Our First Valentine’s Day We Did A Few Things Right …And You Can Do Them Too

Our First Valentine’s Day We Did A Few Things Right …And You Can Do Them Too
Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Late in February 2016, Grandma and I were talking alone in her living room when I spotted a vase of flowers on a side table and said they were pretty.

“Grandpa gave them to me for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “They were a week late.”

My mouth started to form into a surprised ‘O’ as she looked me square in the eye and added with a giggle, “Don’t tell him.”

When you love someone – as she had him for more than 74 years – you forgive them their faults and oversights. You become increasingly willing to bear all things. Endure all things. Seek your own interests less.

We know this. Writ large or very, very small, in one way or another we have all experienced love, and our souls yearn endlessly to find the consummate, unending experience of it, where we are fully caught up – cherished and known – by the One who has loved us perfectly from the very beginning of our creation.

As St. Paul so eloquently explains at the end of his definition of love, “At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

Love is without question – the greatest.

And it can be passionate, expansive, life-giving, and life-transforming.

But…

When Valentine’s Day rolls around and pictures of cherubs and candy hearts are everywhere…Well, I don’t know about you, but most years, I’m not really feeling it. I want to celebrate the holiday about as much as I want to hang wallpaper from a ceiling.

That is, until I re-frame the picture and consider HOW it is I’m called to love my beloved.

My husband and I have been married for 20 years, but I probably did the best job selecting a Valentine’s Day gift for him on our very first Feb. 14th together.

We’d only been dating for about 3 weeks, riding around in his battered Geo Prizm, which he’d bought just after college graduation. I chatted with my very new boyfriend about our entry-level jobs and trying to live cheaply in D.C., and came to understand that we were alike, working hard to prove our worth. There was little time or attention paid to things like a car’s interior.

And while sitting in the passenger seat, I noticed two knobs were missing from his car’s climate controls – one for air and the other for temperature. This didn’t seem to bother him; he just used his fingers to turn what was left of the plastic tube inside each space to make necessary changes. But I wondered…

So, shortly before Valentine’s Day I walked into the local Geo dealership’s parts and service department and explained the situation.

“I don’t suppose you would have these knobs, would you?” I asked sheepishly of a guy in a royal blue baseball cap. He looked in the stockroom and returned with two black pieces wrapped in clear cellophane bags.

“That will be $6.00,” he said, grinning. I dug a five and a one out of my purse, dazzled by the serendipity of the moment.

That Valentine’s Day, my brand-new boyfriend sent me a dozen long-stem roses at my office and took me to dinner in Georgetown. He went the BIG and impressive route, and I went absolutely gaga. I felt like royalty.

And for him?

I told him to close his eyes and hold out his hands, and when I pressed a small plastic knob into each one, he whooped with joy and hugged me tight. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s ever again responded with such enthusiasm to a gift.

As I look back now, I see that first February as foundational in our relationship, because we had mysteriously figured out HOW to love one another well.

My husband gave openly and generously. Consequently – I felt cherished.

I noticed a need in his life and filled it. Consequently – he felt known.

Without planning it, both of us focused our efforts on meeting one of two core human desires: 1) to be cherished and 2) to be known.

Now yes, I admit, we were dating. The endorphins were on full blast. Everyday life isn’t quite the same.

But what we did then by happenstance, anyone can do today with intention.

We can all ask for divine guidance to love as God intends – unselfishly, with hope and endurance.

We can all learn to open our hearts to what’s new – what’s there for us to appreciate right in the moment.

My husband still gives me flowers, and I still feel honored and adored every time he does. And I continue to notice things about him. To me, he smells of sunshine in warm, spring woods. He always asks if the dogs and kids have been fed before dishing up his own plate.

Over two decades, we have learned the fundamentals of love and continue to practice them as best we can. The sustained efforts add up, little by little, day by day.

As I said, with the help of Providence, anyone can love like this, because we are wired for love. Created for it by Love Himself.

