Wifey Wednesday: He’s Not the Man I Married Anymore!

My husband has changed--but so have I. Thoughts on change in marriage--and why it can be a good thing (even if it's hard!)It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! Today please welcome Dayna from Dayna Bickham, who shares how her husband has changed since they got married.

The man I married no longer exists.

When we married, nearly twenty years ago, I thought I knew what our life together would be like. I thought I knew what I was getting into and who I was marrying. Boy was I wrong.

Randy was a people pleaser, a mercy man, and was more emotionally driven than most guys I knew. When I met him I liked these things about him. I was so opposite. I did not care what people thought of me or my actions (good or bad), I saw things in stark black and crisp white and emotions were something of a bi-polar topic for me. I wore my joy and anger on my sleeves equally, but hid any other emotions because they made me feel weak. Randy seemed to know that and gave me a safe place to land where all that broken stuff in me did not matter.

But Randy isn’t the man I married all those years ago. My husband has changed.

You see, I married a guy who I thought would understand me as I was and never try to change me. I married a guy who I thought would always strive to please me.  I married a guy who I thought would let me emotionally vomit on him any time I needed to because he understood me. Oh, how wrong I was.

Thank God.

Randy is not that same shy boy I married and I am no longer that self-centered little girl.

Marriage is a great catalyst that way.

cat·a·lyst ˈkatl-ist/ noun

  1. A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.

Change is Coming

Marriage begins with a blissful ignorance. There may be small things that bug us about the other one — like toothpaste cap application issues and replacing the toilet paper — but in general the buzz we feel from being “in love” still lingers and we move on. But over time we realize that the things we thought we liked about the other person may not be as good as we thought.

Life begins to rub up against us in some really uncomfortable ways and stress begins to squeeze us. Like those glow sticks you have to break and shake to make glow, stress bends us to a point where we hit our breaking point. The consequent shaking can either tear you apart or make you cling more tightly to one another. If you cling then likely you will change – fundamentally and radically. The people who come out of the stress induced crisis are different than the ones who go in.

This is life — but in marriage it is intensified.

So change is inevitable. Slowly and surely the man you fell in love with will change. So will you. This is a good thing.

Does anyone want to still be married to the kid version of their spouse — the one who did not know how to pay bills, who’d rather go see a movie than mow the lawn and found video games a better way to spend all his time — that kid version? What about you? Do you think he wants to stay with a girl who takes hours to get ready, never says what she really thinks, doesn’t order her own food but eats all of his fries, and spends all her time daydreaming instead of doing?

Change Chafes

So when you find yourself getting frustrated with your spouse because they are not the person you thought they were, kindly get over yourself.

I know that seems harsh, but it is time we grow up a little when it comes to marriage. Our spouses are not one size fits all and there is no return policy. Not if we want marriage done God’s way.

So I propose — if you are having a difficult time with your spouse — you do this. Write down the top three things you loved about him/her then (leave some space in-between your answers – or you can make a chart), next write down how those things have changed.

Spouse’s Name

How Did He/She Change

Why did they change? What happened?

Is this Good or Bad? How?

Trait 1 You Liked
Trait 2 You Liked
Trait 3 You Liked

Now, write down why those things have changed. If we are honest, the reasons why may include the answer, “Because I changed…” or life challenge words like “cancer” or “mom’s death” may come into play.

Finally, ask yourself why the change in your spouse is a bad thing? (I am not talking about sin issues here — those need to be addressed separately from this.) Ask yourself, what new character trait has developed? How that can make your marriage stronger?

If you can, get your spouse to do this evaluation on you, and then talk about what that means to your relationship. There will be things that are beneficial to your marriage and things that you will not like. It will be up to you to “fix” those outliers and move forward with more focus on who you are now.

Change Your Mindset

Like any plant, we need some encouragement. Plants get encouragement through their environments and from pruning/training. We are similar. We get encouragement to grow when our marriage is safe, full of life, and well apportioned with love and devotion (our environment). In addition, our spouses can help shape our growth by lovingly working alongside us — pointing out what needs cutting out — so we can grow (pruning/training.)

I am not saying your spouse is there to parent you. I am saying the person you married should be trustworthy enough to help make you into a better person without destroying you at the roots.

Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other. Proverbs 27:17 CEV

I cannot tell you how many times Randy has brought up my trigger temper (at great risk to him! Ha!) or I have encouraged him to break free of his shyness more. Both are uncomfortable topics for each of us, but if we want a healthier, happier life, growth must happen.

Lou Holtz, one of the best football coaches of all time says, “In this world you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.”

The key is growing together.

What kind of changing has happened in your spouse since you married? How have you handled that change?

Dayna BickhamDayna is a writer and speaker. She is also a wife, mother, and Whovian. Bow ties ARE cool. She loves great music, food, and laughing. Above all she loves laughing. Dayna blogs at daynabickham.com. During the summers she leads mission trips around the world. Her passion is teaching people to hear the Lord for themselves and to pursue whatever he says with their whole heart. You can friend her on Facebook and Twitter. Dayna’s is the author of Chosen for Purpose: Overcoming Giants and Living Your Dreams, available at online retailers everywhere.

Christian Marriage Advice

Now, do you have any advice for us today? Link up the URL of a marriage post to today’s Wifey Wednesday, and get some traffic back to your blog!



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Wifey Wednesday: My Husband Needs to Change!

Christian Marriage AdviceIt’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today I want to talk about a really common feeling women have: Why is it always me who needs to fix the marriage, when my husband needs to change! If he’s the one who needs to change, why is it always me who needs to do the work?

I totally understand the sentiment. One woman wrote it this way after reading my post “Does Everything Really Come Down to Sex?”:

I am not sure why but this post makes me feel a little angry inside. I guess women should sex their husbands regularly so that their husbands will be productive members of the household…It just seems so ridiculous to me. I wake up at 5, feed the baby, make the kids lunches, take the kids to school and daycare, go to work, come home, make dinner, clean up dinner and prepare for the next day. I literally don’t stop until I get into bed (usually around midnight.) I do all of these things because it is what I have to do. If I don’t my husband won’t. How am I supposed to make sure he is pleased when he doesn’t do anything to help or please me. Do I like sex? Yes, but when am I ever energetic enough to do it? Hardly ever. “Sex is your way of saying to him, “I’m committed to you, I love you, I want you, I value you.” If he knows that and feels it, it’s so much easier to then bring up the really big issues that are bothering you.” Wait, so me taking care of our children, feeding our family, keeping our home, none of these things say that I love and value him? I bristle against the notion that in order for our husbands to want to please, help, show us love that we first have to somehow convenience them with sex. I can certainly say that I would feel a whole lot more receptive to sex (and would have more energy instead of falling into bed at night) if he ever washed bottles, or did the dishes after dinner, or washed the laundry every now and then. I get it, somebody has to give first, but WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE ME?

I really do understand the frustration. She’s absolutely exhausted, she does too much, he does very little, and then she says, “why do I have to be the one to fix the marriage?”

I know many of you reading this blog feel like it’s your husband who needs to change, not you, so I want to give a few thoughts:

My Husband Needs to Change! So why do all the books and blogs talk about me changing? Some thoughts.

1. You Can Only Take Responsibility for What’s in Your Control

Why am I always telling women how to change their behavior and attitudes? Because those behaviors and attitudes are in your control. Your husband’s behaviors and attitudes aren’t.

You may want your husband to change, and you may think he should pick up some slack, and you may think that he should be nicer, but the truth is you have absolutely no control over that. You really don’t.

So we have to look at strategies that YOU can do to make your marriage better. Sitting back and fuming and growing resentful because he isn’t doing anything isn’t going to help. You may feel morally superior, because he obviously has so much he needs to change, but that’s not going to get you a good marriage.

Serenity Prayer Plaque from Dayspring

2. I’m Writing this Blog to Women!

Here’s something else people often don’t understand. This blog is primarily for women. I do have quite a few male readers and I do appreciate them, but I’m writing to women. My books are written to women. So for me to write a big post on how husbands should change doesn’t help. It may make all of us women feel better, but it isn’t going to do a thing to help your marriage, because YOU’RE reading this, not your husband.

Now, a while ago I did go on a rant and wrote a post directed at men: Here’s What I Wish I Could Say to Men about Sex. I felt so much better getting that out! But it was still primarily women who read it.

