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.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Love my husband

I know, I know.  I just got done pointing out how it can be unkind to brag on one's husband.


This is a memoir, for my children, for one thing.

Also, I'm not exactly bragging.

Today my husband had to have a medical procedure.  He was such a trooper.  There he sat, on the gurney, clothed in a hospital gown (I'd never seen him in a hospital gown before) and hooked up to a host of tubes and wires, an IV in his arm and sensors everywhere.

Of course, he was smiling, cracking corny jokes, doing his uttermost to see that everyone who was lucky enough to wait on him had a better-than-average day.

I had to be the designated driver.  I saw him soon after he came out of the anesthesia, slow and gentle, only slightly disoriented, eager to stay positive.

I'm used to being the one in a hospital gown, hooked up to stuff, going through blood draws, having vitals checked.

I didn't like the sight of him as vulnerable as that.  He is the one who drives, not me.  He's the one who maintains the levity when I have to go to the hospital.  Apparently he is also the one who maintains the levity when he goes to the hospital himself.

Nothing is wrong with him.  It was a routine thing.  No worries.

Still, seeing him like that made my heart stop a second.  I love him.  I don't like to see him vulnerable.  I don't like to see his blood well up when they take the IV out.  I feel lost when I am the one who is tasked with guiding him, slightly dizzy, down the hall and out the door.  The nurse told me, "You might want to hold on to him."  Of course he was fine, but she did say that.

It is a gift to be reminded how much you love somebody when there really isn't anything wrong, when the Versed will wear off and life will be 100% normal in just a few short hours.

Ruthie loves Shawn.

* * * * *

If you liked this post, you might also like:
How I met your father.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Love . . . does not envy, does not boast.

We are talking about love this month

I should, perhaps, explain.  C.S. Lewis could explain much better.  He wrote a book called The Four Loves, wherein he discussed four different types of love, and how they relate to one another and where they culminate.  It would be good reading for February.

I am not going to address four different types of love, but I am going to break love down into two types:
  1. Romantic love 
  2. Love-your-neighbor-as-yourself love

Romantic love is what we usually think of first when we think of love.  Boy meets girl.  Dates, flowers, milkshakes with two straws, eventually a diamond ring, a white dress, and a trip to a tropical island.  Romantic love is fun to talk about, tell stories about, dream about.

Meanwhile, we all know that we can love someone, and then we can love someone else in an entirely different way.  I love my parents in one way.  I love my husband quite differently from the way I love my parents.  And I love my children in a way that is very different yet again.  All of these types of love are good and proper, and it is right that they are different.

We are supposed to love everyone.  We are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  This relates back to what I wrote yesterday about showing good manners to others (and probably should have prefaced it).

We are supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and there is a chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, which gives us lots of practical ideas for how to do this.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
1 Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)

This verse says so much.  Today we will only reflect on the part that says, "It does not envy, it does not boast."

In other words: "It does not envy.  It does not try to tempt others to envy."

Each of us has a responsibility to guard against envy.  When others have things that we do not have, or get opportunities that we do not get, or are honored in ways that we are not honored, we find ourselves sorely tempted to envy.  I myself am so wicked, sometimes I envy people for getting to do things that I would not want to do, or for owning things I would not want to own.  Why do I do this?  I suppose I am jealous that they enjoyed the option of deciding to do whatever it was that they did (or to buy whatever they bought) even though, if I had the option, I would not have made the same choice.  Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that people's hearts are deceitful and beyond cure, so I'm figuring that I may not be the only one who struggles like this.

It is a universal struggle, and it comes from putting ourselves first.  We are by nature utterly selfish.  We need to train ourselves to love, to consider the other person's point of view, and to be happy for the other person's good fortune.  Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice.  In a nutshell, that means: do not envy!

Of course, we cannot simply "train ourselves."  We have to ask God to change our hearts, to teach us to find our satisfaction and joy in Him so it doesn't make us envious when we see others enjoying satisfaction and joy.  He is the fount of every blessing, sharing streams of mercy that will never cease.  In Him we will never come up short, and supplied by Him we will always have more than enough to share.  (You can read Isaiah 55 if you want to ponder more about what the Bible says about this.)

Since we all, by nature, understand the universal struggle against envy, we learn that the next step in loving goes beyond "do not envy," to "do not tempt others to envy."

How do we tempt others to envy?  By boasting.  Bragging.  Putting on masks that lie and say, "I have my act totally together.  Why don't you?"

