For fans of Bob Goff and his bestselling book, “Love Does,” Maria Goff — or “Sweet Maria” as her husband refers to her — needs no introduction. The wife, mother of three, and now author is beloved for creating a career out of loving those around her.
In her debut book, “Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want,” Maria reflects on what she’s learned about living with intention, dealing with loss, and loving others like Jesus does. Full of warmth, grace, and humor, she shares vivid personal stories that invite readers to stop and reflect on their own lives and discover how to make them more meaningful.
“I didn’t write this book because I think we need more information, more steps, or more instructions on how to lead a meaningful life,” she writes. “Instead, I think we all can benefit from times of honest reflection.”
What sparked your desire to write this book?
The desire came from my own kids. I don’t know if you’ve read “Love Does,” but it’s just this sweet little book that slipped into the world and then grew like wildfire. It was the coolest thing to watch happen, but what warmed my heart most was seeing what a treasure it became for our kids. We’ve always been a family that’s held legacy in the highest esteem, so when the opportunity came along for me to write my perspective, that’s what I thought of. I wanted to be able to leave it for my kids and for generations to come – even those I won’t be able to meet. If my grandmother had written a book, I would’ve loved to have had that on my shelf because I could’ve looked through it and known what she thought and whether she had hard things or mess-ups in her life, if she struggled with her faith and how she learned to be a wife and a mom.
So, that’s what first sparked me, but what enforced it was that through Bob’s book, people were introduced to me because he calls me Sweet Maria in the book. Nobody else used to call me Sweet Maria before that, but then suddenly strangers were coming up after Bob had spoken at an event and would just hug me and be like, “You must be Sweet Maria!” It totally freaked me out at first! But the sweetest thing started to emerge because people started recognizing me for who I was, and my side of the story had value for them. They wanted to hear what I thought, and I thought that would be helpful, too.
What is the message you most hope readers take from the book?
Each chapter of the book is a standalone story with its own message, so I hope that readers will be able to put the book down after reading a chapter and feel like they accomplished something for the day. If they’re a busy person with a career or a family, then hopefully they would be able to find just a single nugget they can chew on and apply to their life from it. Then they can pick up where they left off at any given time in their life and just keep reading a chapter at a time.
Then, at either the end of the chapter or the end of the book, I hope readers feel that it has been like a mirror, like God’s holding a mirror up to their life that says, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. I love you. I’ve made you unique. Lean back in and tell me what you see. Tell me where you want to go, and let’s go do that.” That’s my hope, and it will look different for each person. It’s not a formula, it’s not a list of instructions, it’s just helping people benefit from a time of reflection while they’re reading stories about our life and figuring out for themselves where they’ve been and where they are and what they’re becoming. If they can spend that time doing that then I’ll feel like I’ve helped them along their way.
What advice would you give those who want to live whimsical, adventurous, faith-driven lives like you?
If you’ve read the book, then you know it hasn’t been smooth sailing for me, but I believe that there is a God and that he’s been leading and orchestrating all of the pieces to create the life that Bob and I have now. When I was just starting out as a young wife and mom, I was kind of overwhelmed by the whole process and not really sure how to do it because I wasn’t raised in a home that I felt was modeling what I wanted in life. In fact, I was looking around at what I grew up in and thinking deep in my heart that it could be done differently. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew that there was something missing.
So, when Bob and I had our little family, we kind of felt like we were pioneers trying to do something that neither one of us had experience with. One of the first things we did, though, apart from finding each other, was finding the people who were closest to us that we could trust and do life with. The people have changed over time – although there are a few that have ridden through the seasons with us – but in those times when we were trying to figure out what just being married looks like, it was huge to have a couple of friends we could share what that’s like with. The world wants to give us a lot of things to distract us during those seasons of building. It gives us quick fixes like the new car or the new house or a better wardrobe or more vacations to feel fulfilled, but that wasn't what Bob and I needed. What was best for us was to dig in right where we were and to think about who we were doing life with, and then taking the time to pour into them like they were pouring into us.