I know there are areas where men need to change. If you wanted me to go on a rant about it, believe me, I could fill major blog posts, like this:

For pity’s sake, stop playing video games all the time and pay attention to your kids! Don’t expect your wife to make love if you never help with the kids and she’s exhausted. Get off of your butt and clean the house a bit. If your wife leaves you with the kids, you’re not “helping her”. They’re your kids, too! That means they’re your responsibility, too!

Etc. etc. etc.

But again, what good would those posts do, other than make us all feel better and superior? If I’m writing to women, I don’t want to get you all riled up about how your husband needs to change. I want to actually offer practical help, and that means addressing what’s in our control.

3. Chances Are He’s Hurting, Too

Here’s the big one that most of us just don’t get. If you’re unhappy with your life, chances are he is, too. He’s not experiencing that intimacy he needs if you’re unhappy. He may look like it’s all peachy keen, but chances are he’s upset about something, too. And if you can go and think about what he’s missing, and reach out and meet his needs, often you start a domino effect that has great benefits for your marriage.

I know it’s hard to reach out when you’re lonely and frustrated, but if you do that, you really can change the dynamic in your marriage. Things won’t change if you sit there and do nothing. But if you decide to find things to be grateful for, start encouraging him even when you don’t feel like it, and step out when it comes to sex, you may just find that his attitude towards you changes, too.

Sure, it would be nice if it did that on its own. Sure, he should be loving you regardless. But if he’s not, are you going to sit there and just be angry about it? Or are you going to do something about it?

4. If Your Husband Needs to Change, You Likely Need to Set Boundaries

When I’m talking about changing the way that you relate to your husband so that you fix your marriage problems, that doesn’t only mean encouraging him, making love to him, or praising him. These are important things, yes. But sometimes we need to change by simply drawing boundaries and doing less.

Emotionally Healthy WomanIt’s like what Geri Scazzero said in her book The Emotionally Healthy Woman. Sometimes in order to find real peace we have to quit. And many of us are overfunctioning in our marriages, and the more we overfunction, the more he underfunctions.

She tells her own saga of getting to the point where she needed to quit. Her husband was a busy inner-city pastor, and Geri felt like the proper Christian woman poured herself out for her kids, and her husband, and never asked anything of anybody. So she always said yes whenever someone from church needed her. She ran programs. She said yes to having people for dinner. She had no time to herself, no time to be creative, and no time to recharge.

Eventually she couldn’t take it and she told her husband she was quitting going to their church. That put in motion a whole series of steps that finally helped their family come to healthy balance. And much of that was letting go of the things that she was doing so that others would rightly do them. In Boundaries in Marriage Henry Cloud and John Townsend talk about a similar dynamic. They say that God designed this world so that “you reap what you sow”. When you sow something bad, you get something bad. The problem in many marriages, though, is that the person sowing the bad stuff isn’t reaping it. So dad is grumpy and mean to his wife and kids, and the wife and kids walk on eggshells around him so as not to set him off. They’re reaping what he is sowing.

The key, then, is to allow the person who is reaping something to also sow it.

How does this relate? Sometimes, if your husband needs to change, he can’t until you start putting up some boundaries. Look at this woman’s letter for a minute. She’s probably exaggerating a little, but it seems as if she gets about 6 hours of sleep, which isn’t enough. She’s completely haggard. That’s simply too much. It’s unsustainable. Sure, you can keep doing it, but you’ll lose yourself and you’ll burn out, and what kind of mom, let alone wife, will you be?

Perhaps the best thing she could do to change, then, is to start saying “no”. Sit her husband down and say,

“I can’t keep working at a full-time job unless you also start to do some of the childcare responsibilities, like taking them to daycare or making half the meals or doing some of the housework. If that’s not possible for you, then what I’d suggest is that we find ways to reduce our costs so that I can work part-time, because I can’t keep doing this.”

Maybe it means moving back to an apartment, or whatever. I don’t know. But she can start saying, “no”.

When I say that a woman needs to change, then, I’m not always saying that she needs to bend over backwards to meet all of his needs. Here’s what I’m saying:

She should bend over backwards to meet his legitimate needs, and she should examine herself to make sure she’s not trying to meet needs that aren’t hers to meet.

