The #90thankfuldays Challenge

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“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” — G. K. Chesterton

 

Autumn is almost here! This Friday marks 90 days until Thanksgiving. There’s a saying that goes like this: “It’s easy to find a hundred reasons to complain every day.” Pretty sure I tend to hit all 100 without even realizing it.

There are so many verses in the Bible that talk about giving thanks, letting our speech be edifying, and living in such a way that people incredulously ask about the hope/joy we have in us (and I’m not talking about being bubbly 24/7 – that exhausts everyone).

The Bible passage that stands forefront in my mind is Philippians 4:6-7, where it talks about not being anxious about anything, but to pray with thanksgiving, and the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds.

Why Be Thankful?

If you think about it, a lot of complaining stems from anxiety, which stems from selfishness/self-preservation (pride) and short-sightedness.

Notice the passage couples prayer with thanksgiving (this doesn’t mean you can’t come to the Lord with requests or confusion). Why is that? Have you ever noticed your mind frame and outlook on life, or even how you treat others, changes when you are dwelling on “happy thoughts” (to quote Peter Pan)? You’re not anxious or feel like complaining in that moment do you? So, prayer with thanksgiving results in a peace from God that will guard us….as long as we have that mindset. Verse 8 goes on to tell us to mediate on things honorable, excellent, just, lovely, etc. and to practice those things.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice requires discipline. Bad (sinful) habits are hard to break. It requires prayer for a heart change and action (steps to get out of that habit). It’s such a struggle – even the apostle Paul talks about beating his body black and blue to bring it into submission.

All this to say, I want to practice and be more proactive at giving thanks more and complaining less.

Putting it Into Action

For awhile there was this hashtag/campaign about finding one thing a day that makes you happy: #100happydays. I want to start my own campaign, which I would love for you to join me in, to find one thing a day (at least) that I’m thankful for: #90thankfuldays. If I was more tech savvy and had thought about this months ago, then maybe I could have created a similar website like #100happydays…but, hey, I’m thankful for spontaneity in this case.  

I would encourage you to not only have fun adding it to your Instagram photos or Facebook statuses, but that you really would meditate on just how blessed you are (hard to see at times, I know) and be swept away by joy.

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We’re Engaged!

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Many of you have been chomping at the bit to know when, where, and how Chris proposed to me on December 14, 2013. So, I won’t keep you in suspense a moment longer!

Let me just preface this by saying this is no over-the-moon, tear-jerker, viral, YouTube phenomenon. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. This ultimately was memorable and special to us. For those of you who know me, my tastes and styles tend to reflect I’m more of a classic, simple kind of girl – so for me, this was perfection.

I love Christmastime. There’s something magical in the traditions, aromas and sights of the season – from picking out a tree to stringing up lights to curling up with a big mug of steaming hot chocolate (with Bailey’s of course). White lights are my all-time favorite. I love any excuse to decorate with them throughout the year. There’s something romantic about them and they way they can transform the look and feel of a space.

And, when it comes to Christmas trees, I have to confess I’m a little like Buddy in Elf, and can’t resist enthusiastically pointing them out (my fiancé can attest).

With that in mind, of course I was beyond thrilled that date night and Chris proposing had both those things in it.

This past week was a very busy one for both of us – so much so we had to push our midweek date night out to Saturday. At that point, we were thrilled to get the whole afternoon and evening to ourselves – it was like kids getting let out on spring break – the whole evening we goofed off and didn’t have a care in the world. That whole afternoon we got to veg out, and then took our time getting out the door for dinner at Original Pete’s in Midtown, Sacramento (they have delicious pizza – some of the best in town). After our meal we ended up bumping into people we knew from church, who were singing Christmas carols to the people brave enough to face the cold weather during 2nd Saturday (it’s an art walk type thing where galleries and shops stay open later and host various artists). It was fun getting to sing along with them for a few songs.

