“Can I Take That Backpack For You?” – Words We Still Need to Hear

“Can I Take That Backpack For You?” – Words We Still Need to Hear
Photo by Charlie Solorzano on Unsplash.

Thank goodness I didn’t wreck the car when I saw them…I was staring so much.

They were three men walking in a line like ducks toward the school, one following another, on the sidewalk opposite me as I pulled out of a parking spot on a one-way street in historic downtown Annapolis.

They were slowed by the bumpy terrain – a place where bricks placed in a herringbone pattern are made uneven by centuries of wear and large roots of trees busting through at sporadic intervals.

Or maybe it was the men’s daughters who shortened their steps.

Tucked behind each dad, sheltered from passing cars and just barely in view, was a little girl holding her father’s left hand. In his right hand, each dad carried a tiny backpack.

And that last precious little girl? Oh – she was engulfed in story, her left arm waving around as she kept her face toward her dad’s, looking up for his responses. And he was nodding and smiling – fully focused, fully present to whatever it was she was telling him.

Three men. Three daughters. So beautiful.

I still remember being small and holding my dad’s big hand. It was warm and soft. And I knew I was safe when I was with him.

And I still remember what it was like to have help from others when I was vulnerable. Friends hauled my backpack for me in high school on more than one occasion when I sprained my ankles.

Perhaps your experiences are similar.

The truth is, we’re all still children at heart. We want two hands to be there for us. One to hold, and one to carry our stuff.

Hours after seeing the fathers and daughters, a dear friend of mine called and shared some concerns with me about one of her children.

In the beginning of our friendship, she used to apologize for taking up my time, but now we have an understanding. Our relationship has matured and we know – we are here to help carry one another’s burdens. We are here to hold each other’s hands.

I tell her my fears and she tells me hers. She admits her mistakes and I reassure her that I’ve made them, too.

We metaphorically link arms, and while one of us protects the other from the world’s traffic, the one who’s feeling vulnerable and small waves her other arm about and tells her story for as long as it takes.

We walk together over the uneven path.

As you’ve probably witnessed, the world consistently fails to appreciate the finer points of real, lasting, and genuine adult relationships. They are tender, sacred domains where vulnerability, weakness, and heart-to-heart sharing is not mocked and scorned, but cherished.

Only in admitting to one another that we are not perfect can we find communion.

Real love means letting down our guard with someone we trust, and offering to guard one another in return.

Our hearts are made for Love.

We crave it.

We want it in its purest form – born in perfection from the place where it is, was, and always will be – safe and eternally trustworthy, from beginning to end.

And to get more of it, we must give it away.

The next time you feel frail, weakened, or exposed – will you turn to a loyal friend – and better still, your Father in heaven – and say, ‘Show me where I can lay down this heavy load?’

And when someone comes to you with a backpack of worry, regret, or just fatigue from too much responsibility, will you help him or her carry it for awhile, while holding out your tender hands, offering your strength and protection?

Yes, we can do this. We can travel the jagged landscape of life, making one another’s burdens lighter with the love of God working through our hands.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

“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

This post was re-published in October 2019 to celebrate the 5th Anniversary of this blog, Like the Dewfall. For another post on lifelong love, please see this one about my dear grandparents Hazel and Allen Smith, who were married for 75 years before passing on within 5 weeks of one another: “What Makes A Couple Truly Beautiful?”

Original Post:

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.

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived

Choosing the Significant Over the Short-Lived
Me and some of our “Founders.” Having a bit of fun in Des Moines, Iowa,
at the 74th Convention of the P.E.O. International Sisterhood, September 2019.

Are you choosing what’s significant over what’s short-lived?

Alright. It’s a loaded question. And I bet you’re caught for a second – not sure if you want to read on.

Hear me out.

I spent a good portion of the last week in Des Moines with 6,000 of my sisters from the P.E.O. International Sisterhood celebrating the 150th anniversary of our founding. We hail from across the U.S. and Canada and every year give out millions in grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to women pursuing higher education. We also have our own college – Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri – which we’ve owned outright and supported since 1927. Formed in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1869 by seven bright young ladies at a time when women’s education was hardly a foregone conclusion, we have never forgotten to be grateful to God for opportunity. We are drawn together by the core values and virtues to which we adhere: faith, love, purity, justice and truth. Check us out at www.peointernational.org.

