quantities, humans smell it, too.

“Um, hang on,” the man said as he turned around and walked back down the trail, stopping right in front of the very thing that caused me so much fear.

As he stood there pointing out the differences between a bull snake and rattlesnake, I said, “I’m just going to pass right behind you. Okay?”

“Yup, that was my plan.”

I eased my way behind him and shouted my thanks many times over as I took off in a sprint.

Fear separates.

In these two instances, it kept me from my friend, my kids, and even my goal. If you ask me, it was totally legitimate (after all, we’re talking SNAKE!). Unfortunately, there are too many non-reptilian things that strike fear in me and separate me from something good.

A snake is obvious–something psychical lying in the path–but there are things I normally don’t notice that impede me just as much. Sometimes its finances. Maybe relationships. A desire to meet a long-term goal that has been buffeted by various tempests. Whatever it is, that fear separates: sometimes from my kids, sometimes from my friends, sometimes from my goals, but always from my God.

No, He doesn’t stop loving me because of my fears. Nothing of the sort.

It’s my fears that separate me from God, unwittingly distancing myself from the One who can alleviate them and in their place give me something so much better:


I have a feeling I’m not alone in this separation. We fear if we fully abandon ourselves to God, we might lose ourselves along the way (which is quite possible, but we’ll find something even better). We might become a doormat, look like a fool, fail, succeed, or lose out on a job or a relationship.

Perfect love drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18

Today, right now, I’m going to the creator of love, pouring out my fears and asking for His love to surpass and encompass all.

Oh God, may we run to you, fears and all. Help us remember that

you love us, even when we think we’re undeserving (since we are!). Give us the courage to follow you, even through the times we’re tempted to give way to fear.

What about you? What does your fears separate you from?


Tell Them: The Powerful Gift of Gratitude

A friend met me at Chipotle yesterday to help me with my resume, but before we got to work I had several choices to make:

Burrito or bowl.

Black beans or pinto.

Brown rice or white.

Chicken or steak.

This list continued as I made it down the line.

I write the obvious: life is filled with many choices. We expect it. Are accustomed to it. Embrace it, at least when it comes to deciding what to eat or how to clothe ourselves. Yet I’m finding that we don’t acknowledge it as much in our personal lives. The ones we love have always been around us, and somehow that leads to the expectation that they always will.

March 15, 2009 zoo and Gabe playing in computer box 007

Yes, the expectation. The assumption–or presumption is more like it!–is that certain people have to be part of our lives, and that’s just how it is. But reality proves otherwise. Just a simple reflection of the people who once were an integral part of my life that no longer are tells this story. Some moved away or we drifted apart. A more intentional, deliberate breaking occurred with others. Whatever the case, there is nothing that obligates someone to be part of my life.

This realization alone might be the very thing that has led me to have such incredible people surrounding me. I look at them with deep gratitude, those beautiful souls who walk this crazy journey with me and let me peek into their mess (as they see too much of mine).

There is nothing that makes them do it. That’s only logic. I can’t make someone want to share their inner being with me. All I can do is realize that when they do, it is a gift. And then I get to do the very thing my mom always taught me to do after receiving a gift: say thanks.

Too often we tell others that we’re grateful for someone else. I could post here how much I appreciate AnneMarie for giving me her time yesterday to help improve my resume (and for listening, and just being a friend who is there). I could tell you how grateful I am, but some of you, especially my local friends, are probably experiencing the point I’m about to make: by telling someone of your gratitude for someone else, it causes the hearer to wonder why they aren’t worthy of you saying something positive about them.

There’s an absolute place and time to let others know about something incredible others are doing in your life. I don’t want to shortchange that at all, but here’s what I’m really saying: don’t forget to thank the person directly! Remember that they have a choice of being part of your life (and yes, that really does apply even if they’re family).

I won’t go into all of the research behind it right now, but I’ll just say that scientists have proven how strong the positive effects of gratitude are for someone when they tell the person directly. You read that right. The benefits aren’t just for the receiver. If you stop and tell someone how you’re grateful for them, you gain, too. Of course, the receiver wins as well.

My Girlie: 6th Grade


Let me give you a quick example. Just the other day, I posted pics of my kids on their first day of school. I ended up letting my girlie read the comments people posted about her picture, stating how beautiful she is (and yes I’m biased, but it’s totally true. The girl’s just awesome!). After she read them, she said, “Wow! That really filled my bucket!” It comes from a book, and if you aren’t familiar with it, it’s kind of like a love tank or an invisible pail that is either filled or depleted based on interactions with others.

I don’t want to be the person who steals from others’ buckets. In fact, I don’t even want their buckets to be at the same level before seeing them as it is afterwards. Let’s commit to filling those buckets, of recognizing that people have a choice and that if they’re choosing to spend it investing in us, then we’re quite lucky.

I want to make sure I’m telling people what they mean to me. It isn’t worth risking making them guess, for 90% of the time they’re gonna think they mean much less to me than they really do.

I’ll get the party started by saying thanks to you. I know you have tons of choices, even as far as what you want to read online. The fact that you’re swinging by here means something to me that I can’t fully articulate. Just know I’m grateful.

How about you? Who are you going to let know today that you’re grateful for?



