What Does Love Have to do with a Fence?

I have so much to learn and relearn about LOVEmy word for 2017.

Monday, I hurried into Target with my list, but my mind wasn’t on shopping. I wanted to figure out what Real Love means.

I wanted to tuck Love into a box. Tie a bow on it.  Move on.

I stopped at the front of the store where they put seasonal things on sale and came home with three Valentine’s Day items that weren’t on my list:

Heart-shaped lights to go over the kitchen table–

A pack of Valentines.

A notepad decorated with conversation candy.

After I hung the lights, I lit three red candles in the kitchen.

But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t satisfied.

Love is more than Valentine’s Day. It’s more than red hearts and white, lacy doilies.

What is Real Love? 

Does Real Love always mean giving, giving, giving and saying yes? 

Maybe it would help to define what Real Love isn’t. 

I usually think better in the woods, so I took the dogs for a walk. The trees were bare, and I noticed something.

The fence. 

It runs horizontally, and you can only see it in the winter. 

But it’s always there. 

I crunched my way through the dead leaves and stood beside it.

It’s just a fence. A useless fence. 

But for some reason, I was drawn to it.

The fence doesn’t even keep the dogs in the backyard. 

It marks our property line

What difference does the property line make? 

With the dogs standing quietly at my side, I stood there praying, thinking, wondering. 

The fence matters. 

The thought came softly, but it startled me.

I remembered a book I’d studied in a ladies’ small group, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John TownsendWe even did the workbook. 🙂

Back in my office, I found my copy of Boundaries. 

Chapter One–What Does a Boundary Look Like?

In small group, we talked about how fences are physical boundaries, and how physical and emotional boundaries are necessary.

I skimmed my notes:

1. Boundaries (fences) define our personal property. Our space.

2. Boundaries show where one person ends and another person begins.

3. Boundaries protect us. They keep the good in and the bad out.

4. Boundaries aren’t selfish. They’re loving and kind.

We discussed the power of the word NO–

The importance of keeping emotional and geographical distance when appropriate.

How to back up our boundaries with consequences.


Real love includes fences. 

Real love doesn’t always mean, YES. Of course. Let me do that for you. 

Real love isn’t about red and pink hearts. Sometimes it means loving yourself enough to say, “No.” Click to tweet.

Does this side of love stir your emotions?

It does mine. I’m reading Boundaries again. 






  1. Patricia Martin says:

    Than you, Julie, for this wonderful post! I forgot that boundaries can also mean love.((: my mom has that book and enjoyed reading it–often, i find it is counterintuitive to think of love in terms of boundaries.(): I know now, however, that boundaries are like the Ten Commandments and keep all who follow them safe. I am pooped from school– so hard to believe it is only the first month of the year! Please pray that I have the strength to finish. My, your home always looks so beautiful! How are you? How is Rilynn?
    Xxoxoox (:

    • Patricia, I’m so impressed that you’ve already learned about the Boundaries book–and concept. I didn’t read it for the first time until I was way into my thirties. Then I re-read it. Then last year, I took the 12-week course in it.

      Just blows my mind–that building fences can actually be loving–and the right thing to do.

      Yes, yes, I’ll be praying for you this year. Physically, are you feeling okay? I hope so….

      Rilynn is doing just fine. Thank you! And my house–oh, my, you’re only seeing an itty bitty piece of the sometimes cluttered puzzle!


  2. You know I need this- over and over…xo

    • You and me too. The opposite of what feels natural and comes easy is often the right thing to do.


      So much to learn.

  3. Anna Haney says:

    Love is indeed a fence. I don’t think of it so much as a a fence that blocks our freedom (like one you see outside a prison), but rather as one that encircles and protects us. I am drawn to the image of my mother and/or father throwing their right arm across me in the car when we came to a sudden stop. I think of a prayer circle. I love it when we hold hands in prayer. Also brings to mind the line from the song TENNESSEE CHRISTMAS “where the love circles around us.” Loved this post.

    • Ohh, yes, the arm being slung across the front seat of the car. You’re right, Anna! I’d forgotten how that happened so many times when we were growing up. Didn’t feel very loving, but it was.

      Yes, TN Christmas!

      I think I’ll probably keep on re-reading Boundaries as long as I’m alive.

      Love you, Anna~~~~~~

  4. Mary Wilkins says:

    Absolutely! I have that book on a shelf somewhere. Guess I’ll have to reread it.

    • Mary, Mary…I can’t even tell you how much I learned in our small group study. First of all, there were about 15 of us ladies, and we were honest about sharing with our struggles.

      Second, I’ve read the book THREE times and still learned a ton. My poor little book has scribbles all over it. The workbook is fantastic!