Love means caring more about the other person than you do about yourself. It means taking note. It means embracing. It means acceptance.

How does all this translate into a Valentine’s Day gift for my husband?

That’s for me to know, and him to find out, but I doubt I’ll ever find a better one than two plastic knobs.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

Wholesome. I love this word. It means anything suggestive of good health and well-being. It has a connotation of warmth and nourishment, virtue and pure intentions.

I’ve decided that for 2019, I’m going to end each month sharing with you 5 things that I found to be wholesome, because to paraphrase Philippians 4:8 – we are to dwell on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. In short – those things that contribute to the fullness of life that God intends for us.

I know – that sounds pretty lofty. I’m not aiming for grandiose ideas, just everyday things I encountered that were notable, enriching, and/or helpful in some way.

So, here we go. FIVE wholesome things I learned in January.

  1. If a woman can’t have her family with her 24-7, the next best thing is a beautifully framed photo of the people she loves. I’m rather picky about photo printing. Now that film has gone the way of the dinosaurs, it’s hard to find a shop that delivers prints with true-to-life color. For years I have been looking for an online company producing premium-quality prints, and recently a friend suggested Mpix.com. This month, I chose from a nice selection of mats and frames to create a birthday present for my mom – a gorgeous, ready-to-hang 8 x 10 framed photograph of her two girls and 4 grandchildren that was taken last spring at my youngest son’s First Communion celebration. She cried when she got it. First-time customers get 25% off for sharing an email address. Check it out.
  2. The most important sentence we can say just might be: “Tell me more about that.” Jonathan Fields says this a lot when encouraging his guests to continue in the podcast that’s got me completely hooked – Good Life Project. The premise of the show is that every story matters, and Fields’s guests are purpose-driven, community-oriented individuals who have meaningfully processed both personal and professional issues. I’ve only been listening for about two months, but in January, I was gripped by conversations Fields had with Brene Brown, Bronnie Ware (author of The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying), and Mark Nepo (author of More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and the World). I also loved that my youngest son happened to hear the story of Maggie Doyne – a young woman who took a gap year after high school, only to find her passion in caring for orphans in Nepal and collaborated on the formation of a Nepali school, health clinic, and foundation for 350 children. Good Life Project. It’s good food for thought.
  3. The memoir Educated, by Tara Westover, is going to become a modern classic. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m surprised, but before long you will, because it’s an unforgettable story of a girl from a survivalist family in Idaho who is barely home-schooled, yet manages to teach herself enough to enter Brigham Young University and then Cambridge and Harvard, all while trying to negotiate unspeakably complex ties between herself and the people who love her in profound and profoundly unhealthy ways. Like all great writers, Tara Westover has a gift for drawing connections between the visible world and its invisible undercurrents, crafting electrifying sentences like these: “I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind.” (p. 304)
  4. Fermented goat’s milk from Answers Pet Food is healing my dog. I have two canines – Luna and Seamus. Luna is a Beagle with a host of allergy issues and she’s been suffering from a cough for months that comes and goes in intensity. We’ve been working with our vet to uncover the root cause, but three weeks ago a nutritionist friend suggested I try adding a natural probiotic – raw fermented goat’s milk – to her diet to help support healthy immune function. The fermentation process increases digestive enzymes, b-vitamins, antioxidants and lactic acid, and it’s been working. Luna is still congested in the mornings, but the cough is basically gone. Cheers to improvement in the lives of our fur-babies!
  5. Handwritten thank-you notes warm the soul. Okay – so maybe I didn’t really learn this one this month, but I received three very nice notes in January that are worth mentioning here, if only to say that when you take the time to tell someone that what they did for you touched your heart, you WILL touch theirs too. We are so glib with our thank-yous these days. Putting pen to paper and expressing gratitude in a few thoughtful phrases means so very much. Consider how it feels to read, “You are a treasured friend,” “You are truly amazing and appreciated,” “I treasure the bond that we have and thank God for you regularly,” “Thank you SO much for thinking of me.” For February – let’s go and put more encouraging words out there in the world.