Here's the thing about boasting: we often don't really notice when we are doing it.  We are pleased about something, and we share it (Facebook is awful this way)... expecting others to rejoice with us, but others, being of the same human condition as we are, choke on the news of our good fortune and wonder why they don't have the same fortune.
  • I have new shoes!  Aren't they cute?
  • I have a new car!
  • I am building a new house (it's so stressful picking out paint colors and countertops).
  • My husband is the best; he sent me for a mani-pedi while he watched the kids!
  • I'm going to Aruba!
  • I got a raise!
  • My kid is an honor student!
Sometimes we don't realize we're showing off (ie bragging) when we flaunt things like:
  • Look at how organized my closet is! (--insert picture--)
  • Check out my Pinterest board to see all the details of the fantastic Disney superhero florescent snowboard ice-queen birthday party I threw for my one-year-old!
  • My kids did (--insert list of crazy, creative and extremely messy endeavors--), and I was completely calm and able to enjoy the blessing of being their mom!
When we brag and boast about our successes and triumphs, it very rarely has the effect of making someone else think, "Wow.  If she can do it, I guess I can too!"  It is much more likely to make someone think, "Everybody else is better at life than I am.  I give up.  I quit."  This is worth knowing.  The exception is when a triumph follows a hardship.  It is inspiring to hear how someone has risen from tragedy to triumph. Everyone loves to see an underdog succeed.  If you want to encourage people, you need to be willing to share the back-story of your humiliating failures before you tell them how you ultimately learned to choose well.  You have to be vulnerable before you can be helpful.

I'm just going to say something.  My husband is a good one.  Recently, he has done some very generous and selfless things for me.  I was proud of him and found myself exuberantly extolling his actions.  Then I had to catch myself.  I realized that when others speak the same way about their husbands, it makes me battle envy.  I may not actually become outright envious, but something rises up in me that I have to work to beat down.  If that happens to me, when I am in possession of a dear, loving husband, then what does it do to women who are not blessed with good husbands, when I herald my husband's virtues?  Yes, I should honor and appreciate my husband, but I should not do it in such a way as to breed envy in someone else.

There is always someone with more than you have, whom you will be tempted to envy.  There is always someone with less than you have, who will be tempted to envy you.  Always.

Love does not envy, does not boast.

This speaks to each of us, individually.  I must not envy.  I must must boast.  I must be happy for others when they are blessed: rejoice with those who rejoice.  I must not become hyper-sensitive to the boasting of others even as I strive to curtail my own boasting.  I must not criticize the boasting of others, for that only means that I am envious.  But I must be very careful not to boast, myself, and be aware of when my proclamations of joy may be problematic for someone else.  May the Lord help us.

Let us love one another.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Love and good manners

We use good manners to show people that we love them.

Let's take that statement apart a little bit.

Sometimes you might burp (or worse) in front of a family member, rather than in front of a stranger.  Whom do you love more?   If you love your family member more than you love the stranger, why do you commit the breach of manners with your family member and not with the stranger?

This phenomenon can spread to other areas:  Who are you going to let down when you find that you have two overlapping commitments?  Your spouse, or your boss?

Sometimes what we find ourselves calling "love" really means, "I assume that you love me.  Unconditionally.  So I can treat you casually, or even mistreat you, because I know that you will be faithful and loyal to me."

There is something faulty about this.  Yes, we should be comfortable around those closest to us.  We should not fear rejection.  But is it permissible to treat our most precious relationships with offhandedness that is difficult to distinguish from rudeness?

When we grace people with good manners, we are being gracious.  We let them know that they are important to us, that their opinion matters to us, that we are concerned about how things look from their point of view.  This is one way of expressing love.


Thank you.

Excuse me.

I'm sorry.

Opening the door.

Handing the cup with the handle outward so the receiver can take it without awkwardness.

Cleaning and preparing rooms for the guests.

Being punctual.

Offering your name, your hand, your encouragement, your time.

Offering another serving of food or another cup of tea.

Stepping back and letting the other go first.

Keeping promises.

Explaining the back story.

Noticing how someone feels, and taking steps to mitigate uncertainty, loneliness, pain or fatigue.

Asking caring questions.

Speaking gently.


Responding promptly.

Eating quietly and neatly.

Cleaning up behind oneself and lending a hand with general tidying up.

These are good manners.  Good behavior.  The world would be a better place if more people did more of these things more often.