      So much love, my friend,

  5. Carm Russell says:

    I used to think this day wouldn’t be so bad after David passed. After all he knew one more catastrophic event on 2/13 would be too much (my daughter’s bday who passed & the day my father passed). So I thought 2/14 was no big deal. And it really isn’t except the love of my life here on earth went to be with the love of his eternal life. So yes it’s a big deal. The more I move on the more I think about it. Not sadly or depressingly but with thoughts of what does God what me to learn?! And that I’m at a point of looking for what God wants me & my heart to learn.


    • Carm, the way you worded your comment….it’s just so beautiful. I want to type it again:

      The love of my life here on earth went to be with the love of his eternal life.

      Wow. Just wow.

      And YES, it’s a BIG deal.

      Your heart is wide open, my friend. Ready to receive from our Father. I can tell.

      I’m so very sorry about your daughter, and the date, and how incredibly tough this must have been, and is. So very sorry.

      • Carm Russell says:

        Your willingness to share & be vulnerable to those of us who follow you often find our way through our worst experiences. My “support groups” have been found online. Thank you for your blog. I find the words very often speak to my heart.


  6. Jan Olson says:

    Hi Julie
    Been living with someone for awhile now who bashes my boundaries! Was even moved, during one go-round, to declare, loudly, “My circus, my monkeys!” when she was critical of something about my living space issues (she was homeless, needing shelter, daughter of old family friends, lots of issues, asked if she could come and stay two weeks–it is over two years later)(I am a keeper (some might say hoarder–not that bad I think). She might have been right about whatever it was we were tangling over, but I thought she had a fat lot of nerve saying anything about anything here! Boundaries are maybe way too tall in my life, and way too challenging in hers–especially the ancient boundary stones that are not to be moved–she’s moved, or wandered past, so many. It’s tempting to think the problems are all hers. Probably not….but!

    • Jan……

      Oh, Jan….

      Have you read the book? It’s changing almost every part of my thinking and understanding, in a good way. Our leader, when I see her at church, we just smile at each other–how far we’ve come. Are are still learning.

      I’m praying for you, right now.

      • Jan Olson says:

        I DID read the book, but it has been years ago for me too at this point. Time to revisit, do you think?
        : ) Thank you, Julie!

  7. Anna Haney says:

    I know I have already posted, but when I first read this, I was in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, sneezing like crazy. It wasn’t until I reread it just now, at my desk, that I saw the line to tweet: the one about loving yourself enough to say no. WOW! That is SO TRUE! Before last year, I didn’t really feel that way. Funny how breast cancer can change you. Funny how it takes something like that to make you slow down and put up those fences, to say no, to let yourself rest.

    • Anna, you’ve just about become one of the WISEST women I know! You’ve changed, oh my. Not that you needed to change. Nothing negative. I’m just saying I sense the deep waters God has brought you through, and how your attitude seems so calm now. Strong. Fearless.

      Yeah, and it’s okay–it’s really okay–it’s healthy to say, “NO.” Sometimes it’s exactly what we’re supposed to say to take care of ourselves.

      • Debra-Diane McDonnell (Chaplain DD) says:

        And when NO is too hard to say……”not now” is a good start to help you work up to “No.” When you are pressed for the “WHY NOT?”…..remember, you do not have to give an answer. I know you have done so in the past and it usually stirs up more conversation that you then have to keep explaining to. If you are really pressed for the “why” or “why not”, my stock answer is “Because this is not what God would have me do right now.” Can’t argue with that! And it is also TRUE because He is the one that tells us all when to say that “no.”

        I read the book while in a Chaplain training class. When people have been thru any kind of a trauma, it always has a component of some boundary being trespassed on. For victims, it is hard to set and keep the boundaries, but oh, so very essential. We are ALL victims to one thing or another.

        “NO” is a good word. Don’t be afraid to use it.

        Love to you, Julie, and to all your followers.

  8. Beautiful and powerful, julie. Yes…boundaries are a way of loving others and ourselves. Sooo hard sometimes. I adore how the Lord spoke to you about your fence. And I adore your sensitive heart too. Thanks for this message. I’ll hold it!

    • I’m smiling, Shawnelle–

      You and I both have sensitive hearts. I guess we both talk to fences. 🙂 And think deeply.

      Oh, how I love you. So grateful for your friendship.

  9. I guess we have to love OURSELVES enough to set boundaries. If we don’t, we have only ourselves to blame when we feel resentful, angry, ornery and tired. So on the flip side, when I love myself I feel cared for, serene, patient, energized some days and mellow other days, but always with an inner peace.

    My GRATEFUL word this year has me feeling blessed by all of my wonderful relationships, especially ours together. Life is indeed beautiful … as my orange bird shows me every day.


    • YES! You nailed so many powerful truths, B.J.

      I felt peace reading your words–felt my breathing get slower and deeper:

      “When I love myself I feel cared for, serene, patient, energized–an inner peace.