That’s it for January’s wholesome list! I appreciate your reading time more than you will ever know, and I’d love to hear what you’re learning too. Email me via the “Contact” link on my home page. Peace and blessings in February!

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

Bragging on My Husband (Because…Bacon!!)

My husband performed something of a miracle this week. He made bacon.

He didn’t cook bacon. He MADE it. From scratch.

He cured the pork all week long and then smoked it on our back porch this afternoon.

When he pulled the slab of mouth-watering goodness out of the smoker, cut off a thin slice, fried it in a pan for just a minute, and gave me the sizzling piece – I thought perhaps I could live on just this for the next few years.

My husband’s slab of homemade bacon. Right out of the smoker.

I have often said that there are five reasons I could never be a vegetarian:

1. Pancetta.

2. Prosciutto.

3. Salami.

4. Carpaccio.

5. BACON.

Note – four of these are cured pork and the first and the last are very similar. Bacon is smoked, while pancetta is not.  (A little shout out to Bart Simpson fans here! I absolutely love this clip too!!)

It was a GREAT afternoon!

If you’ve eaten at our home, you know my husband is a culinary wizard. I like to say that I cook for sustenance and to feed our family during the week. But on the weekend and when we entertain, the love of my life cooks for fun and relaxation. He’s made his own marshmallows, candied oranges, corned beef, sausage….even his own hot sauce (after growing his own peppers first – multiple kinds for the right mix of flavors, naturally). And these are just the things that immediately come to mind because he’s made them in the last year or two! We’ve been married 19 years. Do the math. The number of delicious meals he’s made is mind boggling!

People say my guy is a “foodie,” and I guess that’s true. But I think he’s also gifted. And what that means for me and our kids is that we’re very, very blessed.

If you ask him, my husband will tell you he enjoys cooking. And he likes to see people take pleasure in the fruits of his efforts.

Which is the way it’s supposed to be.

Because when you bless others with a God-given gift, it will bring you joy.

What are your gifts? Do you know?

Do you often sell yourself short?

Don’t think you have to have stellar musical ability or athletic prowess to be considered gifted.

One could argue that the world needs people to exercise their ‘quieter’ talents even more.

Are you a good listener?

Are you patient and calm when others would rush a tender soul?

Do you create warm and inviting spaces where people like to gather?

Are you a natural ‘encourager’?

Are you good at problem-solving?

We all have gifts, and no two of us are the same. Imagine if everyone used his or her gifts to their fullest extent.

Your gifts were given to you for two reasons: to help build up the world, and to bring you joy in the process.

That’s something delicious (like bacon!) to think about today.

 

Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord, Amen. – Catholic Mealtime Prayer

Gifts I Would Never Take Back

Gifts I Would Never Take Back

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We were walking to the playground to spend an hour while we waited for their sister to finish choir practice.

And when we got there – to that place I’ve been going for about 12 years – we ran into an old friend we hadn’t seen in awhile. She asked me what I’ve been up to.

I wasn’t sure what to say.

Day in and day out, not much changes, but over time, everything does.

This thought came out in a strange way.

“I take a lot of pictures, just to document the fact that they are growing.”

She smiled and said she knew exactly what I meant.

My husband and I try to give our kids myriad experiences and opportunities to try out life. A good school. Sports. Music. Days with friends. Family trips. Time alone with each of us.

I’m always checking my motivation for these gifts – many of which are expensive. The money and time we spend are investments. And although we live comfortably, we also make sacrifices.

There are bright, sunny days. And rainy, worrisome ones.

Would I change any of it?

No.

We give to our children as parents typically do – to the most of our ability and with the limited wisdom we have.

There are so many questions – about which choices will have the most impact on their lives. No one can say for sure.

But parenting is the call of our hearts – a calling we could never ignore. Love demands that we help our kids grow up. 

And they do – moving slowly away from us, a little every day.

I pray they will want to come back, to just look at us with love, when they are fully on their own.