I think quite often we’re meeting the wrong needs. We’re spending tons of energy and time on things that don’t build relationships (getting kids in tons of extracurricular activities, working full-time, volunteering at church, creating a perfect home), and in the process we’re making ourselves exhausted. We’re also spending tons of energy doing things for people that they could and should do for themselves (doing all the housework, making kids’ lunches, etc. etc.) The more we do this, the less energy and time we’ll have to meet our husbands’ legitimate needs for affirmation, encouragement, intimacy, and even sex.

If you’re absolutely exhausted and you’re upset that your husband isn’t equally exhausted, it can look like he’s getting a free ride.

The answer, though, isn’t always for your husband to change. Sometimes it’s for you to start saying no. Saying no to all the things you do. Saying no to overfunctioning at home. Saying no to outside activities. And then you’ll be able to say yes to the things that actually do build marriages!

I hope that makes sense! I know sometimes reading blogs it can seem like the only way to fix a marriage is for the woman to change. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m simply saying: take control of what is in your control. Examine yourself first. Do what you can. Change the dynamic. And then see what happens!

Now, do you have any advice for us today? Link up the URL of a marriage post to today’s Wifey Wednesday, and get some traffic back to your blog!

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How Do We Get over Marriage Problems and See Marriages Change?

DSCN7418This weekend my husband and I have been speaking at FamilyLife Canada’s Weekend to Remember conference in Collingwood, Ontario. I love getting away with him and speaking; it always makes our marriage better, too! We have a weekend to talk about nothing but marriage, and we always feel like if we’re going to get up there and teach, we had better practice what we preach (my husband is especially eager to do so with regards to the sex talk :) !

Yesterday, during the wrap up, my husband told two stories about how change happens in marriage, and I’d like to share them with you now.

First, picture two little boys down in the kitchen making breakfast. They’ve eaten some waffles, but they’re still hungry, when the toaster pops up. There’s one waffle left. They both go over to grab it and start fighting over it. Mom turns to the boys and says, “now, now, what would Jesus do?”

Both boys, shamefacedly, admit, “Jesus would give His brother the waffle.” Then, quick as can be, the little boy points to his big brother and says, “You be Jesus!”

Often that’s what it’s like in marriage. We’re saying, “you be the one to change first”. You be the one to make that first move.

That doesn’t work.

I also think of the analogy of the World War I trenches. During World War I, both sides fortified themselves in trenches, which were basically impenetrable. For four years, they fought over a stretch of about twenty miles.

 

'War!' photo (c) 1918, National Library of Scotland - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

 

And that sometimes is what we’re like in our marriages, too. We get into our trenches, and we’re afraid to stick our head up in case something comes flying at us. So we dig in and prepare to stay a while. But then nothing can ever get better. Nothing can ever happen until one person has the courage to climb out of the trench and walk across the no man’s land.

Of course, the analogy isn’t perfect, because in World War I whoever got that courage first tended to die. But that’s not true in marriages. I think in marriage when one person decides they’re going to be selfless; when one person decides they’re going to forgive; when one person decides that they’re going to show love, even if the other person doesn’t, the dynamic of the marriage changes.

That’s what happened in our marriage when we were having problems in the early days. I found sex difficult and emotionally draining. Is that all he wanted me for? He felt lonely and unloved. And so I spent my life trying to turn him off. And then one day he came to me and said he would give up all expectations on me and just love me. And he meant it. And it was so freeing. For the first time I could figure out if I wanted to for me, not just for him. Everything changed.

That’s really what marriage is about. It’s deciding to change yourself, because when you let go your need for retribution, often the other person is then freed to be who they were meant to be. They’re not stuck anymore. Now I have written a post and done a video for those of you who feel very alone in your marriage,. I do know change is not always easy, or even likely. But for most of us, changing our own attitudes can do so much to change the marriage.

At the end of the conference, we hand out certificates, pledges that they can sign that they are committed to this marriage. The couples can take them home and sign them (some people get their kids to witness them at home, or their pastor), and it’s a very moving moment.