      Smiling just thinking about your precious orange bird.

  10. marci says:

    Oh, yes, Julie, Boundaries, and sometimes love means saying no. Sometimes love can even mean letting go. The book Boundaries, sounds like a really good one. I guess somehow I missed that one. I have another book by them, “God Will Make a Way”.
    I am glad you shared some of the points with us from the book. They are worth remembering.
    When I see something about Love, now I think of you, and I am already learning from your word.
    Small, is really a good word for me right now. I needed that word, and the Lord gave it to me at the exact right time. I also needed to hear the lessons of Boundaries.
    I am so glad for your uplifting, and all the sharing here.
    Since this is our Anniversary, I am not staying on here long.
    I guess anyone married as long as we have been has learned something about boundaries too.

    Blessings and Love,

    • Hey Marci’a,

      Happy Anniversary, my dear friend. Thank you for taking time to comment.

      I’m praying for you–and am so grateful for your word for the year. It’s so kind of you to think of me and my little word. 🙂

      You’d probably LOVE the book Boundaries. Take care of yourself. xoxoxoxoxoxo

      • marci says:

        Thank you Julie, When I can I am going to see if my daughter can order that book for me. It sounds like it is full of wisdom. I also agree with Carm R. This is such a good support group. What a blessing it can be- so thankful! Also, it may be a good book for the Lenten Study at church this year, if they want to continue with the studies? So much has changed there, I am not sure, but I would love to read it for myself anyway. My heart went out to Carm as soon as I read her comment. May the Lord give her all the comfort she needs.

        • Absolutely!!! I think you’d love it, Marci’a. I’ve read it twice, then done a book study on it, and could probably read it several more times. 😉

        • Debra-Diane McDonnell (Chaplain DD) says:

          It’s available on Amazon.com for under $10 🙂

  11. Challenging words, Julie. Thanks for taking the time to pause at the fence and hear from God. We preacher’s wives really need to be reminded of these truths. Appreciate it.

    • Bev, I think we all have to remember what fences are all about.

      Thank you, my friend. Means more than you know.


  12. Marie says:

    Oh, Julie. I grew up in a family with no boundaries. Last year I started to read the book and implement boundaries with my mom and my siblings on my own. I tried to explain what boundaries are and why I was doing this. It did not go well. I’ve been berated and called selfish, of having no love, etc…. Even yesterday I was chided when I asked (nicely) not to be called or texted while I was at work (my sisters were including me on group chit-chat texts and my phone was beeping continually while working and I couldn’t turn it off because I use it for work). I was shamed and told how awful it is that family means nothing to me! Seriously!

    I’m not giving up or in. And I’m going to start reading the book again. I’m going to love myself enough to do it. Thank you.

    • I’m so proud of you, Marie. What you’re doing isn’t easy. And the book Boundaries tells us it won’t be.

      I’m saying a prayer right now for you.

      Much love,

  13. JANE ENSMINGER says:

    Thanks for the reminder that “no” can be said out of a position of love. Being an active knitter and part of a prayer shawl ministry, I have recently found myself almost “burnt out” with prayer shawls. As I tried to explain myself to another (disabled) member, I was able to say “not now” and that my feelings of negativity would be counter to the desired effect. Setting the boundary of my involvement allowed me the freedom to move on. Thank you for your regular writings.

    • Jane, I love the power in what you just said. “Not now.” That’s so wise. Sounds like you were taking care of yourself, and saying it in love.


    • P.S. Jane,
      I’m sooooo impressed by your knitting. I took a class and started making a baby blanket for one of our daughters. She’s dealing with infertility, so I put it aside. I think I should probably retake that class!

      Or move next door to you. 🙂

  14. Yes, Julie … I love this. Because I’ve always loved that boundaries are protection for us … for us. They are for us. God is for us. Just like with our children … putting up baby gates because we love them, don’t want them hurt, and we know what’s best for them and they don’t. They are our responsibility … Oh, and when they stay in the boundaries, we get more father/daughter time together. Reading, snuggles, hugs, dining together, resting together. Yes. I have a feeling I’ll be pondering this all day. Thank you for this heart-prompting today. xoxo

    • You’re absolutely right. I love how you said it…”When they stay in the boundaries, we get more father/daughter time together.” This so applies to us too, you know?!

      And oh yes, those baby gates. Years ago they were were made of wood with a white, plastic grate. I always tripped over it…didn’t raise my short legs high enough to get over it. But what a sweet memory.

      Thank you for your thoughts, Sweet Shelli.

      • Yes, I tripped over a many baby gates … the ugly wooden ones, too. We used them sometimes for our dog, too. I miss her. We keep telling Katelyn if she studies real hard for that SAT that … puppy??? 🙂 We’ll see. So I’m working super hard at math with her. Ha ha. I need another photography subject. Right?!

