5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

November is a time to contemplate our blessings. So many of us are deeply thankful. And full hearts should spill over into good deeds in the world.

Over the last few weeks – via Instagram, Facebook, and emails to my subscribers – I’ve requested stories about the many ways I KNOW you guys show love in the world. And I waited to hear your responses.

Very few came.

I think you’re shy.

Or busy.

But I’m gonna go with shy.

You don’t want to tell me how you show love because you fear it will make you appear prideful. Boastful. Arrogant. As if you’re bragging that you do a lot.…And I get that. I really do.

But the good that we do can inspire others and – if done unselfishly – gives glory to God. Because He gives us all the means to do it in the first place.

So I’m going to proceed as I’d promised and share with you the little I have (and the little I did) and pray that you’ll find something to chew on here. Ok?

There are a few ways we can give out the love and gratitude we feel in our hearts, and here are a couple stories to illustrate them.

1) Begin where you are this very moment and seek to understand others who are right there with you. On the first day I requested stories, I heard from The Boundless Professionals, a young couple who maintains a travel blog and beautiful Instagram page of journeys to far-off destinations like South Africa and Zambia, as well as closer ones like San Diego and the Chesapeake Bay. They embrace a philosophy of no-debt living and had this to say about spreading goodness as they go:

“We feel there are so many ways to bring kindness to the world, and one of our favorite ways is to focus on having conversations with people who do not get to talk with others. Elderly, homeless, people struggling in small businesses. We love conversation, and whether it’s in a small town or in a large city, everyone needs someone to talk to!”

One of our greatest needs is simply to be heard, and you can give the gift of presence, listening, and conversation anywhere. It’s fun. Free. And maybe even freeing for your soul.

2) Share the things you love. My high school friend Howard – now an oncologist – has a sweet tooth. But he doesn’t hoard the treats. He maintains a drawer of candy in his office to share with his coworkers. They can help themselves to Snicker’s bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups any time they’d like. It’s the little things that make a day pleasant, right?

Given the nature of his work, you’d think he’d be a serious guy. And he’s a devoted doctor for sure. But his daily Facebook posts are laugh-out-loud funny, and he’s shown this sense of humor since way back when. He gives of himself, and there’s no greater gift. I’m sure his eyes sparkle when he has good news for his patients.

3) Remember your history. Your experiences are a road map to future contributions. A few years ago, a friend of mine had been through some difficult experiences with men. One in particular was not a gentleman. So for her birthday this month, she asked for donations to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I was happy to oblige. In my senior year at Dickinson College, I received several weeks of preliminary training as a domestic violence counselor for the state of Pennsylvania, and spent time with fellow volunteers helping prepare a safe house for abused women and children. I heard stories that shattered all my preconceptions and learned that domestic violence cuts across all races, classes, education levels, and socioeconomic groups. My heart was forever changed.

If God placed an experience in your life, there’s probably something you can do with it.

4) Step out of your comfort zone to give. Spreading kindness may require you to do something a bit uncomfortable, but one of my favorite sayings is “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so I try to follow where the Spirit leads me.

In this case, I wrote a note to Michelle Ostrelich, a woman who ran for the New York State Senate this year and was defeated. It takes great courage to run for office, especially without any background in politics, and that’s what she did. She stepped up to speak on behalf of groups she was concerned about and truly listened to the people in her community, and friends – that is honorable work. I wanted to encourage her and let her know that she inspired me and I hope she continues in her pursuits.

Even with a small personal connection – her husband is the aforementioned Howard (whom I have not seen in person in 25 years) – writing the letter felt very, very strange. We have never met. To her it would have come completely out of the blue. But the gesture was well received, and that’s how it often is when we obey the “nudge” to do good. To extend our hearts. It’s weird until it’s not. Try it and see.

5) If an idea keeps hitting you, there’s a reason. Some call it “holy discontent.” Others call it “fire in the belly.” They are the subjects or issues that make us angry. Move us to action. Push us to make a difference.

What riles you up? The one thing that just rips your heart to shreds? You cannot help but rise out of your chair saying, “That is NOT right!!”