DSCN7419
If you’ve never gone to a marriage conference, I’d really encourage it. We don’t make anyone sit in small groups and spill their guts to strangers. You just listen to the speakers, and then do projects, just the two of you. No one takes attendance or bothers you. It’s all up to you. We enjoyed it when we went for the first time, and we try to make it fun and interesting for those who are there (as you can see from the video I posted yesterday).

For your viewing pleasure, here’s one of my favourite clips from the sex talk we give, from the Banff conference that we spoke at last year. Enjoy! It’s pretty funny:

Now it’s your turn: Have you ever seen the dynamic change in your marriage? How did it happen?

I've Got the Warm Fuzzies Going On!

I just love all you gals who read me faithfully! It’s such a privilege being able to share my thoughts on marriage and family and God with you.

And the last few weeks have been particularly good. I’ve written about some hard things in marriage, specifically regarding sex, for a few weeks, and the comments have been so honest. It’s given me a lot of fodder for more stuff to write about! And I think I see an ebook in my future: Sex Questions You’re Afraid to Ask Your Pastor. What do you think?

But what really makes me happy today is the discussion we’ve had on change in marriage this week. It’s just so neat to see how people responded to a commenter who was really having troubles, and then how people went out of their way to encourage her. It shows that blogs really can help people, don’t you think?

And then I loved her comments at the end of one post. She said:

By the way, I believe that trying to manipulate a husband is wrong, so I believe it is wrong to change what I am doing as a wife IF it is only so that it will change my husband. My heart needs to be in the right place changing me for GOD.

That’s very true. Change should always be about bringing us closer to God, not about manipulation.

But it shows the difficulty in giving people advice on marriage, because there are really fine lines everywhere, aren’t there? She’s absolutely right. To change just so that your husband will change is wrong. We need to change because that puts us more in line with God.

But sometimes change is necessary just because as men and women we’re different. My column for next week that I’m working on right now talks about this. See if you can relate:

Imagine that it’s a Saturday morning, and we’re planning to go cross-country skiing with the kids. After waking up and showering, I start to list out in my head all the things that need to be prepared: the kids have to find their snow pants, and I know Rebecca’s been missing a snow glove since last month; we need to pack a backpack with water and some snacks, and we’d better bring some extra scarves and hats in case we get too wet. A few band-aids wouldn’t hurt, either. Obviously we’ll have to do the dinner dishes from last night, since we all know I can’t leave dishes in the sink if I’m leaving the house. And since we’re going out anyway, we may as well go by the library, because the books are due on Monday, so it’s time to round them up!

Now I’m out of the shower and I have this huge list of things that must be done before we leave. I start doing them, and then go in search of my family, who are downstairs playing the Wii, having a grand old time. I start to get angry. Why weren’t they getting ready like I was? Do they expect me to do everything?

Then I find out they haven’t even had breakfast yet. Now my blood starts to boil.Why was Keith just playing with the the kids instead of giving them their marching orders?

What I’ve learned is that this is my problem, not theirs. No matter how much I may wish it, they are never going to have all the stuff that goes into keeping a family together in their heads the way it’s in mine.

I think my conclusion is going to be that I need to communicate more with my husband about what I need, because when I tell him, he’s there for me. But to expect him to think about it first is unrealistic.

And sometimes a lot of marital discord is due to little things like this. We expect our spouse to be just like us. And it doesn’t work that way!

I’m going to go play a game with my daughter and my half-brother, and then do some more work getting ready for my blog party on Wednesday.

Have a great Saturday!

How to Support Him without Being a Doormat

Over at my Wifey Wednesday post, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether or not we’re just simply blaming the wife for all the problems in the marriage, and I thought I’d better address this one head on.

First of all, absolutely not. Many of us are married to men who don’t show us love, appreciation, or respect. We aren’t happy, and we need more.

So there are two questions here:

1. Is the church putting the responsibility for change primarily on the wife?
2. How do we change things?

Here’s what I would say. The church absolutely is not putting the responsibility on the wife. Have you ever been to a church service on Mother’s Day? It’s all nice and sweet. There’s a sermon on how mothers are God’s gift to all of us, and then women get roses or chocolates or something. Now fast forward to Father’s Day. What is the typical sermon? Shape up, men. You’re ruining your families.

In my experience, the church definitely puts a lot of onus on the husband to shape up, as it should.