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We then hopped in the car and parked in between the Capitol building and the Tower Bridge (which is painted gold and is a city landmark) with the plan of walking across the bridge and then walking to see the big Christmas tree in front of the Capitol. I’d never been across it (driving or walking) since I’ve been here, so Chris thought it would be fun to do. When you cross the bridge you are officially in West Sacramento. There’s a bike path and the Riverwalk on that side (take that, San Antonio). Looking across the water, you see the lights of downtown and Old Sacramento (and there Christmas tree). Unbeknownst to me, Chris was trying to locate the “perfect” view of the Sacramento skyline to propose. Aloud, he mentioned he wished he had brought his Nikon SLR along (photography is a fun, little, side hobby). Much to his chagrin, there was a couple with a camera and tripod doing long exposure photographs in the very spot he thought might be the best view of the city.

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He decided to try Plan B: the Capitol Christmas tree. When we arrived, there were a lot of people snapping photos…of course I joined them. As I admired the tree, Chris said, “I just thought it would be more….impressive.” I laughed at the bummed tone in his voice, and wondered why the size of the tree mattered to him (since he’s not really into Christmas decorations), but pushed it to the back of my mind. As I discovered later, the public, crowded setting didn’t feel right to him.

Chris said, “We could go drive over to the Old Sacramento Christmas tree. Don’t they have a Theatre of Lights going on or something?” I replied (thinking he was being really sweet because he knew my enthusiasm for Christmas trees), “No, I’m good. Let’s go home and mix up drinks and watch a Christmas movie.” “Well, let’s drive back quickly to the Riverwalk and see if the couple has left that spot,” he suggested.

As he drove us over there, I was distracted with posting photos to Instagram. Got out of the car still debating of which filter to use (maybe I get a little obsessed at times), and forgot to put on my gloves (much to Chris’ delight). I said through chattering teeth, “Babe, it’s cold.” “You’ll warm up,” was his male reply.

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We found the spot. He put his arm around me as we looked out across the river aglow, flickering with its reflection of the lights from the city, with the Old Sac Christmas tree in the distance. He started reminiscing about how much has happened in our lives in just the past three months. I added a few comments here and there, but was wondering why Chris was suddenly getting a little sappy (not that I minded)…

…Let me backtrack for a minute. Knowing our engagement was around the corner, we had booked a beautiful venue the weekend before – a 30-acre ranch with a Redwood grove on it in Santa Rosa, which we’re both excited about! Over Thanksgiving Chris kept asking, “So what cut do you want? The princess cut, right? And you’re a size 8, right?” All the while he was sitting on the ring and knew exactly what I wanted: a cushion cut and that my ring size was 6.5. But I didn’t know that, and assumed it was just a guy forgetful thing. So, the detailed person I am, thinking I’m being helpful, send him an email with a visual, the kind of cut, and my ring size. In one of the conversations we had he said he wouldn’t be able to get the ring until after the New Year. However, he was still convinced that somehow I knew and was on to him. Even my dad said, “Yeah, knowing my daughter, she knows.” Nope. No clue. Totally gullible. That man is good…

…Now back to the main story and continuing the conversation. I said, “And now we have a venue and are looking into invitations…big stuff.” After saying this, with his arm still around me, he craned his head sideways to meet my gaze, and with a twinkle in his eye he said, “Well, there’s only one thing left to do.” While I was looking puzzled – still convinced in my own mind that there was no way he had the ring – he knelt down on one knee, while whipping a box from his coat pocket, and said, “Rachel, will you marry me?” (I am reliving the emotion as I type this). As I caught the sparkle of the ring in the moonlight, it suddenly struck me this was really happening. I was so surprised I put my hands over my mouth, and then waved my arms enthusiastically about, and half-squealed, “YES! Yes, I will!”

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He slipped the ring on my finger. The perfect fit. It was exactly what I wanted. But more importantly, he was the man I wanted. His love, and getting to do life with him “until death do us part,” is infinitely more valuable and beautiful and breathtaking – not to mention the best Christmas gift ever.