Linking in with Five Minute Friday, writing prompt: tell. For my new peeps that I get to “meet” through FMF, just want you to know I’m grateful for you, too, and keep on writing!

Apples to Diamonds: When Comparisons Spoil Your Marriage

I wrote this after having an editor send me an email requesting articles on marriage. I immediately laughed, knowing the state of my marriage. But as I thought about it, I realized that even a girl with a then-failing (and now ending) marriage might know a thing or two about relationships. In fact, she might even be able to share a few things to possibly keep others from falling into the same trap.

This originally appeared on Today’s Christian Woman.

apples to diamonds

“If I’m honest, I always compare the worst parts of myself to the best parts of others,” my friend, Wendy, said during Bible study years ago. She spoke this profound statement with such humility that I almost didn’t glean the pure wisdom it offered. With time its words penetrated the deepest parts of my soul. Wendy shared about comparing the not-so-pleasant aspects of her inner life to the pristine perception she had of other people. Of course, everyone else won the competition they didn’t even know they were part of. I remember Wendy’s words because she brought a voice to the game I played without even being aware of it.

The game goes further than that, doesn’t it? The deck is shuffled and the cards are dealt when we get together with our girlfriends. As the conversation turns to things our husbands do, we begin looking at our hand, trying to decide if what they’re saying trumps what we have.

“I can’t believe Roger put my dry-clean only blouse in the wash,” Judy complains, while everyone else thinks, “Roger helps with the laundry? I sure wish my husband did, even if he ruined a few shirts here and there.” Without a spoken word, a winner—and therefore a loser—is declared.

The problem with this game is that when Mary gets home, she’ll become agitated with her husband.

“What did I do?” he inquires after Mary snaps at him.

“Nothing,” she retorts, meaning, “You do nothing.” And then she secretly adds in a whisper so quiet she convinces herself that she didn’t even think it, “if only you were more like Roger.” The irony is Judy is talking to Roger, except she’s wishing he was more like Sharon’s husband.

In a day when kids play games where everyone comes out a winner, we find ourselves succumbing to one in which no one wins: the one of comparisons.

John Hamel said, “Comparison leads to pride or intimidation.”[1] This is true even in our marriages. When we compare our spouse to someone else, we walk away proud of them if we decide he or she is the winner, or intimidated, frustrated and upset if we don’t.

Our spouse can feel intimidated if we nominate someone else as the winner. They might not even know we played a game or that they lost, but they’ll feel the result all the same. If we aren’t careful, we start treating them with contempt and disdain as we wish the parts of them we see behind closed windows was more like the pristine exterior of a friend’s spouse.

This game of comparison gets even worse when the only players are the ones inside our homes. We mentally take notes of what we’ve done lately and hold it side-by-side to our spouse’s list. We try figuring out who helped more around the house, who spent more time with the kids as they did their homework, or who is most valuable (which could can be calculated umpteen different ways).Sometimes it becomes an issue of who did a better job on a project, or even who is capable of doing better, even if they didn’t do a thing. I find myself at this place when I look at the bathroom after my husband graciously offers to clean it. I see the somewhat shimmery mirror, but I also see the grime that remains on the counters. I could have done better, I think, unwittingly declaring myself victorious in my bathroom-cleaning abilities. So I don my invisible “best toilet-scrubber” cape, that crowning glory I could care less about, yet fought to get at the expense of my husband’s self-esteem.

Are we doomed to go to bed with capes around our shoulders and daggers in our hearts? Absolutely not! The greatest remedy to the comparison game is gratitude. The change in perspective is so minor we might not even realize it’s importance, but its effects can be life-long (and life-giving!). Instead of judging who can wipe down counters better, we can train ourselves to get in the habit of simply thanking our spouses for what they do and who they are.

A friend’s husband jots her a note on a heart-shaped piece of paper every morning, thanking her for the way she raises the kids and for helping around the house. He sticks it to her thermos and then brings her coffee up to her (watch out: those comparison muscles might be going into overtime! Fight them off and remember that just because someone “wins” in one category doesn’t mean everything they do is bliss). At the end of the day, she puts the note on a cabinet, creating a beautiful collage of love, encouragement and gratitude.

We don’t need little pink stickies to mimic this. It can be as simple as remembering to say thanks for working hard to support the family or for washing the dishes (even if we need to go back and redo a few of them). We can write little notes and make a game of hiding them in unique places, like in his toolbox thanking him for keeping the home in running order.

In order to counteract the “I can do better” attitude, I’ve come to realize there are some things I truly can do better or enjoy more than my husband. Let me dig in the dirt as I do yard work and I’m a happy girl, but five minutes of pulling weeds and Allen is miserable. Most outdoor chores now fall on my plate because they’re enjoyable to me, while Allen is in charge of ironing since he knows I would rather get my teeth cleaned than smooth out wrinkles in my shirts.

Just like we can’t simultaneously look forwards and backwards, we can’t be looking out for things other people do better than our spouse and look for ways to encourage and motivate him. By deliberately choosing to look at our spouse in reverence and respect, we’ll be moving our relationship forward, but most importantly, we’ll stop spoiling our marriages by comparing apples to diamonds.