Friday, February 27, 2015

Love goals

I had a goal of writing a post about love on each weekday in February.

That would have been 20 posts, had I written them.  I wrote 10.  This one makes 11.  Today is the last weekday in February.  I managed to meet 55% of my goal.  If you figure that 65% is what you have to earn in a class to pass, I failed soundly.


This is not school.  I am not taking a class.

Who wants to read twenty posts in succession about love anyway?  Seriously.  Not me!

Besides, I learned other things.  For instance, it is more important to express love than to write about it, and if writing about it prevents you from expressing it, then writing about it is futile . . .  counterproductive, in fact.

This February, we had a medical procedure, a visit from out-of-state kids (and a local kid), a lovely holiday (Valentine's is so fun, and low stress, and pretty), and a birthday this past Wednesday.  It's been a nice month, a month of opportunities to give and receive love.

Another thing.  Love is sort of private.  I'm not talking about "mushy" stuff.  I just mean that I don't feel called to blather on about all the details of love in my family.  The privacy of intimacy is what makes it special.  Isn't that what intimacy means, after all?  Intimacy is private and personal and only shared between people who can trust deeply. 

Love is also a very strong topic.  Like honey, a little goes a long way.  My hope is that the theme of love will always be a strong thread in my writing, but I learned that it is not a good subject to overdose on as a spotlighted subject, day after day.

In the future, I hope to love better in real life and write with more subtlety, more understated suggestion, more delicacy.  Most of us would rather be drawn into a story than smacked in the face with a principle.  ("Show, don't tell," is what they always teach in creative writing classes.  I think it applies outside of writing, as well.)

May we all live, learn, and love more than we loved yesterday.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Dog love

This month, I have not kept up with my goal to write five days a week.

When you miss a goal, especially when you miss one spectacularly, you can get down on yourself.  At least, I can. 

It's not just the blog.  The blog doesn't really matter.  A few different things have piled up discouragement on me lately, sucked the stuffing out of me.

And you know?  I think this is why God gave us dogs.

Dogs love you no matter what.  Dogs are always happy to see you when you come home, always at the ready with a wagging tail and as many sloppy kisses as you might be willing to receive.

Dogs love you when you take them for a walk, when you feed them breakfast, and especially when you carry the fuzzy blanket over to the sofa to settle down with a book.  You are their favorite, and they want to be as near to you as possible, as often as possible.

Dogs forgive you when you trip over them, when you bathe them and get water in their eyes, and when you ignore them because you are having a bad day.  They never bear grudges.  If they misbehave and you have to do something about it, they are the picture of humble repentance, never spiteful or vindictive.

I think God gave us dogs to model unconditional love and forgiveness.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A love story

Once upon a time there was a boy who vaguely wished for a soul-mate.  He even wrote a poem about her, the person he did-not-yet-know but hoped to meet some day.  A snob may have thought that it was a sentimental adolescent poem, but it was heartfelt, almost a prayer.

Meanwhile, there lived a girl who hoped some day to marry and have a family, although she secretly doubted that anyone would ever have her.  Being devout, she prayed regularly and made a list in her diary, beginning with, "He must love Jesus," and ending with, "It would be nice if he were tall, and musical, and athletic."

One day they met in a Bible study.  She was taken with his clean-cut decency and the way he said, "How do you do?"  (She answered, "Fine," and then experienced the stab one feels when the wrong word bursts from one's mouth before one has time to think.)  He was taken with her big brown eyes and utter lack of veneer.

Over time, he learned that she was trustworthy, and she learned that he was an uncanny match for every item on her list.  They began to ask God about each other.

He ran into a snag or two with his college coursework, and she told him, "You can do it."  He did.

Before they finished college, they found themselves married and living in a file drawer of an apartment, a homemade quilt on their bed (dusty blue, for it was 1987), and lots of free sweet corn in their kitchen because she worked for the ag school of the University of Minnesota, St. Paul.  She grew tan, hoeing corn rows, and he did not, working on computers at various companies and finishing his electrical engineering degree.