Officers are chosen from among our sisterhood of 258,000, and Friday evening, I was standing with one of Iowa’s past state presidents who had been charged with the enormous responsibility of bringing so many women together for 4 days of meetings and parties. Though she had done a brilliant, brilliant job – she was, of course, exhausted – and still considering all the ways that each day could have gone better.

No matter how much goes right (and there was an overwhelming preponderance of excellency here), you will always catch wind of every little thing that doesn’t.

So I encouraged her.

“Look around,” I said. “Just look at all these women enjoying one another and making meaningful connections. Real connections. That’s what matters. You did this. Well done.”

I wanted to elevate the reality of the situation for her, because too often we lose the significant as we chase the ephemeral.

If you are like me…

  • you’ve got a to-do list a mile long
  • you haven’t called your best friend this week
  • you haven’t connected with that new friend you promised you would
  • but your phone is almost never beyond arm’s reach
  • somehow, you have found time to look at Facebook or Instagram…and you think you know what’s going on in acquaintances’ lives….and that matters to you….

Consistently, we are choosing the short-lived over the significant.

Where are our priorities?

Four days of deep, eye-to-eye contact with women I love from all over the country – some I know very well, some I would give anything to know better – reminded me that THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT.

Working on a long-term vision together.

Revisiting our ideals.

Or just sharing the day-to-day aches and pains.

Breathing new life into one another.

A quick text or a “your kids are so cute” comment on social media is no substitute for longer, substantive, and yes – face-to-face conversations.

We do not intimately know one another until we sit in the same space, hear the tremor in one another’s voices, watch and clasp each other’s hands, and see the crinkles at the corners of our eyes as we speak – or don’t speak – of love, woe, and everything in between.

We use the excuse that we are busy and can’t “get it together.”

We wear it like a badge of honor.

But c’mon. We know better.

We know small efforts yield big results.

So let’s just start.

Let’s get together. For coffee. For conversation. For the sake of love. And life. Women’s education and a sisterhood that endures. The future of the planet. Some other lofty goal that God has put on your heart.

For all that we know is good.

Choosing the significant over the short-lived.

For real.

Notre Dame de Paris and Legacies at Easter

Notre Dame de Paris and  Legacies at Easter

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

On Monday, April 15, when the very first sparks caught deep in the forest of Notre Dame Cathedral’s 800-year old oak beams, my husband and I were singing the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at the funeral of a beloved man. His name was Jim, and he was the father of one of our dearest friends.

The church was packed, full of people whose lives had been touched by this husband of 51 years, father of 4, grandfather of 11, friend to hundreds, and volunteer whose time and contributions touched the lives of thousands through a long list of organizations within his community.

During the homily, the priest told a story about visiting the grave of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the first person entombed within it. Wren’s gravestone reads, in Latin: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

Wren’s monument was the entire building. Spectacular, of course, but buildings do fall down.

Jim’s legacy is one of love and connection. It is a baton that has been passed on – and will be – for generations to come.

I was so grateful for the priest’s reminder as I drove home, thinking about people I love – people very close to me – who are currently suffering. Some have been fighting health battles for months with no end in sight. Others are dealing with very emotional issues – facing new realities, changed expectations, and daunting unknowns.

Like a devastating fire, suffering leaves marks on us and changes the way we move forward in our lives.

The temptation is to believe that a happy ending requires that we – like Notre Dame – be restored to some version of a former glory.

We think that with enough rest, medicine, good food, positive words, and advice from experts and well-meaning friends we can shore up our mental and physical strength and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

But what if we’re not supposed to? What if suffering – in all its forms – has a larger purpose?

What if it is supposed to change us forever?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction….” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our suffering is allowed so that we might be brought closer to God’s face and then, in turn, use our experience to boost others on their journeys.

We are to pass the baton of Love.

So Jim’s life becomes a message of hope to us, just as Jesus’s resurrection – which we celebrate this weekend on Easter – is the tangible sign that with God, even death is not an end but an entryway.

Perhaps the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but it can never be the same. The story must go on and be fashioned anew.

On Monday, we sat with our grieving friends and remembered that Jim was a man who gave generously of himself. He was beloved, because humans are attracted to the image of God reflected in a kind person.

Easter is coming. Suffering will end.

May Love be our guide to build legacies that last.

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?
Witness by Ariel Burger and Night, by Burger’s teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel.

Are you an activist? Is activism something you do – or observe?