 

(sorry about some of the blurry pictures – my body was shaking from the cold)

Pulling From the Source

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Recently, in the Twitterverse, I came across a post on a blog site titled: “Missional: Is it Religious Gentrification?” by Tyler Tully. Having just moved to Sacramento, and am in the thrust of joining with my boyfriend (there’s got to be a less “cheesy,” more fitting title – just saying), Chris, to start a church in Midtown, and having heard the word “missional living” tossed around, much like the word “discipleship,” of course I was interested in hearing someone’s take on this “movement.” Our mission at Midtown Community Church is “leading people to live Christ-centered lives every day.” We want to live as missionaries to the people of Midtown and to be the church to them – to love on and serve them – to do life with them. The question I’m always asking myself is what does that looks like in my life.

Having grown up in the church in the American culture, I don’t think I was ever encouraged or taught what the true posture of a Christian is – and I was blind to it to a certain extent. Being a Christian who follows the Great Commission and the Great Commandment requires a deliberate, intentional and disciplined way of living and thinking. Living missionally is most definitely not natural or easy. It’s not an extracurricular thing we do every so often – it encompasses and touches everything and who we are – because this lifestyle is how we’re called to live as Christ followers.

Back to the blog post I came across. There was a portion of it that really leaped out at me, and got a culmination of thoughts whirling around in my head that I decided to work out by writing down. Here’s one of Tully’s comments/perceptions on the missional movement:

The last 10 years have shown more buzz around the term missional, although many of us are still scratching our heads about what that really means…While we’re trying to understand, worship, and participate in building the Kingdom of a marginalized 1st century Galilean, we are still operating from a place of access, privilege, and homogeneity – and we need to admit that the missional movement conversation has been dominated by the Dominators, if we are to see any meaningful Kingdom building. In other words, the missional movement needs to repent.

My brain is like a ping pong match between his words and my own wrestling with what it looks like for me to live missionally – to be the church, making disciples, getting outside your “comfort zone” and pouring into the people around you. All of that is so heady and sounds amazing. There’s this stirring in your soul, much like the reaction Lucy, Peter and Susan had in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to the statement: “Aslan is on the move.” It wells up when you read about men of God, like Daniel, or books like Crazy Love, You Lost Me or Tangible Kingdom. You say to yourself, “YES. I want to be a part of that. I want to live that way.” And then the inevitable “Ok, so now what do I do? What’s my role?” If I’ve discovered anything about human nature, and myself, I find there’s this subtle, easy tendency to live vicariously through other’s testimonies of how they’re living missionally – it sounds so grand. It’s that innate desire for a tangible kingdom – for something more than what this world has to offer. But, like bystanders at a sports game, you really have no stake in it – it’s not your victory or loss. You didn’t train, sweat, struggle, get pounded, or make the winning play. Fans may take it personally, but it’s definitely not physically affecting them.

I’ve come to realize that just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s complicated. That’s my problem – I tend to overthink because I’m a recovering perfectionist. I want to immediately know what I need to do, how to do it, and have “missional living” down overnight. Boom. Reality check. In asking “How do I do this?” “How do I get results?” I came to realize that I was stopping with “I” – that I was dependent on myself to find “solutions” and to make this missional thing happen. It’s rather exhausting, because, let’s be honest, we’re the worst saviors ever. After I arrived at this realization, I was struck with a “light-bulb moment” from a conversation on Psalm 1 this past Tuesday. This was it: It all boils down to the SOURCE of your approach to “go forth and make disciples.” Because here’s the truth we all know: Anyone and everyone can and does plug into their community (this fever among the millennials to belong, yet not commit), whether it be an intermural league or social club of some sort.