Diplomas in hand, they moved to Syracuse, New York to start a new life.  A rainbow graced their way, and she felt hope, the smile of God, the promise of a future as they drove on through rainy Chicago towards the eastern side of the USA.

They learned things about one another.

He learned that she did not like him to give her gifts after fights.  "That is just a memorial to the fight," she told him.  "Please just say you're sorry."  So he learned to say he was sorry.

She learned that he could not eat both steak and ice cream in the same evening.  Sad but true.  So she worked on cooking approximately kosher meals.

He learned that she was deathly afraid of cats.

She learned that he played the bass guitar.

He learned that her favorite things included walks in the woods and neck massages.

She learned that he liked coming home to happy children and lots of toys in the living room, rather than a clean house and a stressed out wife.

He learned that piles of unnamed chaos stressed out his wife.

She learned that he liked tea and TV in the evenings (often Masterpiece, back before Downton Abbey ruined it).

He learned to change diapers and wash dishes while she learned to use computers and cell phones (after a fashion).

She did not learn how to maintain cars, but she was able to call AAA if the battery died.  He did not learn how to cook dinner, but he could fry eggs, and he was the best at making coffee.

Together, they learned how to do various home improvement projects.  He became an ace prefinished hardwood floor installer.  They wallpapered a number of rooms without fighting once (about the wallpaper).

She did the bulk of the child-rearing, but he had an important role, too.  When the children were little, he did the after-dinner baths while she cleaned the kitchen in peace.  When the children grew older, he took them to soccer, and basketball.  He picked up Lulubelle after ballet, on his way home from work.  He always, always took them to their music auditions and adjudications because she was incapable of remaining composed.

He made the money, but she saved it.

All in all, they worked very well together.

They even discovered family vacations in beach houses on the coast of North Carolina, where they spent as many evenings as possible walking up the shore in the edge of the water, into the sunset.

One ordinary, busy day, she visited him at his office in New York.  On her way out to the van afterwards, she saw a little paring knife lying forlornly in a pile of snow in the parking lot (there was a great deal of of snow in the parking lots in New York).  She saved the knife, rescued it and took it home.  It was small and lightweight and felt cheap in one's hand, but it turned out to be a great knife.  It had a very sharp point on its end, and a finely serrated edge that never seemed to get dull.

This past Christmas she lost the knife while the children were all at home.  At first she just assumed that someone had put it away in the wrong place, but after a couple of months, she remembered preparing a very large family apple crisp.  She wondered if it had been discarded with the cores and peelings.

He knew she was distressed about the lost knife, so every time they were out at a discount store, he would find a knife that looked similar to it, and offer to buy it for her.  "No thank you," she would say, "I have other paring knives.  I don't need another paring knife.  I just liked that particular, specific knife."

Then one day, a search for knives on the internet turned up this knife brand.  The paring knife was available!  The bad news, it was only available in a set of 19 knives.  The good news, the entire set only cost $19.99.  He ordered it for her for Valentine's Day.

The box was rather an appropriate Valentine design.

The knives were profuse.

And the Valentine score was second only to the year he gave her roses without spending $50.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Love, and other things like it

Love is when you want the best for someone.

When you love yourself, you want the best for yourself.  We all want the best for ourselves.  This is why Jesus could say, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Seriously.  Even suicide victims want the best for themselves.  They want to end the pain.  No matter how misguided they may be, or how much they think they hate themselves, at the end of the day, they are doing what they do out of self-interest (aka self love).  Otherwise, they would think of others, and then they would realize that others are hurt when people kill themselves, and then they would refrain from doing it (unless they really want to hurt others, in which case they derive some sort of sick pleasure from the thought of the hurt they will cause and thus it still comes back to an act of self-gratification).

