Nearly six years ago today, I sat nervously in my living room and waited for Justin to pick me up for our very first date. After weeks of emails, phone calls, and text messages, we finally planned to meet in person. If you’ve seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, then you’ve witnessed the adrenaline rush and anticipation we both felt as we progressed from witty banter exchanged over texts to a real face to face encounter.

From my perch in my living room, I hoped I looked half as cute as Meg Ryan and paced the floor while fidgeting with my hair.  I saw his truck pull up in front of my house and watched as he took a deep breath and made his way to my front door. I don’t know if two people have ever been more nervous in their entire lives.  On the other side of that door, I took a deep breath of my own and prayed the date would not be a total disaster.

From that first date, until a year later when we stood at an altar and said, “I do” we fell head over heels crazy in love. The kind of romantic love you dream about as a little girl. The type that makes you do crazy things like drive three hours in the middle of the night to see your beloved. The kind of endorphins that make you sign up to run a ½ marathon with your boyfriend even though you can’t run a 5K.  Romantic love is a drug, and oh, is it good! So on New Year’s Eve, when Justin dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him, I thought I knew all I needed to know about loving him.  Saying “yes” to be his wife was a no- brainer. After all, we were “in love.”

“For love, we will climb mountains, cross seas, traverse desert sands, and endure untold hardships. Without love, mountains become unclimbable, seas uncrossable, deserts unbearable, and hardships our lot in life.”
Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages

There is nothing like falling “in love.” Food simply tastes better. The weather is pristine. And everything about the object of your affection, adorable. But romantic love, the crazy cocktail of pheromones and emotions which propel two people to join hands for life is far different than real love.  You know, the “for richer or for poorer… in sickness and in health…’til death do you part” kind of love. The “for better or for worse” kind of love requires muscle, not mistletoe.

Our world today uses the word “love” so flippantly. From strangers, who declare this devotion after ten days of knowing each other on The Bachelor, to protestors marching in the streets screaming at each other; the word “love” is now political, polarizing, and frankly, puzzling.

“Love is the most important word in the English language
—and the most confusing.”
Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages

Since February is the love month and women everywhere either celebrate or curse Valentine’s Day, I thought it most appropriate to pause and reflect on what the word “love” truly means and discover how to become a woman who loves well.

Before we dive into this topic, I want to confess that I’m a student of this subject. I’ll be completely honest; marriage has been the ultimate mirror to show my selfishness. It reveals our sinful natures and how we, in fact, fall very short of the royal command to love. The past five years of marriage have been the best years of my life. I am the most blessed woman in the world, but marriage has exposed my selfishness and pride like nothing else. So, as I dig into God’s word on this subject, please know that I do so because I desperately want to grow in this area… I want to become a woman who loves well.

Secondly, I want to acknowledge that women from all walks of life read this blog. Perhaps you are a single woman and still hoping to meet your Mr. Wonderful. (Girls, I’ve so been there and wrote the books!)  Or, maybe you are a woman who is currently dating and trying to figure out if the one you’re with is “The One.” And then there is the third group of women, who like me, are married to the one who won your heart and now you’re living in the reality of marriage. At whatever stage you find yourself, it is imperative that we recognize the difference between being “in love” with someone and choosing to love them.

Gary Chapman, the author of the best-selling book, The Five Love Languages writes, “True love cannot begin until the in-love experience has run its course.”  Please read that sentence again. “True love cannot begin until the in-love experience has run its course.”  What Chapman means is that only after the initial romantic high has worn off, do we get down to the business of truly loving another person.  Perhaps that is why the most famous verses in the Bible about love sounds more like a to-do list than a love letter.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Real love, according to the Bible is a choice of the will to put the needs of another before our own. We see the best example of this love in Jesus Christ who laid down His life to save His beloved. The feelings of love may ebb and flow over the duration of a relationship, but the choice to love proves the essence of real love. As Bob Goff so famously says, “Love Does.”

“But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright.”
Bob GoffLove Does

Trust me, this kind of sacrificial love does not come naturally to any of us.  As I’ve asked the Lord to transform me into a woman who loves, here are three tangible ways the Lord is teaching me to love well.