If we feel this way, imagine how God does. Because what He gives us, He gives with perfect wisdom, and without restraint.

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

-Romans 12:29

Healing with Butterfly Beauty

An uncluttered mind is quick to see beauty. Thus, my youngest sees beauty everywhere. And he points it out, saying, “Mom. Look at that beautiful ________.”  It’s usually when I’m totally preoccupied by something, anything, other than seeing life for the gift that it is. Two cases in point. We were at the pediatrician’s office a few weeks back and he tapped my arm. “Mom. Look at that beautiful tree. Can I take a picture?” I gave him my phone. Here’s his tree. image What you can’t see in this photo is that the tree was blowing ever so gently in the wind, each of its leaves shimmering a different shade of emerald – a thousand ephemeral jewels twinkling for whomever would stop to appreciate them. And I would have missed them all if it weren’t for the open eyes of my young child.

Then, on Saturday, a similar event. I’m bounding up and down the two flights of steps at the front of our house, unloading a carful of groceries, ignoring my son as he stares intently into a shady section of our overgrown euonymus tree. On one of my passes down the steps back to the car he whispers, “Mom. Come here. Look at this beautiful butterfly.” image This time, I spend so long looking that it’s a small miracle I even get this photo, for I am caught up in watching the silent opening and closing of her wings. My son and I scarcely breathe, seeing her shift position on the tiny flowers – her legs dancing on the stems and leaves, and we notice the miniscule, almost imperceptible feathers on her wings which become visible only when you are this close. Oh, to be still, and see. It is Love, given.

All too soon she flutters up, over the treetop, and away. She is the day’s unexpected gift of presence.

I had wanted to write about her yesterday. But was I caught up in the news…

When the world hurts my heart, like it did yesterday, taking time to focus on beauty is healing.

My son and I took one of our dogs for a walk this morning. On the way, we saw a stunning yellow and black butterfly ahead of us on the path – like it was beckoning us – to follow it.

 

Building a House…For 17 Years

Today, my husband and I celebrate the 17th anniversary of our wedding. As my sister-in-law was taking me to get my hair done on that bright spring morning, she gave me the single best piece of advice: “At a couple points,” she said, “just STOP. Take a look around. Take it all in.” I’m so very, very grateful that she offered me this wisdom, because thanks to her, I have several clear memories of that gorgeous day, when I so easily could have lost them in the shuffle and momentum of the celebration.

Wedding_1998_2 Of the Scriptures that were read, this one stands out for me:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.”  (Matthew 7:24-25)

I’m not even going to begin to claim that we’ve done everything right in our 17 years of marriage. And anyone who has been married for any length of time will tell you that rain will fall, floods will come, and winds will blow. Your commitment to one another will be tested, perhaps not to the breaking point, but there will certainly be challenges.

My sister-in-law’s wisdom is still the one and only thing I tell brides-to-be, and I think it applies well to the rest of life too. And I’m sure you’ve heard it before, too – because we all know that life goes by so, so darn quickly. You don’t want to let precious moments with your loved ones or friends slip by unnoticed. But I would argue that stopping to take a look around is also critical for the long-term success of a marriage.

Wedding_1998When my husband looked into my eyes and pledged to be with me until “death do us part,” I could see in his green eyes that he meant every word. We both meant what we said, and still do.

It’s easy to stop at the good moments – to appreciate sweetness…The feel of my hand in my husband’s. The way he always kisses me goodbye before leaving the house – for any reason, big or small. The fact that he is exceptionally good at picking out gifts for me, and at whipping up the most delicious meals. At these times, it’s also easy to remember to thank God for this good man.

But then of course, storms do occasionally blow through. What I’ve learned is, they don’t have to tear us down – because in the midst of them, we can keep building the foundation of our house – brick by brick. It’s grace that taught me this – worked on me, really.