Last night I finished Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a short book I meant to read for years, and I put it off out of selfish knowledge that its contents would rattle me. And they did, because every word is true. I felt physically ill. I don’t remember the last time I read something this painful, powerful, important, or necessary.

In the very unlikely case you’ve never heard of it – Night is a harrowing first-person account of survival in the Nazi death camps. Taken – along with his family and the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Transylvania – to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel recounts with lucidity, humility, and eloquence the unforgettable anguish of passing through hell and leaving behind every person he had ever loved. Deeply observant, this Jewish teenager faced a prolonged dark night of the soul unimaginable to most. I defy anyone with a heart to read this book and remain unmoved.

You will read Night and feel bereft. But there is a mighty epilogue. Elie Wiesel was much more than a survivor. Before his passing in 2016, he wrote 40 books (both fiction and nonfiction), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and most notably, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He taught Humanities at Boston University for nearly 40 years.

In conjunction with Night, I recently devoured a sort-of primer on moral education – Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, who was a student of and later an assistant to, Elie Wiesel in Boston. It’s the next best thing to being in Professor Wiesel’s classes, pondering eternally significant questions such as, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place?”

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post – the steps we take after we are consumed with sadness and fury over the injustices in the world.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Professor Wiesel said he had faith. “Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” (emphasis mine)

To sit on our hands and do nothing when we are outraged is to fuel evil’s fire.

We may feel powerless, but we are not.

“Walt, a retired academic dean who [had] attended Wiesel’s classes for over a decade, [said], ‘My problem is, I do something small, write a check or something, and I feel better. I don’t want to feel better; I want to hold on to the outrage so I can do more. How do I do that?’

[Wiesel replied,] ‘The question is, how real are other people to you? Do you feel their suffering?…We can feel overwhelmed….And you can remain asleep to others’ pain. We need to find a balance between sleep and paralysis. Start with one person. A person is not an abstraction – we must be against abstraction. Six million pairs of shoes taken from children in the camps are a statistic; one is a tragedy.

But don’t just write a check; help them somehow with your own effort, your own energy. Buy them food and bring it to them. Help them find shelter. Speak to them, take the time to really speak and listen. Who will listen to them? We must be the ones who do. This means that your feelings of anxiety or calm, your presence or lack thereof for another person, your smile at a fellow human being or your turning away, your feeling overwhelmed and how you manage that – all of these little, internal things contribute somehow to the destiny of the world.’” (Witness, p. 176)

We cannot live lives of vicarious righteousness. We must step out and take action wherever we see a need. Big steps. Small steps. Forward steps.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, “How I am doing this new year, living an activist’s life? Am I obeying the daily, divine call to love?”

Am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving shelter? Speaking up – loudly – for the defenseless and oppressed?

Am I listening without judgment to the person who suffers from addiction? Am I offering compassion to the one who is sick, the one whose marriage is failing, the one whose child is estranged, and the one who has lost his job? Do I give rapt attention to the one who talks aimlessly because she’s been lonely for ages?

Who will welcome these battered hearts, if not me?

Am I asking God for help in discerning my next steps, and am I willing to accept that I am part of a greater whole, and that because God so loved the entire world, I must as well?

Or am I avoiding pain, because getting involved might cost me something?

These are questions for the would-be activist. Questions for you and me.

“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them,” wrote Elie Wiesel.

So – how are we doing?

Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Humble pie. An old-fashioned phrase. Makes me think of a picnic in springtime, a checkerboard tablecloth, and someone joyriding through a forest in a horse-drawn wagon. That person thinks he’s king of the world. He’s showing off but all-too-soon he hits a rock, is catapulted from his dinky wooden seat, and with arms and legs flailing catches air and unceremoniously lands in a huge puddle. Mud covers him from head to toe.

Don’t ask me where I got this visual. I have no idea. But when people say, “He’s too big for his britches,” something along these lines comes to mind.

What is humility, exactly?

In modern parlance, we’ve wrongly accepted it as having low self-esteem. It’s not that.

Merriam-Webster’s defines it as the quality or state of not being proud or haughty. To be humble is also to rank low in a hierarchy or scale. To be unpretentious.

Note that these definitions do not indicate intrinsic value. You can be a cog in the wheel of a large organization, but if doing your job enables others to get theirs done too, you’re not exactly worthless, are you?