Could it be that this one thing (or more) is the way that God is asking you to move in the world?

I admit, I haven’t yet fully figured out how to deal with my holy discontent. It’s violence against women. Specifically rape. I CANNOT stand portrayals of it in movies – so much so that I’ve become a fearful film watcher and this limits my range of choices. But so be it.

Years ago, I heard about the Fistula Foundation, which provides restorative surgery to repair obstetric fistulas to women in developing countries. A fistula is a hole between a woman’s vagina and one or more of her internal organs. It can be caused by many days of obstructed labor or by sexual violence, and the result is that without surgical repair a woman becomes permanently incontinent of urine and/or feces. The majority of women who suffer with fistulas are rejected by their husbands and shunned or cast out of their communities because they smell. They end up living as outcasts.

In 2018, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a partner of the Fistula Foundation, won the Nobel Peace Price for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where rape is a tool of war. He works at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and has cared for 50,000 victims of sexual violence since 1999, and there is no end in sight. Read more here.

So, as you might have guessed, on “Giving Tuesday” this week, I gave to Dr. Denis Mukwege’s efforts in conjunction with the Fistula Foundation.

This is not enough. My hands, my ears, my words, my time, and my money are of course still needed. I must make myself available to know how, when, and where to go next.

In prayer, I am being called every day to act according to God’s will, and it’s my responsibility to listen and respond.

Only in this way – through each of us – can the world be changed for good.

I am reading an amazing book right now and will cover it in another blog post, but among its main points is this:

To truly show love in the world, we must first recognize the humanity of every person.

The late Elie Wiesel – Holocaust survivor, teacher, activist, author, Nobel laureate, and adviser to world leaders, explains:

“To be human is to share a common origin. And if we share a common origin, our destinies are entwined. What happens to me will eventually happen to you; what happened to my people is a foreshadowing of what will threaten the world. Auschwitz led to Hiroshima and who knows what else? Therefore the most important biblical commandment is Lo taamod al dam réakha, ‘Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow human being.’ The word réakha, ‘fellow human being’ – it is universal. Anyone who is suffering, anyone who is threatened becomes your responsibility. If you can feel this and act with even a bit more humanity, more sensitivity, as a result, that is the beginning.” (from Witness, by Ariel Burger, p. 147-148)

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

Today is World Kindness Day. I wrote another blog post about it yesterday, but the real question is this: How will we mark this day?

We all know from experience that…

A good seed planted in darkness can burst forth to produce a tree large enough to host entire communities in its colorful branches.

Things that start small can become big.

So what seeds of kindness will you plant today? Tomorrow? For the rest of this month? I want to know.

Are you making soup for a neighbor?

Giving more than usual to a charity of your choice? Which one? Why?

Mending a relationship because you know you’re not guaranteed tomorrow?

In November, we focus on gratitude. And gratitude is good. Very good.

But it isn’t enough to be thankful – to sit around enjoying the fullness, ruminating on all that’s pleasing or teaching us. We are called to share what we have and know.

If we have love – we share love.

If we have hope – we share hope.

If we have means – we share our treasure.

If we have time – we give hours or moments – with intentionality.

If we have hands, or feet, or ears, or eyes…..If we’re alive, friends! (so that’s all of us) we offer ourselves. Whole and present when nudged to do so.

When you hear the whisper in your heart….Help her. Go to him. Say this in peace….Do it. And make a mental note.

This is God’s work in the world.

And then, please share your stories with me. I’m saving them for an end-of-the-month blog post, where I’ll offer a few tips about the ways we’ve all found to share love throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Your kind acts will inspire others. And wouldn’t more love and kindness be a nice gift for the world?

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The tiniest phrase in a recent article about the latest massacre – the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – infuriated me.

It said the shooter “raged against Jews.”

Who are these “Jews”?

I’ll tell you who “they” are. Over the course of my life, people – who happen to have Jewish heritage and espouse a time-treasured faith – have been to me one or more of the following: family members, neighbors, classmates, teachers, doctors….friends.