        • Ugggg. Math. My least favorite subject.

          Ohh, I hope you have a new photo subject! I sorta bet you will. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  15. Julie Gilleand says:

    Saying no (building a fence) has always been difficult for me, for whatever reason. I can’t count the number of times I’ve said yes because I didn’t want to disappoint someone and in the process ended up disappointing someone else, or myself, or even God. Even when I have mustered up the courage to go ahead and say no anyway, I have a really hard time feeling okay about it. Guilt sets in whether merited or not, and torments me. It’s not every time. But often. It’s easier to see in others than in myself. My friend Kathleen had 6 kids and was always tired and stressed. An abusive marriage added to that. She was often short-tempered with her kids and would complain about how she was going nuts. But then when the neighbors would ask her to watch their kids she’d say “Sure!” Or when one of her 9 other siblings asked if she’d watch their kids, she couldn’t possibly say no to her sisters or brothers now could she? If a neighbor needed something, she was right there! I thought — she ought to say no more often to other people and maybe she wouldn’t be so stressed out with her own kids or short-tempered. Maybe she and I are so alike in that way. Maybe that’s how we got to be such good friends! But I didn’t see it in myself back then. I do now. Right now I have a boss who is a wonderful person, but she is very stressed and burned out right now. She’ll take all the help she can get and that’s all she can focus on, to the point where she will ask her 85-year-old employee who can only handle working part-time, to please work all day, not ever thinking about how hard that is for her or the fact she didn’t bring a lunch. This elderly lady wouldn’t dream of saying no to the boss (there’s a lot of this going around!), but tells me later how upset she is. Or it doesn’t matter to her that I’m working 10-hour days or 50-hour weeks and am exhausted, or trying to find some space in my life to grieve my mother’s death only a few weeks ago. If she can get me to put in more time, she’ll take it. I hate to say no to her. She really is a nice lady and I feel for what a tough season she is having this year and want to be there for her. But I did finally have to scale things back a bit. I need to cut back even more but can’t bring myself to let her down that way.
    I can’t just think about letting her down, as important as that may be. Because I also need to take care of myself and be there for others in my life who need me too — my husband, kids, grandkids and friends. It all has to matter.

    Well I’m rambling I guess. That’s what happens when I wait this long to comment! I’ve had too long to think about it! But thank you for sharing about this. I think I’ll look up that book you mentioned 🙂

    God bless,

    Leafy 🙂

    • Leafy, I’m so proud of you! I’m just sitting here all alone in my office cheering for you. I’m finally discovering that it honors God when we learn to take good care of ourselves. I’m probably going to read the Boundaries book another time…It sounds like this book would help the ladies you’ve mentioned. 🙂

      I guess we’re all works in progress. But, with God’s help, we’re moving in the right direction.

      And you’re not rambling. This is exactly what we’re “talking” about with boundaries and fences and learning to say no.

      Go, Leafy, Go!!

      With so much love,
      Your Leafy Sister in Georgia …. where there aren’t any leaves left, but they’ll be coming again soon!

      • Julie Gilleand says:

        Oh our leaves are long gone too, very barren, gray and cold right now, but not much snow. But guess what Leafy Sister in Georgia —- I will be in Georgia next month!! Savannah, though. I don’t know if you remember my Godwink story about feeling a pull to go to Savannah, which began with a DGP devotional, but it is finally happening. Rod and I are taking a very long train ride from Indiana to get there but that is half the adventure. The only time I’ve ever been in Georgia before is just at the airport between flights, in Atlanta. I know you are still hours away or we might get the chance to meet up, but one day we will!!

        God bless you, Leafy Sister in Georgia!!!

        • YES!!! I remember!!!!!!! I’m soooo happy for you, Julie!!! You’re going to have an amazing time!! Savannah’s about 4 hours south of us.

          You’re going to LOVE Savannah. Be sure to get some hot pralines!

          Yay!!! Leafy’s dream is coming true! And what a fun way to travel!!! A leisurely train ride!!

    • Debra-Diane McDonnell (Chaplain DD) says:

      Dear sweet Lady, please DO say NO…..or at least, “I’m so sorry but I can’t do that today, I have a previous commitment I must keep.” Even if that commitment is to YOURSELF, to allow yourself to rest so you can indeed grieve your loss. “Letting her down” is NOT your priority right now; you will still be there to help as much as you can. But you must also take care of YOU first, both physically and emotionally so that you CAN refill your tank to be able to give. Please, please, take care of you. What’s the WORST thing that will happen if you say no? Will the company close its doors? PROBABLY NOT. Life will go on. Things might not get completed TODAY, but there is always TOMORROW too.

      Said to you with a prayer in my heart and love.


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