You and Bob are clearly very different, with you being more of a “be-er” and Bob being more of a doer. How have you learned to accept and appreciate your unique gifts?
Bob and I from the beginning have been very different people, but there’s kind of a fun attraction about that early in a relationship. I so loved him and thought he was so cool because he loved doing these crazy things that I would never think of doing. Like, he took me rock climbing on one of our first adventures and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. The differences can be really exciting, but they can also be really frustrating. Early on, though, we figured there was no way we were going to be able to change each other, and in reality, we didn’t really want to anyway. When we fell in love we fell in love with the differences that we had. Our mantra has been that we’re not trying to be like each other, we’re trying to be more like Jesus. When we hit those rough patches or are challenged in our relationship, instead of our old way of trying to lovingly change the other person, we try to lovingly guide them to a new discovery or a new way of looking at something that God would want. That seems to work out a whole lot better than trying to sandpaper each others’ edges off.
The counseling thing has totally been my go-to gear for this, and even though it’s not something that Bob would sign up for on his own, he would tell you today that it's definitely been one of the key components of our relationship. It's one of the glues that we used to keep us bonded together because you kind of need outside counsel. You can’t do your own heart surgery. I write about this in the book, but I had some past stuff that I had not dealt with, and as pain does, it reveals itself eventually. As much as I was under the impression that most of it had been cleaned out and analyzed to death and I was good to go, in the story I write about our lodge burning down I realized there was something else that was being revealed in that fire — kind of a personal dark secret of mine that I really thought was just something I could take to my grave, but which counseling brought to light.
And now you’re sharing it in a book!
I know! I could sit there waiting for each new case to come through the warehouse, I suppose, and go back in and try to scratch that part out. But I had a choice to make; if I’m going to write this book for my kids’ kids’ kids and generations to come that I might not even meet someday, do I really want to hold back who I was? Because they may go through – Lord willing, they don’t – but they may go through some hard things that are similar to mine and I want them to know that they’re not alone and that was God was with me through all of my hurts and pains and was in the process of making something beautiful out of them, and He will be for them, too.
So why would I hold back, other than it’s really personal and it’s really scary to think that there’s like total strangers who are going read it? The enemy wants me to believe that I need to keep that stuff under wraps, but what the lodge fire revealed to me was that God needs all of it and he desires for all of it to get cleaned out. It felt really good once it did, but it was incredibly painful to go through that experience so hopefully it will help somebody else.
The book is about learning to love right where you are. What are some of your current favorite habits for cultivating love around you?
Being that we just celebrated Valentine’s Day you would think I would just have this laundry list of things, but honestly, every month is Love Month, and every day is an opportunity to love the people around us. You don’t need to be in a relationship, and things don’t need to be perfect; if we’re aware of who’s around us and the needs that they have and the ways that we can love them and make them feel special in the little things — and even in big extravagant ways — it’s always worth doing it.
While Bob was focused on changing the world, I focused on Homeland Security. I've made a career out of loving my family and I took my job at home seriously. Like, if I were a storefront, how would I want my customers to feel like in that first impression from the front door? You don’t want to be greeted by a store owner that’s all grumpy and not happy that you’re there — that’s not good business practice, right? Because Bob would be at work and I would be at home most of the time, I used to try to think about what it would be like for him to come through the door at the end of a long day being out in the world. I would imagine how I would want to be treated and how I would want the house to feel and look and smell. So, before I knew he was going to walk in through the door I would enlist the help of the kids, like, “Hey, Daddy’s coming home pretty soon — let’s do a five-minute cleanup.” Whether or not that ended up being well-done or not didn’t matter because it changed the atmosphere and the energy in the house. I love things like that because you can see it on the person’s face that they feel welcomed, like they’ve just entered a space that is safe and nurturing and where they can relax and be loved.
Learn more at LoveLivesHereBook.com.