They are people I love, respect, and deeply admire – just as I would anyone of integrity and goodness who seeks to do unto others as he or she would do unto himself or herself.

And over this week, as I cried for the beautiful people who lost their lives while worshiping God, I considered the state of things…a nation where “raged against Jews” still seems an apt phrase.

Our world repeats many lies to its constantly thrumming drum, but the biggest one is this…

There is a “they” – separate from us – that we can treat as “other.”

The list of self-identifying groups and sub-groups is endless….Christian (i.e., Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and hundreds of denominations in-between), Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Democrat, Republican, Men, Women, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Straight, LGBTQIA+, Graduate of Such-and-Such College, Having X Degree, No-Degree, Hard Worker, Slacker, Pro-this, Anti-that – you follow?

Add on your own tags – the ones you apply to yourself – as many as you can think of – and stand in your circle to see how many fellow humans are left there with you. One? Two? None?

When we push outward we discover we are all alone.

There is NO “they.”

They are us.

And we are them.

Mother Teresa said it best when she declared, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

I don’t know much about the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but I do know this: his hatred was homegrown and it started as a seed in his heart.

The call to action for us as citizens of the world is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

There are no caveats in that.

No exclusions if we think the person has strange ideas, smells, does her hair in a funny way, or is infringing on our space.

And whether you happen to agree with me when I say that God created each person – and in His own image – formed to be imperishable for all eternity, unique and sacred as an individual – I would venture this…

Deep down you know that freedom from self-absorption and egotism – those inclinations that isolate us and proliferate fear by pushing others away – means reaching out and extending the thing we all want most. Love.

We all play a role in making this world the place we want it to be.

Call out the darkness and bring it to light.

The darkness within each of us is where the battle is waged.

There is no THEY.

There is only US.

And LOVE that surpasses us all.

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Shame On This Dog!

Shame On This Dog!

It’s public knowledge that dogs – as much as we love them – sometimes do disgusting things. Try as we might to keep them out of trouble, even the most adorable and lovable ones will occasionally drag their butts across a carpet, sniff the crotch of an unsuspecting guest, or worst of all, eat poop. Dealing with this nastiness is the dark side of pet ownership. You must be aware of the potential for your pet to act like the totally irrational and – heaven forbid I say it – bestial creature that he is, and be armed to the teeth at all times to fight the demons where they lurk.

And yet – doodoo still occurs.

Last week I was on the phone with the vet’s office giving them an update on our Beagle Luna (who currently has bronchitis), when I noticed that our other dog – a 22 lb. 13-year old mutt named Seamus – was voraciously chowing down on something in the far corner of our yard.

He’d had his breakfast of premium “keep your old-dog young and lean” kibbles just 2 hours before. Whatever this was, it was not OK.

I hung up with the vet, grabbed a Target bag and trekked out to deal with the “prize.”

I got closer and could see a fuzzy grayish cylinder protruding from Seamus’ mouth.

“Seamus!” I said in my best Mom-Boss voice. “Drop it!”

He ran.

Across the yard.

Wolfing down his treasure with a glee that brings new meaning to the verb I just used.

“Seamus!!” I screamed, “I saaaiiid, ‘Drop it!’” as if reprimanding a toddler.

By that point I could make out that the victim was a squirrel. Only its’ tail hung out of our dog’s mouth.

Seamus stopped and hunkered down. Mouth covering his prey. Frozen. Waiting for me to make my next move.

I stood over him, hands on my hips, my pathetic plastic bag flying in the wind from between clenched fingers.

“Seamus!!!! We DO NOT EAT SQUIRRELS!!”

Did I really say that?!

Yes. Yes, I did.

I was losing my mind.

Here we go, I thought.

I reached down, grabbed him by the collar, wrapped the flimsy bag around the mangled squirrel tail, and pulled.

I’m fairly sure Seamus used the opportunity to savor the last juicy bits, because it felt as if he scraped off the insides as I pulled out what was left of the outsides: tail, two hind feet, and about two inches of furry skin that would have covered a non-existent spine.

Five minutes later we were back in the house. Seamus was strutting around like Henry VIII with a visibly swollen gut after a palatial feast, and I was back on the phone trying to mask my fear and trepidation.