It’s a good to pour into others on their turf, but here’s the question: What source am I pulling from to pour out? If it starts stops with just me and my own willpower – well I already know that only takes me so far. It’s like a kid putting on a firefighter uniform. They can look it, wish it, but they sure aren’t it when it comes to putting out fires and saving lives. They don’t have the training and experience. Ah, now I’m getting somewhere (maybe). This is where we look back at my earlier reference to Psalm 1. Verses 1-3:

“How blessed is the one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand in the pathway with sinner, or sit in the assembly of scoffers! Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands; he meditates on his commands day and night. He is like a tree planted by flowing streams; it yields its fruit at the proper time, and its leaves never fall off. He succeeds in everything he does.”

It doesn’t say the blessed or godly man is defined by all the things he does, but by who he is, why he is blessed – and, in turn, how that shapes his everyday living. What’s his source? He takes pleasure in doing God’s commands – he fills up his mind and heart with knowing God’s Word. It correlates with the tree (“down by the river!!”) in verse 3. This tree can withstand any season and whatever that season throws at it because its roots are pulling directly from an unending supply of water. It doesn’t stop there though…with just the intake of water. The water causes something to happen to the tree. You see this outpouring and harvest of it bearing fruit…so others can taste and see God’s goodness. But the tree couldn’t have, in and of itself, produced the fruit or survived without the river/water/stream. Relationships.

I am praying for myself, each of you, and Midtown Community Church, that the Lord will give us more of a love and delight in pursuing Him, reading/memorizing His Word, obeying Him. Not that I don’t find delight in Him now, but I want more…and to do it better, more consistently and faithfully.

There are many things in this post that I could break down further, but it would become a book.

Bottom line: If I don’t fill myself up with Him, I have nothing to give to begin with.

Let’s guard against our tendency to make everything technical, legalistic or a 10-step process.

The One Behind all the Stories

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For those C.S. Lewis lovers out there….

If you’ve done it before, you know what it’s like to move across states. Yes, it looks different for all of us, but the same underlying challenges are there: new job, new place, bruises and sore muscles from moving, taking your driver’s license test, change of address, license and registration, finding where the closest grocery store is, all the unexpected expenses – some big, some small – but they all add up, and getting lost – a lot …. to name a few.

Sometimes the speed they pound you at is overwhelming and unsettling, and you feel if you stop to think about it, you’ll break. Thoughts of doubt and/or despair can quickly seep into your mind.

It really all boils down to your perspective and your character when it comes to dealing with these situations. I hate to admit I’ve dealt with some of these situations with a negative and complaining “woe is me” spirit. But even in those times, the Lord has shown me his awesomeness in a way that rebukes me gently.

I’ve been reading a book called Living Like A Narnia: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles by Joe Rigney. In chapter 13, “Tell Me Your Sorrows,” he references The Horse and His Boy. I really related to Shasta (the boy), as you’ll see below, when he looks back and sees how “horrible” his past was and present situation is – how he’s “the unluckiest person in the whole world.” When “the Thing” says, “One who has waiting long for you to speak,” I choked up in realizing how often I go first to myself or others to “fix” or get out of tight scrapes – and even when it doesn’t work out I still somehow won’t go to God in prayer – to tell Him my sorrows – because I can’t “see” Him.

It was a wonderful, beautiful and humbling reminder of how God isn’t a God of chaos, but he is God in the chaos – that he “works all things together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) That’s what I love about C.S. Lewis – the undertones that point us past ourselves – that stir up in us that natural desire for and delicious hope in a Savior.

For his entire life Shasta has been at the mercy of forces beyond his control, tossed about by events and circumstances, cut off from love, affection and security…to top it off…Something begins to walk along next to him, breathing deep sighs and filling Shasta with terror…In the dark he whispers, “Who are you?”

“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

“Are you – are you a giant?” asked Shasta.

“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please go away…Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Then the Voice breathes a warm, reassuring breath on the frightened child and says, “Tell me your sorrows.”

And Shasta does – from being orphaned and beaten by his adoptive father, to fleeing from multiple lions and hiding in ghoulish tombs, to the heat and thirst of the desert, and the loneliness and hunger of the present moment.