As often as possible, we STOP in the moment and take a look around. We look into one another’s eyes. We examine what’s really going on in the here and now – take an unflinching look so that patterns we know didn’t work for us in the past can’t repeat themselves. We speak honestly and openly about the present, and if there’s something that needs work – we work on it. Nothing gets swept under the rug. And the words we use with one another are words of affirmation – they support, encourage, reaffirm our connection and commitment to one another. They build up the foundation of our marriage – the foundation of “us.”

A house isn’t built overnight, but when the foundation is re-fortified, it can stand for a long, long time. May ours be built stronger, again and again. This is my prayer for us, on this 17th anniversary of ours.

Valentines for Everyone!

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They burst into the kitchen, their young faces flush with excitement. “We have a GREAT idea!” they said.  “We’re going to make Valentines for everyone in the neighborhood!”

“Um, ok.”  I said, incredulous. “That’s a….good idea..??”

With amazed and delighted disbelief I watched my daughter and her friend follow through on this loving, joyful impulse.  In the unusually warm weather, they spent all of Sunday afternoon sitting on our front porch making Valentines for neighbors, most of whom they don’t know, taking breaks now and then to run off with exuberance for “deliveries.”  If the recipient was a friend, he or she received the card face-to-face.  If not, the Valentines were left in the house mailbox, one from each girl, sweetly signed with only their first names. In a span of 4 hours, the girls industriously covered our little section of the world, 4 tiny streets, with love.

We were all conceived by the One who loves like this – with abandon. But somewhere along the way, we usually acquire a harder-hearted response – the one that I showed yesterday – to love, freely given. Lord, open my eyes today.  Help me to see all the ways you love me.  Help me share your everlasting love with the world.

Many waters cannot quench love,

Nor will rivers overflow it;

If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,

It would be utterly despised.

–  Song of Solomon 8:7

 

Day 19 – Turn-down Service

Last night I was talking with my grandparents (now both 92) about a trip we all took together 30 years ago, when I was 11 and my sister was 8. We stayed in a hotel where I experienced for the very first time a little luxury I haven’t seen recently – turn-down service. Here’s how I remember it:

It was late in the evening and my eyes were heavy. My grandparents, my sister and I were all dressed up, having just attended a banquet dinner – the final event of a boating race weekend that my grandfather had been participating in. We had gotten ready in the room before dinner and left in a hurry. (Now that I have children, I know how the adults present must have felt at the time.  Trying to rush along two young girls who are busy styling their hair and admiring themselves in the mirror is no small feat….but I digress.). The dinner had been lovely – multiple courses, an ice sculpture of a prop in the middle of the ballroom, dancing afterwards. My sister and I felt like celebrities as the only kids there, and though we all had a great time, we were ready to get back and into bed.

To my young eyes, the room was like a dream. Lights dimmed just so. Toiletries neatly organized by the sink. Clothes hung or laid carefully across the suitcases. Bedspreads folded and set aside. Blankets tucked in perfectly at the ends of the beds. Crisp white sheets folded down from the center of each bed into neat triangles. And perched atop each perfectly fluffed and sleep-ready pillow was a foil-wrapped chocolate mint. Trying not to muss anything, I sat on the edge of the bed and let that decadent little piece of chocolate melt on my tongue. It was glorious!

The best part of the ‘turn-down’ experience for me was the chocolate mint. I recognized in that one little thing, a singular moment of unexpected joy.  For someone else, the experience might have been different, or lacked sparkle altogether. But for me, it was a gift – a sweet lightness.

Is it possible, as an adult, to find the same kind of joy?  I think so, but I also think it requires a kind of practice….Practice at keeping my clouded eyes open to see where the gifts are, so I can recognize them as such and then savor them like I savored that mint.

Sunlight was streaming into our room today as my alarm went off.  For weeks it’s been dark, but with daylight savings time, morning feels like morning again. I hit the snooze and lay silently studying the yellow rays peeking around the sides of the curtains, wanting to burst into our room. In the quiet, I could savor the miracle of that sweet light and feel joy rising again, as I gave thanks for the gift that it is.