“Um, yes.…This is Gretchen Matthews. We spoke just a few minutes ago? Well, now I’m uh…Now I’m calling about my other dog. Seamus. He… Well, hmmm. He was in our backyard while you and I were talking and…and…and he ate a squirrel.”

Shocked silence.

“I mean, he actually ATE a squirrel. I know this can’t be good for him. Microbes and diseases and who knows what!? What do I do?”

I heard shock give way to mild amusement in the tech’s voice. Then she reassured me that since Seamus is up-to-date with his shots he’d likely be fine, and that Dr. Roy* would want to speak to me after finishing with another patient. Meanwhile, I could try giving Seamus two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide (one T per 10 pounds of dog) to see if that would make him vomit.

Oh – if it were only so easy.

I put the ‘magical elixir’ in one of the kids’ old medicine dispensers, leashed up Seamus, and dragged him outside again. There was NO WAY squirrel was coming up onto my carpets.

Five minutes of attempted administration looked like a clown act gone off the rails. I pried open his mouth and got one drop in. That was enough to convince him he would have no more of it. So, I squatted on him like he was a log; and he backed out from under me. I cradled him next to my rib cage and he pushed off my thighs. In the end he was running around me endlessly, wrapping me in the leash loops as if I were a Maypole.

My neighbor walked by and took pity on me. She lovey-dovingly cooed over Seamus until he calmed and together we managed to get about one TEASPOON in.

I thanked her, and the pot-bellied mutt and I trudged inside, where I locked him in his crate and sat beside him, listening to his stomach gurgle for the next 15 minutes.

Dr. Roy called and told me there was a solution. They would put drops in his eye that would make him nauseous and in about 5 minutes he’d bring up the carcass.

I got our beloved mongrel to the vet immediately, where he was greeted at the door: “Here comes THE SQUIRREL EATER!!” and “Some dogs try their whole lives to catch a squirrel. Not bad for 13!!” Seamus soaked in his moment of fame, never flagging in his wags.

He weighed in at 23.5 lbs. Yep – that’s 22 pounds of dog and 1.5 pounds of squirrel.

The remedy worked as hoped, and when I talked to Dr. Roy later he asked me, “What did you get from him?” After I explained, he said, “Well, that makes sense. Because I got the rest of it.”

He told me it was all there – head, spine, innards. All of it. And when Seamus had finally given up the goods, he turned around and lifted his front paws up onto Dr. Roy’s chest, the way he always does when he’s perfectly content.

The dog was proud of himself.

“I heard you say to the staff that there was an eyeball lookin’ at you!”

“Yes, I was just having fun with them because they didn’t see the whole mess. And Seamus didn’t kill it; it’s pretty clear he found it dead. But he sure enjoyed it! I’m definitely going to tell my wife about this tonight. Once in awhile I see something a little unusual in here.”

Now, those of you who read my blog regularly know that I usually try to say something about life, love, and faith to encourage you. Today, I’m not so sure I have many words along those lines, except maybe these.

Dogs can’t change who they are. Seamus is – apparently – a squirrel eater. Given the right circumstances, your dog might be one too.

We, on the other hand, are blessed with a Creator who will help us to grow into improved versions of ourselves. The men and women He intended us to be. All we have to do is ask Him for the grace we need to transform us from those who favor the ways of the flesh, to those who walk in the Spirit.

“I say then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want….Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.”

– Galatians 5: 16-17, 24-25

*Name has been changed.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

You Don’t Need a Valentine to Be One

You Don’t Need a Valentine to Be One

Valentine’s Day is upon us. The celebration of the heart.

Three years ago, my daughter and her friend made Valentines for our whole neighborhood.

No. I’m not kidding.

(If you aren’t familiar with it, feel free to read the story above by clicking the purple words and then come back.)

I was astounded by the girls’ actions, and I’ve never forgotten watching them spread light in a dark world.

I was in awe of their enthusiasm. I was enamored with their openness.

They reminded me of a simple lesson: Don’t ignore a generous impulse.