1.  Love Speaks the Other’s Love Language

After five years of marriage, it dawned on me that my husband and I have very different love languages.  I feel adored by him when he speaks words of affection or when he rubs my tired feet after a long day of travel. These things fill up my love tank. My husband, on the other hand, can’t stand a foot rub. (I know, right! Who doesn’t like a foot massage?)

On the other hand, Justin loves to sit on our back porch and watch the sunset and just talk. He’s a quality time guy. Just sitting is hard for me. I’m a go- go- go type of girl. So to sit and do NOTHING feels like a chore. But what I’ve realized is that this is how Justin feels loved. He wants to connect, take a deep breath, and do nothing but enjoy each other. It’s amazing what happens when you dial into what makes the other person feel loved how much they reciprocate the gesture.

The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman is a classic for a reason. This book helps us discover how we best experience love and how to speak the language of your significant other. This book is incredible for whatever stage of life you find yourself. Just last night, I talked with my bonus-boys (ages 9 and 13) about their love languages and what makes them feel important and valued.  Over grilled chicken and a green salad, I discovered that my boys spell love T.I.M.E.

2.  Love Speaks Words of Life

I married a renaissance man. He’s an artist with an insatiable appetite to learn, create, and discover new things. He’s not one to sit on a couch and watch television. Justin longs to live to the fullest. From triathlons to photography, he passionately pursues a myriad of projects… all at once.

During my nine months of pregnancy last year, I went through a lot of hormonal ups and downs. These changes left me feeling overwhelmed and like life was spinning out of control. (Any sister out there know what I mean?) On top of the raging pregnancy hormones, we went through the process of remodeling and selling our family home, buying a new one, and then living in six months of renovations. We spent every weekend at Lowes or Home Depot. (I would not recommend this for your next date night.)

What I noticed is that as the stress mounted, I felt like I didn’t have time or space to breath.  I began to express my fears and worries verbally to my husband. So instead of rejoicing with him over a new photography project or triathlon, I spewed out all the reasons it was bad timing. He heard my concerns as criticism. Over a few months, tensions built up, and we were arguing about stupid things.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Proverbs 18:21 NIV

One morning I took this problem to the Lord. The answer to our my problem was my mouth. Words have the power to either speak life or to speak death, and I was doing the later. All too often, I spoke words that were filled with fear instead of faith and ones that didn’t build up my husband and encourage his gifts.  Through the challenges of the last year we both learned better how to better communicate and get “on the same page” about our schedule and how to make calendar decisions, I now take a deep breath and choose my words carefully. Instead of reacting in fear to more demands on our plates, I can better speak life into the things he wants to pursue.  I’ve learned that loving him well means choosing my words wisely.

3.  Love Does

Shortly after Justin and I married, I took on the full-time job of being a step-mom to my two bonus boys. From cooking dinner to folding socks, the daily chores of motherhood fell on my shoulders. Something interesting occurred… the simple acts of serving the boys created a deeper love for them. When I bandaged wounds or packed lunches, these actions fostered the emotions of love.

This is a kingdom principle at work. We tend to love those whom we serve. The more we sacrificially choose to give, invest, help, and nurture another person, the more we feel love for them.  C.S. Lewis said it far better than I ever could:

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

I’ve discovered this principle works with all types of relationships…even with complete strangers. When we serve people, we love people. When I cook dinner for my family from a heart of service instead of self-pity, then I discover that I feel more love for them as we gather around the table. When I wash my husbands’ laundry because he’s working until the wee hours of the morning, the emotions of love follow the simple gesture.  Love does the laundry, the grocery shopping, and the middle of the night feedings.  When we humble ourselves, to serve, the God of Love, Jesus Christ fills us up and His love overflows to others.

Friends, I’m thankful we live in the realm of grace. I have failed on far too many occasions to keep the royal law of love. I’m grateful for each new day and opportunity Jesus gives to experience His love and give it to others.  We are selfish by nature and seek what is best for ourselves, but thankfully Jesus is at work making us more like Him. Until the day I see Him face to face, I will continue to be transformed into a woman who loves well.

Marian Jordan Ellis

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