My grandfather used to say he was a “peanut” when he described his career as an engineer at Boeing in Seattle, WA. A former WWII pilot and instructor, he was extremely bright and capable, and held a variety of positions which relocated his family a handful of times over the years. But no matter how much I admired his work, his perspective was different. He’d grown up in the Great Depression, and lived apart from his mom for seven years on a small farm outside of Vancouver, WA with his father and sister, while his mother provided income as washer woman in Seattle. She sent money down to her family every time she got a paycheck. He never forgot arriving at that farm house for the very first time and realizing that the only running water came through a rough, open pipe over the kitchen sink, fed by a trickling local stream. Though the amenities did improve, prolonged family separation – not by choice but by necessity – and hard times, left marks. He never took blessings for granted. Instead, he took the opportunities he was given and used them to serve others. He always gave others credit and downplayed his own contributions. He was holding all things in proper perspective, the way a truly humble person navigates life.

So it made sense to me, sitting at his memorial service, that here was a man who had spent his life making kind overtures. Yes, he helped feed and clothe the homeless through his church, and volunteered countless hours to manage the books for community groups. But another thing he did really struck me.

In his later years, he joined a yacht club and rose ‘through the chairs’ to become Commodore. At the end of the monthly members’ meeting, he had a personal tradition of “Naming the House.” Starting on one side of the room and making his way around, he would say the name of every person present, and if there was enough time, also the name of his/her spouse and their boat. At any meeting, there might be as many as 200 people present.

This is notable for a few reasons:

First, what a memory! Keeping his mind sharp was always important to him, but he must have spent days studying the roster. It shows a level of dedication to his organization that I believe most leaders don’t have.

Second, he was looking at each person as he said their name and relayed information pertinent to that person’s life. How often do we tell others that they are seen? That we know them? That we care who they are?

And finally, he was not doing this to show off or to elevate himself above his fellow members. He did it because he fully understood that once his term was up, he would reassume his place in the crew. Despite the fancy uniform and podium he was speaking from – he was – essentially – just like them, and he valued each of them for who they were individually. His heart was in serving them. He knew that each person was important – a valued member – and he wanted them to know that he would never forget a single one.  

This how God sees us.

He looks upon us with tremendous love – boundless affection – and says, “I know you. Every part of you. And in my leadership, I will never forget you.”

To show us that he understands, He sent us Himself in Jesus. Fully man, and fully divine, a person who was similarly tested in all ways, but remained without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) God “gets” us.

True humility on our part is recognizing our rightful place in the world, which is neither less than nor greater than any other human being, but bowing only toward the One Who is.

How does this thought strike you? Is it strange? Foreign? Liberating?

Our intrinsic value is not defined by our position. It is not related to our income, connections, careers, or even our bad habits.

We were created in love by the One Who cradles us in the palm of His hand and calls us Beloved. This is where we find our true worth. 

This kind of humble pie is Truth. And it’s deliciously filling.

Study Birds and Turtles – Or How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments

Study Birds and Turtles – Or  How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments
Me and my first-born at the National Zoo many years ago.

How do you love those closest to you in life’s mundane moments? Those times when all you see are the remains of everyday life and the residue bugs you…Toothpaste stuck to the sides of the sink. Towels in crumpled heaps on the floor. Crumbs all over the countertop.

When our first child – a boy – was still an ‘only’, my husband and I took him on regular visits to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. We had high hopes that our son would embrace our love of animals – all the same majestic beasts of power I admired (like the great cats), and the intelligence and antics of the creatures my husband favored (such as the primates and the otters). Instead, we often found ourselves wandering around the Bird House or lingering beside a pond of lily pads as eternal minutes dragged on. But these locales were positively scintillating for our son. He was mesmerized by the tiniest of brown birds, the plainest of turtles sitting motionless on its mini-island rock in the center of a lagoon.

I couldn’t understand it until my husband made the wise observation, “These animals are small. Closer to his size. They’re easier for him to study and appreciate.”

It was true. While we may be attracted by the bright, colorful, and bold, it’s more often the case that passionate love for a creature, person, place, or anything else develops in a slower, more nuanced way. We connect with what seems within reach – with what we understand – starting from the outside and exploring within. Once there, we bridge the gap, allowing our hearts to grow stronger in affection for that which we have come to esteem.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” but even she knew her sonnet would inadequately describe love of a person – the greatest experience known to man this side of heaven.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace….
and, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death.”

-Sonnet 43

It takes a lifetime and beyond to fully value an individual, doesn’t it?