Even if you are not a Jesus-believer, you probably know this verse, a favorite of mine:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

Notice, there are no caveats in that command. (i.e. Only love those who love you, who live with you, who look like you, who are convenient to love, etc.)

If you’re really going to do it right, love demands a lot.

Walking in faith, you learn from experience that loving well isn’t something you do by yourself.

Knowing True Love is being in relationship. With Someone. The One.

He – the Spirit – makes it possible for us to really love others, because we alone do it so very, very poorly.

We think that Valentine’s Day is all about romantic love. And for most people, it is. But I would argue that it can be so, so much more. Because the world needs LOVE — in all its biggest and most brilliant, and smallest and very humblest forms.

I was thinking along these lines when I gave a short presentation to a group of 20 women a year ago. I told them the story of my daughter and her friend, and I explained the following:

“Don’t ignore a generous impulse. We all know that our world is beautiful, but broken. Lately, when we read the news, it may seem particularly dark and ugly. But the light isn’t far off. It lives within each of us. And we see it when we give it away….While many people told the girls how much they had appreciated the Valentines, the real gift the girls received was the joy they’d given themselves.”

Following the promptings of the Spirit will in all likelihood move us beyond our comfort zones. But how is God ever supposed to share ALL THE LOVE He has to GIVE if WE don’t step out and SHARE IT with OUR very own hands?

After speaking, I gave out 20 very basic valentines that I’d put together myself, and I invited the group to think about the people in their lives. Friends. Colleagues. Neighbors. Acquaintances.

I asked:

“Do you know a woman who was just diagnosed with a devastating illness?
Do you know someone going through a divorce?
Have a coworker who has a troubled child?
Have an elderly neighbor who lives alone?
Is there someone in your circle who is bearing a heavy, heavy burden?
Is there someone you can just tell feels hopeless?
Is there someone who seems fearful?
Is there anyone you haven’t thanked for a kindness you’ve been shown?

Valentine’s Day is about love, and we can make it about so much more than romance and friendship between elementary school classmates. Let’s use it as an opportunity to reach out and say, “I see you, I value you, and I care about you.”

We wrote those Valentines to the people we felt might need a bit of True Love, and gave them away.

Maybe tomorrow, you could buy or make a simple note, and then extend your heart and the Spirit to someone in your circle who might appreciate a little something sweet.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. (Hebrews 4:7)

My Husband: My Stylist

My Husband: My Stylist

My husband is my stylist. For real.

There’s a small pile of clothes on my dresser right now, awaiting the judgment of my stylist, who has been away on business for a couple days.

I ordered a few fall items last week, and I won’t rip the tags off without consulting my husband first. Not because I’m looking for his permission (gosh no!), but simply because he has a better eye than me, and I appreciate his input.

I first realized this when we were dating, and he convinced me to a buy a classic navy sundress from Ann Taylor that I wore for 5 years. It was flattering. It hugged my curves in all the best places and skimmed over the less-than-perfect parts, and the color made my blue eyes pop. But I wouldn’t have picked it on my own because it was, at the time, more than I would typically spend.

My husband’s fashion sense was confirmed during our engagement as I chose a color for the bridesmaids dresses. He actually knew (and could spot) the difference between cornflower and periwinkle blue.

Have I told you that I hate to shop?

Really. Hate. To. Shop.

Years later, I complained one June about needing to buy a couple new dresses, as we had a slew of Christenings, weddings, and sundry parties to attend in the following months.

That afternoon, he waltzed into our kitchen with two new shifts that he had bought straight off the Lord & Taylor racks in under 15 minutes. One fit me perfectly. The other needed minor alterations at the shoulders.

No joke.

I told him other women would laugh at me if they knew, because they’d think I have no ability to dress myself.

He shrugged. Then added, “I appreciate your body more than you do,” and smiled in a come-hither kind of way.

Ahem.

Alright, then.

It has taken some time, but I have accepted that my husband has a legitimate point. He values me (and my body, I guess) in ways that I don’t. And he is looking out for me and the image I put forward in the world.

So – I wonder – am I doing the same for him?