And then the Voice surprises him by saying, “I do not call you unfortunate,” and then informs him that in all his journeys, there was only one lion, “but he was swift of foot.” And then, most shockingly of all, the Voice says, “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat that comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you”

In this moment, Shasta discovers that behind a frowning providence, Aslan hides a smiling face. All that he had called “bad luck” and “misfortune” was really the wise and good plan of the Great Lion. As he says to Aravis later, Aslan “seems to be at the back of all the stories.”

Don’t forget, for those of you who know the whole story (and for those of you who don’t), that Shasta, through these series of “unfortunate” events ends up being reunited with his long-lost father. The Lord provided, not only a full-time job, but a career, full of potential, in this position as marketing coordinator with a nationally recognized engineering firm. I admit was scared to let go of my former job, thinking there wasn’t anything I’d enjoy more or that I was giving up something precious or I’d get stuck in some job I hated, when, in fact, it was a dead-end job (although an enjoyable job and I had great coworkers and good boss). Best of all, I was reunited with the man I love. It’s amazing to see the One behind all my (and your) stories.

Lean On

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What do you lean on?

One of my favorite passages and promises in Scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”

I know It’s a very well-known verse, and probably appears on as many journal covers, bookmarks and coffee mugs as Joshua 24:15 and Isaiah 40:31. But this weekend, I wanted more from it – to scratch deeper beneath what I’ve gleaned from it so far and chew on it. So, here are my thoughts on it and what I’ve pulled in from other commentators.

I think the main aim of the verse is to walk in a straight path. Meaning, God doesn’t want us to veer off the path into disobedience or into a wasted life or anything that would dishonor Him. Whenever Scripture talks about paths, my mind leaps to John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and the path into the Slough of Despond and how they veered off the path, which led them to the prison of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle. So, that’s the goal: straight paths; straight to everlasting joy – straight to a God-honoring life.

There appear to be 3 steps to get there:

1) Trust in the Lord with all your heart. We need to bank on the promises of God – making our lives a moment-by-moment trusting in a good, all-powerful, unchanging, loving, all-providing and all-satisfying God. Brandon Barker, one of the spiritual formation pastors at The Village Church – Dallas Northway campus, said something Sunday evening I’ll never forget: “Some of us don’t lack boldness, we lack trust.”

2) Don’t rely on your own understanding. This is a conscious choice NOT to be self-reliant (why can’t this just be easier? The battle of self vs. God – so messy). To say to self, “Self, you are inadequate. Brain, you can’t come up with enough wisdom on your own.” I feel especially in the last few weeks that the Lord has been trying to break me of this. Now, getting away from self-reliance doesn’t mean you don’t make plans or don’t think…you just don’t bank on them. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:31) — James 4:13-15 also comes to mind. So, in the midst of our planning, thinking, etc., we’re leaning on something else and not leaning on our own resources. What a tight rope and balance.

3) In all your ways acknowledge Him. In Hebrew, this reads: In all your ways KNOW Him. At every turn, at every choice you make, at every new conversation you’re in….you’re sending up the message: “God, I acknowledge you here. I know you here. You are decisive here. I need you here.”

And if we follow those, and trust Him, He’s going to make our paths straight – going to keep us from wasting our lives and bring us into everlasting joy.

How AWESOME is that truth?! So, lean on – lean on the Lord.

(Note: ok, I admit I was trying to get clever and play off the book title “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, even though it doesn’t remotely relate – har har.)

Understanding Your Needs

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This morning, when I read Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” I understood it in a whole new light.