Love is wanting the best for someone.  The amazing, divine, miraculous thing about love is this: when it works right, you want the best for the person you love, and then when that person gets the best, you are filled with joy and delight and satisfaction.  Ultimately, the best for someone else turns into the best for you, because it brings you such great fulfillment because of your deep love.  This is the opposite of a downward spiral.  It is an upward spiral, and it comes from the Lord.

Compassion, sympathy and empathy are like love, or parts of love.

Compassion literally means to feel along with someone, except usually it connotes joining others in feelings of sorrow.  You are affected by their sadness; you become sad because they are sad, and you long to do something to alleviate their sadness.  A compassionate person longs to help others.

Sympathy means very nearly the same thing as compassion, except that it has roots in Greek while compassion has its roots in Latin.  Otherwise, they are virtually the same word. Sympathy may (for some people) be less strongly associated with sorrow, specifically, and may encompass some other emotions, although usually the more negative ones: anger, jealousy, fear.  A sympathetic person commiserates with others.

Empathy is similar; it means a sharing of feelings.  However, empathy encompasses a sharing of all feelings, from joy to sorrow and everything in between.  An empathetic person shares the gamut of emotions with others; an empathetic person is very understanding.

Love encompasses all of these.  Love weeps with those who weep, and tries to comfort them.  Love listens and understands.  Love rejoices with those who rejoice (love is not envious).

However, mature love sometimes applies compassion and empathy to the future.  When this happens, it is not always perceived as love.  When a child wants yet more candy, and the mother says, "No," the child does not perceive this as love but as hate.  The mother knows that if the child continues to eat candy, he will soon vomit, and she cuts off his supply in sympathy and compassion, even bearing the brunt of his anger, because she does not want him to be sick.

When someone older and wiser applies hard won life knowledge to a situation to try to save an underling from pain in the long term, the underling is often very upset.  This is called "tough love," and it is, indeed, love, although the benefactor gets few thanks, and none in the short term.

God has to do this more than any of us, because He is so infinitely wiser than we.  We want what we want, but He knows what is best for us, and He empathetically wants to give us the best, knowing full well the joy it will produce in the end.  We do not like the way things look to us in the short term, in the near view.  We get angry and accuse God of many things.  We think He is not loving.  We think He is not fair.  We think He is not kind.

And that is where faith begins.  Faith begins when we believe in His love and trust Him to do best, regardless of what we think we want.

And here I will stop, because faith is not the subject of the month.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why isn't there more love?

There is a shortage of love in the world.

Even people who are absolutely supposed to love each other -- husbands and wives, parents and children -- do not always love each other.

Love demands that we take risks, and not only that we take risks, but that we do insanely dangerous things, things that make our souls, and even our bodies, vulnerable to violent damage.

Love is being unselfish, casting off self-protectiveness, dying to my own wants and even to my own needs.  This hurts because dying to oneself is, after all, dying.  And death is painful.

It's so scary, this letting go self-protectiveness.  "What if I die to myself," you ask, "And they are just pleased about it, and they say, 'How nice, one less thing standing in my way.'  What if they trample my sacrifice in their hurry to gratify themselves?  What then?"


Authentic love is altruistic.

No.  I may not be in better shape for having loved.  However, someone else will be in better shape if I have loved.  Over time and distance, the altruistic love of all those who love altruistically is good for the world.

Love is good for the world.

What can I do to demonstrate love and help the world?

I can't change a lot, but I can control my own actions and the way I treat the people around me.  There used to be a song that said, "Brighten the corner where you are."

What if everyone tried to pass on some love?  What would this look like?  How could we do it?  How could we be brave enough to do it?

* * * * * *

Other posts in this series

Love in February

Love and Good Manners

Love . . . does not envy, does not boast

Love my husband

Love graciously probes

Love is not self-seeking

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love is not self seeking

It may have been a bad idea to try to write about love every day this month.  This is harder than I thought.

So I'm going to milk 1 Corinthians 13 for awhile.