I might not have his same ability to find a garment that is both “on trend” and “spot on” for someone, but am I helping to create a positive impression of him for others?

I hope so.

Do I know his faults?

Of course.

Should I tell you about them?

Probably not.

In the last week, I’ve heard a few women speak poorly of their husbands or other men in their lives. Often, it’s just venting – relieving frustration that builds up in hectic times when we aren’t leaving enough space for deep connection with one another.

But we have to be careful.

There is a fine line between venting, complaining, and disparaging – a downward cut that slices into the bonds of love between us.

We are called to build one another up, to clothe one another with affection and caring. This process happens face-to-face, and when we speak of one another while apart.

Beautifully woven life stories are created when we consistently choose to celebrate our strengths, rather than focus on our flaws.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. – 1 Peter 5:10

Creating New Memories of Dad

Creating New Memories of Dad
Ashe Gold

Have you ever revisited a memory only to discover that your recollection was, in some way, skewed?

This happened to me recently.

I was thinking back to when I was 12 or 13, spending a day with my dad. We were in Morocco. Epcot’s Morocco.

My folks had recently divorced. At the time, my sister and I were living in Jacksonville, Florida, with my mom but for reasons I can’t remember, this day-trip to Orlando was just for Dad and me.

We were having a blast – “hoofing it” as Dad always said – walking quickly all over the park to take in as much as we possibly could in 12 or so hours. Just before dinner, we stopped at Morocco, and as we admired the leather goods in the shops, I told Dad I needed to visit the ladies’ room.

There, I discovered what every adolescent girl dreads.

And dear God. I was not prepared. No purse. No supplies. Nothing.

Feeling slightly nauseous, with butterflies in my stomach, I marched outside. Dad was standing by a dim streetlamp, basking in the sunset over the man-made lake.

“Dad, I need a quarter.”

He looked down at me with his calm, bright blue eyes, smiled and asked, “Why do you need a quarter?”

“Uhmmm. For the machine in the ladies’ room.”

His forehead wrinkled and lips puckered in perplexity.

Time stood still for me.

Perhaps a millisecond later, he began to fumble ferociously for a quarter, patting his shirt pocket and the pockets on the front and back of his shorts without feeling anything. Finally, he found the handful of change, opened his palm, and fished out one shiny 25 cent piece.

I took it from him without a word.

When I returned, he was fidgety. There was a crisp air of uncertainty about him.

“So,” he tried to sound casual, “Where would you like to eat? We can go anywhere in the world!”

So Dad. So typical of Dad to attempt humor just then. And I showed my gratitude with a grudging smile.

We settled on Japan, where, over my first-ever bowl of udon I also felt for the first time that necessary parting of ways – the separation that comes between the child and the parent, and in this case, between a girl and her father. Things would be unsaid. Experiences would be unshared. Life would be lived separately.

But there is more.

I used to think this story was about me and the time my monthly cycle began at Epcot Center. And it is – in a very small way. What’s more important however, is that Grace showed up that day, and taught me a lesson for life about men.

My dad is a gentleman through and through. That doesn’t mean he always responds with composure or perfect words the first moment of a challenging situation; it means that he will respond correctly when given the fullness of an opportunity. The distinction is important.

This little incident was a building block planted by Grace in my life. How do I know? Because my father’s response to me – initially awkward, but full of love and tenderness – was a foreshadowing of interactions I would later have with my husband. By looking back on this memory, I can see that I was being taught that today I am to give my husband room and time to respond with the love and compassion I know he has for me, even if the circumstances of any given situation take him by surprise.

Men get a lot of bad press these days, and yes – there are more than a few out there who are behaving poorly and thus becoming fodder for headlines, memes, and tabloids. But I’ve been blessed to know many good men – righteous men who through their actions, big and small, show their love and concern for the women and children in their lives. Fathers especially, who shepherd their families with perseverance and thoughtfulness. They aren’t showy or prideful about their contributions; they do it out of the purity of their hearts, and we would do well to honor them appropriately and regularly for it.