Whiplash

Starting in verse 25, Jesus tells us reasons to not be anxious about our lives, what we’ll eat, drink, wear, etc., and points to the birds and flowers and how God feeds and clothes them (and are we not more valuable than them). I’ve always understood those verses to mean God is faithful and will provide everything we need. So you’d think that would mean we’d always be comfortable and safe from harm or pain. But this is not so, because I then think of Christians persecuted, raped, beaten, tortured, starving, and dying around the world. Also, for those of us who are sick, who’ve experienced loss, who are striving for something and can’t seem to get anywhere, who can’t seem to “catch a break,” who can’t afford to meet rent or buy groceries, etc. What about us/them? Is this an empty promise? Is He a cruel, unfeeling, unfair and unjust God? No. God never contradicts Himself. Indeed, He promised us that if they killed him they would kill us, too (Matt. 24:9). And Paul says (paraphrased) who can separate us from the love of God? Death, famine, plague, etc.? (Romans 8:35-39)

Quick detour. Think of it this way (I don’t claim originality with this analogy; I reference Matt Chandler, lead paster at The Village Church). Imagine you’re a parent (maybe you are), and your two-year-old wants a whole can of Coca-Cola (or your dog wants your slice of chocolate cake). Would you give it to them? No. Why not? Well, you don’t want them to get sick. Do they see it that way? Of course not. You’re the mean, bad person. We all know how this goes down. The pouty lip, whiny begging and then wailing as if you’d committed the worse crime to them. They see the treat as the best thing in the world for/to them. Are you being unfair and cruel or loving and merciful? You’re giving your child (or pet) what they need.

The revelation

Back to the passage. Here’s the beautiful part. If you look back to the beginning of verse 33, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” there’s where the answer is! God promises to gives us everything we need in order to serve and glorify Him…to further His kingdom. “…and all these things will be added to you.” So, whatever it takes, He will make sure you have it. What a glorious hope and assurance.

Isn’t that just AWESOME?!

The part of this that makes me quake is that it’s so easy to proclaim it and let type up these truths, and much harder to believe when the tribulation comes. I know how cowardly and pathetic my own heart is and how often I fail at the little tests.

Will we be able to say in those shaky, scary times, “It is well with my soul”?

Humility = Heroism

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Humility is often viewed as negative or weak in our society. It’s all about the big “You” – standing up for yourself, using people to get to the next rung in your path to power and success, exploiting others’ weaknesses to reach your goals, doing things when they only promote your good, and even only going out of your way to help someone when it’s convenient for you.

Do you really think people in positions of great power are the happiest and most secure? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people who are in positions of authority or power aren’t humble. There are some great leaders.

As Ken Blanchard says:

Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less.

Have you ever stopped to think about how humble of some of your favorite heroes/heroines in history – even comic book heroes? They laid down their lives for others and put their needs ahead of their own personal gain. Yet, there was a joy there. You admire them, even seek to be like them.

Humility is beautiful. It calls us to heroism. Not a heroism that puffs up or purposely calls attention to itself. It’s full of grace and thanksgiving. For Christians, it’s a recognition of what God in Christ has done for us “while we were yet sinners.” From that realization, it’s a heart full of love and obedience in living out what we’ve been called to do – to love God and love others (1 John 4:21, Mark 12:30-31). *As my friend, Billy, pointed out and summed up what I was getting at:

All heroes are a shadow of Christ.

Humility stems from love. And love makes you go out of your way for the other person. It’s grace given to you that leaves you shaking your head in glorious astonishment. I’ve seen it again and again in my own life and relationships, from my boyfriend, family and friends. It never ceases to blow my mind and riddle me with great joy.

This thought, and now post, actually stemmed from the movie “Emma” (from the book written by Jane Austen), when Mr. Knightly is proposing to Emma. They’ve been best friends for years, but a set of circumstances drives both of them to realize they love each other, but the other doesn’t know how the other feels. But just this scene, and what he did to “win” her, just evoked that strong imagery of how humility is heroic, romantic and beautiful, especially in relationships. It’s the heart and action behind the words that give the words that much more intimacy and power. Such grace.

Emma: But I feel so full of error, so mistaken in my make up to deserve you.

Mr. Knightley: And what of my flaws? I’ve humbled you, and I’ve lectured you, and you have born as no one could have born it. Perhaps it is our imperfections that makes us so perfect for one another.

*Added in later to original post.