When we truly stretch ourselves to love the entirety of another person, accepting him or her as a unique and irreplaceable gift, we experience a taste of the vastness of God.

But most days, we are blind to the divine glory of our loved ones.

We get tired. We fuss and fidget over our to-dos. We become automatons in the stress and hustle of our world. And in the modern age, we stare blankly and numbly at our screens, scrolling past the myriad faces of people who don’t play significant roles in our lives.

Why? Why are we wasting this precious time?

God’s grace – as evidenced by the immense creativity across the depth of the people we love – is there for the knowing, if only we would look up and SEE.

Post-Valentine’s Day, I would encourage us all to recommit ourselves to the study and appreciation of the people closest to us. The ones who really matter.

Memorize the feel of your child’s hair under your palm. Fix your beloved’s smile in your mind’s eye. Etch the echoes of voices you treasure on your heart.

Listen. Not to just the words, but to the yearning to be understood that lies behind the words.

Love never ends, but opportunities to see it shimmering like dewfall in life’s most mundane moments – do.

Let’s not rely on a holiday to savor the beauty of our valentines. Today is as perfect a day as any.

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!

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

4 Simple Ideas for the Happiest of New Years

4 Simple Ideas for the Happiest of New Years
Ringing in 2019 lasts all of January. It's where we set our intentions. What are yours? How will you spend this year?
Photo by Melanie Hughes on Unsplash

So, we’ve turned the corner into 2019 and none of us know what lies ahead. But I’ve been thinking there are a few things we can take from December 2018 that just might be of assistance to us in the months to come.

Here are four simple steps to creating a meaningful, rich year:

1) Do less. We’re back to work and school and other activities. But let’s not forget that some (if not all) of these “other activities” are ones we choose.

Yes, there’s grocery shopping to be done and birthdays to celebrate, but before we add another ‘to-do’ to our calendars, it wouldn’t hurt to ask: “Do I really want to _______? Am I doing it to please someone else? Out of a false obligation? Is it good and true and helpful (to me or someone in my circle), or am I doing it in a vain attempt to create a favorable impression?”

Over the holidays, I cut a few things out.

I dropped the idea of a family outing to see Christmas lights.

Didn’t force us all to attend an Advent evensong service.

Nixed my plan to make quiche on Christmas morning, since pancakes and scrambled eggs were good enough.

And the result? Less stress.

In each case, I considered my motivations and the potential benefits and chose a quieter, simpler path of peace for myself and my family.

A long time ago, a friend of my husband’s said, “I’ve been a lot happier since I stopped doing things I don’t want to do.”

Yes. Couldn’t have said it better.

2) Rest more. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s my family has done a fair amount of sleeping. I believe we all needed it. Your life and mine are probably very similar, and sleep often goes by the wayside.

But again – we can choose to make rest a priority.

It doesn’t have to mean 8 hours a night (though my experience tells me – and science backs it up – that reaching this goal consistently makes a world of difference). It DOES mean taking time out to put our feet up, read good books, snuggle with our spouses, play board games with kids, and laugh.

You probably did all of this over the holidays and felt some rejuvenation. Keep it up.

3) Spend time with loved ones. This may seem related to point number 2, but it is actually a category unto itself. In December, many of us traveled great distances to see loved ones, carved out time to spend just with them. But I wonder: How will we maintain those connections in 2019?

What if – instead of scrolling through Facebook or Instagram – we spent 20+ minutes talking to one of those special people on the phone?

What if – instead of sitting on our couches watching the Today Show or a sitcom – we had a weekly date to meet a friend for coffee or a walk in a local park?

I know where I waste time daily, and I bet you do too. Let’s choose people over technology. However much those screens add to our lives, the people we know add infinitely more, don’t they?

4) Pray and/or meditate. Did you go to a house of worship over the holidays? Why? Perhaps it was an obligation. You went because that’s what the family does. But how did you feel when you went? Even if you hated it, you went, and I would submit that’s because there’s a deep desire within each of us to connect with Something Greater.

And – I think arguing against this is a strenuous exercise in pushing back against what is.

So acknowledge your curiosity. Explore the possibility. Ask the big questions.

Give your soul the benefit of prayer or meditation. Let it reach out to see What and Who is there.

You WILL be met.

Thank you for reading this. Together, we can embrace the new year with hope and love. I pray for countless blessings for you and yours in 2019.