~1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV)
[Love] does not dishonor others, 
it is not self-seeking, 
it is not easily angered, 
it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not dishonor others. 
Usually when we put somebody down, 
it's because we are trying to build ourselves up.
Of course, this doesn't work.
Dishonoring someone generally reflects badly on the one doing the putting-down.
Love guards the honor of others,
even when the honor is undeserved,
especially when the honor is undeserved.

Love is not self-seeking.
This is so hard to internalize.
We think we are supposed to be happy.
Perhaps we are, but, nevertheless, 
happiness is never gained by grasping.
One of God's gifts to us
is that happiness comes when we obey,
when we let go of our selfishness
and find our joy in the good of others.
Self-seeking brings misery
while giving love results in joy.

Love is not easily angered.
What makes us get angry quickly?
I think two things:
unmet expectations
and imagining that people are out to get us.
We need to let go our expectations 
and be thankful for what comes.
We need to begin our interactions
by assuming that others have good motives.
We also need to remind ourselves
that we do not know the story of anybody else's day.
Perhaps the person who spilled over onto me
just experienced something awful
at the hands of someone else.
Pity, compassion and empathy
help us love better.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not bear grudges.
Love forgives.
Love releases.
Love does not seek revenge.
These are sometimes nearly impossible feats,
only possible because love trusts God
to right wrongs and watch the backs of His own beloved ones.
Love is secure in the hope of eternity 
and rests in God in the meantime.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Love graciously probes

Love is somewhat about getting inside somebody else's head.  In a good way, of course, a trustworthy way.  It's about getting inside someone's head to help him, not to torment him.

To love someone is to be able to imagine what he thinks, how he feels, what motivates him.  Then, taking it a step further, love is about using what you know about the inside of somebody's soul to minister good to him.  Love is knowing a person intimately and cherishing the relationship, translating your knowledge of him into acts of grace.

Thus, the first step in love is to listen and learn.  Love tunes in, asks questions, ponders responses and asks more questions.  Love is interested.  Love is concerned.  Love cares.

Sometimes you try to understand someone, but it is hard.  When people are hard to understand, you need to keep trying to understand anyway; that's loving your neighbor as yourself.  You don't give up.

How do you understand someone?  People are all so different, there is not one answer to this question.  Some people are open, honest and vulnerable.  They are fairly easy to understand, if you have an inclination to do so.  Other people are open but deceitful, hiding their true selves for a variety of reasons, even as they smile and chat.  Still others are closed books who do not even pretend to share information.  You have to listen, learn, watch for clues, notice patterns, ponder habits.  Some people have been hurt deeply but never admitted it, even to themselves, and they don't want you to discover what they themselves are trying to hide from.

When you love someone, you pry into his life.  Perhaps you do this very slowly and gently, trying not to hurt, trying not be noticed.  Perhaps you are inept at this skill and try to force the door open, creating a great deal of resistance on the other side.

Once you gain some understanding, you must guard the other person's vulnerability with your very life.  This is the epitome of sharing secrets.  A loving person is a trustworthy person.  A loving person never betrays knowledge of the deep parts of someone's exposed soul.

There exist certain people who are adept at understanding others, but they use their knowledge to harm rather than to help.  They find out the deepest fears and exploit them, the deepest longings and frustrate them.  This is evil, an utter perversion of the human condition.  These people are the most dangerous of all people.  They exemplify the terrifying relationship between love and hate.

Love creates safety for the beloved.  It is not safe to love, but it is safe to be loved, to be someone's beloved.  Well, it's safe if the lover is faithful.  It's perfectly safe if the Lover is God.

. . . perfect love casts out fear . . . (from 1 John 4:18)

Grace is when you love even when you are not loved in return, when you sign up to be the one who protects rather than the one who is protected.

Grace is taking the hit to spare your beloved.

Jesus did this best of all, when He gave His life to save God's children.

Grace is a very special form of love.