The love these men express is a reflection of the bigger Love – the eternal Love. The One that brought all of us into being through the free gift of Grace and uses individuals to do work in the world. Love is an unparalleled force that we cannot escape, and we desire it above everything else.

Relationships with parents can be complicated. Holidays like Father’s Day can stir up a whole host of emotions. But deep within, many of us want to feel or say something more than, “Have a beer on me, Dad!” “Play some golf!” “Take a load off!” or the generic, “Enjoy your day!” Even if our dads have passed on and our interactions were troubled, we want to have hearts of gratitude for these men who touched our lives so deeply.

The not-so-secret secret that Grace teaches is that gratitude is a practice that can be learned. So here’s an exercise for building gratitude for your dad (and indeed any man in your life) that you can try – today.

1) Think of time when he was tender to you. An isolated incident.

2) Visualize yourself through his eyes. Remember that you were his child. Consider how he must have felt as he looked at your face. However imperfectly he expressed his emotions for you, try to imagine the stirrings of his heart.

3) Add the emotion you feel from this “imaginative view” to your databank of knowledge about your dad. Assume his best intentions. Grant him a bit more grace in your heart and you will want to act toward him accordingly.

Can the past teach us about the present?

Does Grace always show up in our life’s story if we look closely enough?

I believe the answer to these questions is ‘Yes.’ And we can respond with gratitude today if we can gradually come to believe that there’s a God who was walking with us then, and who walks with us still.

Someone Died and All He Could Think Was “Where’s the Pork Roll?”

Someone Died and All He Could Think Was “Where’s the Pork Roll?”
My children with their great-grandparents at their 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration, January 2017.

I always knew there was a range of emotions to encounter in grief, but I didn’t count on humor being one of them.

We were sitting down to dinner on the day my grandfather died. On my own, I had already told the children the news one-by-one, something that needed to be done because my husband was in another state at a colleague’s mother’s funeral and our kids’ age spread meant they wouldn’t be able to process the info in the same way. We had all been together in Seattle just a week before to celebrate my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. Telling the kids that their 94-year old great-grandfather – who had seemed the picture of health – had suddenly entered heaven came as a shock to them, to say the least. Kids are never prepared. But then again, are any of us?

Everyone was happy that it was ‘breakfast for dinner’ – pancakes, eggs, fruit and OJ, but about 5 minutes into the meal my 7-year old son asked, “Where’s the pork roll?” – a Philadelphia favorite and weekend staple in our house.

I let out a frustrated sigh that I wasn’t aware I’d been holding in.

“I forgot it, alright? Bestefar died today and I forgot the pork roll. We’ll be fine without it.”

Then I promptly burst into tears.

My 11-year old daughter dropped her fork and in a shaky voice said, “Oh, Mom! Are you ok?”

Banging his fist on the table – young man of the house – my teenage son declared, “Clearly, she is NOT ok!!”

Turning to me, he said – a little too loudly, “MOM! If you need to go lie down, or…or…or take a break…or something…you just do that, OK?”

Then, to my left, a sweet little 7-year old’s voice said, “Mom?”

In a state of disbelief, I turned to my youngest son.

“Yes?” I said.

“Are you thinking dark thoughts?”

It was all I could do not to burst into fits of laughter.

Maturity in three stages spread out before me. The 7-year old had forgotten the day’s events. The 11-year old could only feel empathy. And the 14-year old was desperately trying to control the situation.

It was a foreshadowing of my own grieving process – the one I would go through in the weeks ahead.

Grandpa passed in January and Grandma passed in March, and every day I’m in one of these three stages: denial, empathy and sadness, or trying to regain a footing. My grandparents meant more to me than most people may realize. Despite the geographical distance between us, they were a firm foundation in my life; I counted on them for stability and strength in ways that only now are becoming apparent to me.

And I’ve been rather silent on this blog as I try to process that realization, focusing instead on just getting through the days. But this morning I realized yet again that what they were to me is what I have been called to be to others. The mantle is passed in this way from generation to generation. And if I spend my life trying to emulate theirs, I will have succeeded in giving my children the precious gifts my grandparents gave to me. These three things abide: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)