But here’s the issue, and here’s where we skip to the second part of my question: if the husband isn’t interested in shaping up, then what do you do? It really does no good to say, “the husband needs to shape up; end of story,” if he’s not interested in changing. And besides that, very rarely is anything entirely one person’s fault. There is always something we can do, even if it just revolves around how to find peace and contentment ourselves.

That’s essentially what my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum addresses: how to change YOU so that YOU can be peaceful and contented, even if he never changes. Because the only thing that you have control over is yourself.

If you are waiting for him to change, it is very unlikely that he ever will. First, you aren’t doing anything to make him change (nagging doesn’t count. That just makes him dig his heels in deeper). And talking to him doesn’t count. He can too easily tune you out. You have to change your behaviour and your attitude not to change him, but to help yourself. Do you see the difference?

In the comments, one woman wrote that the church is always telling her to change herself so that the marriage will change, and that doesn’t work. But the change I’m talking about isn’t becoming a doormat. It’s change so that we get our peace in God. It’s change so that we find a way to be grateful for what we have (and for what God has given us in Jesus). It’s change so that we decide that we are primarily responsible for our own happiness, not our husbands. It’s change so that we start ensuring that we have a well-rounded life, and have friends, and interests, and hobbies, so that our lives don’t revolve around resenting him.

It’s change so that we learn how to love him even if he doesn’t return the love in a way we need him to. Again, this doesn’t mean becoming a doormat. If he yells when he’s angry, remove yourself from the room. If he expects dinner to be ready, but never tells you when he’s going to be home, tell him dinner will be ready at a certain time, and after that he’ll have to heat it up (I’m talking about someone who treats you with disrespect; not a man who’s trying but sometimes gets caught in traffic). If he demeans you in front of his friends, say gently that you would prefer that he not talk like that, and leave the room.

I am not saying you need to accept disrespect and meanness. Absolutely not. But the change I’m talking about means going to God with your feelings, and asking Him to fill your life so that He is your living Water. And then learn how to love yourself and respect yourself again. And learn how to love sacrificially, too. Loving sacrificially is not being a doormat. It’s simply modeling Christ, and He was not a doormat.

You are not primarily responsible for your marriage. But you are primarily responsible for your attitudes and your behaviours inside your marriage. Certainly God judges your husband, too, and wants him to love you. But if he doesn’t, that isn’t an excuse for you to get out of it. You still need to serve and love.

But you can also take steps to make sure that others are treating you with respect. You don’t need to accept meanness, and nor should you, because that meanness will adversely affect the children. You can respond quietly and calmly that you would love to talk to him, but you don’t think you should be spoken to like that, and when he is ready to talk normally, you really want to hear what he has to say. Do you see the difference?

The commenter seems like she’s really angry because Christian women keep telling her that she needs to change, while they’re not saying anything to her husband. I’d love to talk to your husband, but as far as I know he’s not reading this blog! So I am telling you, the best I can, what can help your marriage using the only tools at your disposal: your own actions.

If we women start resenting our husbands and dig ourselves into a corner, saying, I will only change when he does, we’re basically deciding to be miserable forever. Is that what you want?

Or we can decide that we can take control of our own feelings, and go to God with them. We can seek out good friends. We can find hobbies. We can make our lives richer so that we have more emotional batteries and emotional support in our marriages. And then we can start treating him differently.

Men react well when they feel they are competent. They retreat when they feel they are not. If you are always telling him that he is a lousy husband, he will tune you out and stop spending time in the marriage. Is that right? No. But that’s how men work. If you want things to change, you have to realize that.

If you can love him, and affirm him in his strengths, you build him up and he is more likely to respond to you. But even if he doesn’t, you are learning how to be a bigger person. And that is worth something in and of itself, isn’t it?

Unconditional love and acceptance does an amazing thing to a person. When you can love your husband, without strings, and he senses that, chances are he will respond. Some men never will, but most will react to it. Again, I’m not saying you accept verbal abuse (let alone physical abuse). But you need to love him as he is, and stop waiting for him to change to be happy.

I hope that helps. I know it sounds harsh. But nobody has a magic wand that can change him. You work with what you have. And you have your own actions, and you have God’s help to love sacrificially. Those two things can transform your life. Don’t underestimate them!