A key point of good manners is to practice putting yourself in the other person's place.  Imagine how he feels, what it looks like from his perspective, and how you can best guard his dignity and ease his experience.  It is a theory of mine that people often overlook the possibility that fussy babies itch, and that many tears are related to neither anxiety nor intestinal distress, but could be cured by a baby lotion massage.  Similarly, where manners are concerned, we are too often worried about whether someone is angry, when we should really be concerned about whether the person is sad, or even just embarrassed.  Applying an insightful imagination to the problem can be most valuable in determining a good solution.

Sometimes people with good manners forget the most important good manner of all: grace for those who do not know good manners.

It is never good manners to criticize someone else's manners.***

I don't think anyone has ever responded to the statement, "You are a boor and a lout," by hitting himself on the forehead and saying, "Oh, I'm sorry!  You're right.  I have been a boor and a lout.  Let me change that right now!"

How does one change a boor or a lout into a pleasant person?  How does one help another to improve in manners?

By extending grace.

By speaking gently, and smiling.

By treating the other person as one would want to be treated, oneself.

By distracting bystanders from offenses and shameful behavior.

By diffusing a situation with kind (perhaps self-deprecating) humor.

By refraining from being critical, sarcastic or wretched.

This may or may not help the offender effect change.  However, it will always mitigate the situation for others involved.  If you are the polite one, you will grow in grace.  I recently heard someone say, "You will never be sorry that you were gracious to someone."  The more I think about it, the more I realize it's true.

Using good manners is one of the best ways to live graciously.  To live graciously is to pick up where others leave off and, in so doing, to see that the bases are covered and life is good for those in your circle, even if you compensate at cost to yourself (you will almost always compensate at cost to yourself).

I am not talking about being an enabler.  I'm talking about covering over offenses of manners, not covering up abuse and blatant sin.  Abuse and blatant sin need to be confronted bravely, but that is a subject for a different post (and probably not this month).

In the meantime, let's share a little love and kindness by treating others with the very best manners we can muster.

I probably need to read this over about 100 times.

***Unless you are the person's parent, and it is your job to teach good manners from the ground level... but still, keep the critical attitude at bay, and be positive even though you must offer correction.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Love in February

It is an accomplishment to survive the holiday season.

It is another accomplishment to survive January.

Someday, perhaps I will live somewhere where January is not a brutal month.  Right now, I'm living as far south as I've ever lived, and January is still mostly brutal.  It started brutal, and it ended brutal.  However, by the grace of God, when we traveled to South Dakota for a wedding on 1/23, there was an uncharacteristic warm spell which we enjoyed very much.

Warm, of course, is a relative term.  Someone from Florida or Arizona might not recognize what we call, "a beautiful January day in South Dakota," as warm.  However, it felt warm to us, and the sun shone, so it was good.

Our last day in January was lionlike: ferociously chilly and frighteningly slippery with fuzzy visibility.

Today, February 2, is crystal clear and cold.  I appreciate the sunshine.

Do you notice how, no matter how cold it is, it always feels good to stand in a sunbeam that's splashing though your window?

So yes, we made it to February and now we will embark on contemplations of love.


A general reaction to that word might be:
A feeling of inner warmth,
sunshine and a rainbow array of brilliant flower blossoms.
Hugs and kisses,
cartwheels and dancing,
strawberries and chocolate.

But that isn't what love is at all.

The world sells us its own definition of love, and from one perspective the world's love looks extremely appealing, desirable, fantastic.  If it didn't, nobody would buy it.

But when you take apart the world's version of love, at its core it is about self-fulfillment.

The world says:
  • Love means that you make me happy, and I love you because you do.
  • I show my love to you by accepting your love and by doing things for you that make me feel happy.
  • Love is all about me being happy!
Of course, if you think about this, you realize that it is a lie from the devil, designed to ruin love altogether by making it entirely impossible.  Love is not about someone making me happy.  Goodness!  That is not the definition of love; that is the definition of selfishness!

A Christian view of love says:
  • I love you; I love to do good things for you and see you flourish.
  • I am glad when something good happens to you, even (or possibly especially) if it comes at a cost to me.
  • Love is when I can forget about myself and find my joy in your joy.
Too many of us stubbornly, foolishly cling to the idea of love as self-fulfillment.
We are blind to the fact that in so doing, we miss it all.
We read of the selfless lover, and it even sounds kind of good,
except we are unable to imagine ourselves as the selfless lover,
only as the beloved receiver of the selfless lover's love.

We want sacrificial love; sure we do,
but we want to be the one receiving the sacrificial love,
not the one giving the sacrificial love.
Giving sacrificial love sounds decidedly disagreeable,
but therein lies the paradox.
For it is only when we learn to give love sacrificially
that we experience the true depth of the joy of love.