I’m glad that I live in a time when we hear and say the words ”I love you” more freely. I’ve always felt loved, but it has only been in the last few years that I have openly and frequently said those words of love to family and friends. Why did it seem difficult for so long?
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:22-23. I think of how these verses have given me comfort during difficult times, but I sometimes need to be reminded that this never ending love is present every day of my life, during good and bad times, and needs to be passed on to others daily.
There is no more joyful love that having a young granddaughter jump into your arms and give you a kiss, or have another crawl into your bed at 6:00 in the morning and declare that they love you.
Love doesn’t always come from another person. I know that our dog Lady was expressing her love when she would greet us with her high pitched bark whenever we returned from a trip.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller
I wrote this poem a while ago about my mom, and it reminded me of what Carolyn wrote about her family, so similar to mine. But she eventually found the love she needed, and I too learned to hug my kids and tell them I loved them. A week before Mom died we finally had an eye to eye talk, intense, and loving. It can come at any time, and without it, life is not rich.
Mother Who Fell and Hit Hard Rock
She hit a lot of hard rock before
the last rock that killed her,
widowed at 36 with three kids
and a mortgage and only enough life
insurance to pay for the funeral.
Food, brought by neighbors, lasted a week,
so I gathered wild berries and asparagus,
and my 10 year old brother caught fish,
from shore or ice hole
to add protein to our diet.
She grew up on a farm too far
from a high school to attend,
so she left home for the city
at a young sixteen, on her own,
to study secretary stuff,
learning to be helpful to men.
She worked for my dad, got pregnant,
helped him get a divorce, got married,
and had to watch his charm with women
ruin any chance at happiness.
Found out when he died he had
another family, kids, bills.
She called herself a horse-trader,
always landing on her feet, because
she was smart when no one
told her she was smart.
She was outspoken at a time
when it wasn’t appreciated.
She was tough, and taught us to be tough,
when women were soft,
and she only learned about receiving love
later, from someone who lifted
every rock she encountered.
I “love” dark chocolate and puppies. I “love” my husband, children, and grandchildren. Is the difference in degree or kind? I think what I really mean is that I enjoy dark chocolate and puppies. They make me feel good. But loving others? My father used to say that people never really learn to be unselfish until they have children. I think what he meant is that we find we are willing to sacrifice for our children, even if it deprives us. I don’t know if he was right, but it seems true of most people. It’s easiest for our children. They are part of us and very close to us. As we move away from ourselves in concentric circles, sacrificial love becomes more and more difficult. Can I love my friends this way? Probably. What about people in my community? Maybe, at least to a limited extent. I may give up time or money for them, although not as much as I would for my children. What about in our world? It just becomes so abstract at that point. Unless I see a picture of a starving child, because that’s tangible and it reminds me of my own children. It seems that the closer someone is to me, the more likely I am to show love to that person. Yikes! Sounds almost like another form of self-love. Or maybe it’s just that empathy is easier when I can identify with someone or relate to their suffering. The Bible says that even evil people will sacrifice for those they love, but God calls us to more. We have to love when we don’t feel it. This is so hard! I pray all the time that God will help me to be less selfish but I don’t see a lot of progress.
My thoughts about love have been scattered this week. I keep thinking about my dad telling my brothers and I that he only believed in saying, “I love you” to one person. That was my mom. He didn't say this until near the end of his life, but then he was able to tell us he loved us. It brought tears to his eyes and now to mine. I had known he loved me, but it was good to hear and, as you can see, it has stayed with me for a long time. As I was growing up, saying I love you, was not spoken aloud. It was to be demonstrated by the things one did, like holding a job or making good grades, or behaving. When my mom started to hug me and say she loved me as an adult, it was a different experience and it took a bit to get used to it. For me, I had already decided I was raising my children differently and would hug them and tell them I loved them. I know some of this came from their own upbringing. I never really knew any grandparent and what I knew did not instill warm feelings. My mother also had a contagious disease through much of my childhood, so there were excuses I could make to myself about why we didn't have a closer physical relationship. This, what I think is a Scandinavian heritage, continued in my own first marriage with not a lot of saying, “I love you.” I have looked at the book on Five Love Languages and what I got before did not make the grade, so here I am today with a different spouse and different love language that fits me better. None of this is either right or wrong, but it is what it is.
On a larger scale, the world sure needs love as the song says, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It's the only thing that there's just too little of. No, not just for some, but for everyone.” My hope for 2021 is that I can practice that love in all kinds of places and ways and be gentle with those who have a different perspective and believe different things. May I remember God's love for me and pass it on to others I encounter.
When contemplating this week's theme of "love," I first thought of my daily prayer to love each person in front of me. These days, it's mostly just my husband and my dog, and not so hard to accomplish. Things get hard when I move outside my home, which we'll all be doing before too much longer (I hope). In some ways, it's actually easier to love the stranger, though. The real trick is to approach every person with a loving attitude.
When this pandemic started, I hoped that we would all learn to appreciate our communities more--and the people in them--when it was over. Almost a year in, though, my hope of a more loving approach to our neighbors is fading. There are still pockets of evidence, but the awful rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election and the fresh awareness of racial injustices continue to sting. If we practice loving attitudes, all good things will follow. This may be a naïve hope, but I never pretended to be otherwise.
Let this be our collective will for the New Year: Love one another!
Sometimes it helps me to focus my thoughts if I look up the word we are working on for the week. Joy is a feeling of great pleasure or happiness as I am sure you know. When I think of moments of joy, what I recall is the feeling and having no idea where it has come from. Most often for me it is a great sense of well being, joy and happiness when I am in the moment. There is no focus on the past or the future, just the present. I wish I could stay there, but that is not how it works for me. I wonder what brings it on, so it's wondering joy.
My experience of joy often comes when I am out walking, just being present and feeling my body move easily. It is such a great feeling! I remember one time when we lived in Cleveland sitting next to the pool we had and feeling joy. There is also the joy of making candy with Karla. We can just be present with each other. It is a settled way for us as we know our jobs and there is no need to think. Yesterday we even reminisced about what we remembered about the night Erik died. There are not many people who have those same memories and, at times, it has been hard to bring them up, but it really was a joyful moment to remember and connect. The day of Erik's death was a Sunday and it is the same this year, so it has brought more memories than at some times in the past. It is strange how the sorrow is also mixed with joy, the joy of being in the moment together.
The first time I went snorkeling was in Hawaii in 2000. We were on a belated honeymoon on Maui, the most beautiful place on earth. We took a day trip on a catamaran to Lanai where there was supposed to be a cove with great snorkeling. I was a bit anxious because I’m not a strong swimmer and I couldn’t get past the part about sticking my face in the water and inhaling. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. They gave us life jackets so thankfully flotation wasn’t a problem, and then they gave us a brief lesson on how to put on the goggles and use the snorkel. Then we were in the water floating and preparing to actually do it. I put on the mask, put the snorkel mouthpiece in my mouth, closed my eyes, and stuck my face down. But it was too scary so I came right back up. After a couple of false starts I made myself stay facedown in the water and take a breath. It worked! Then I opened my eyes and looked down below me. It was a glorious, breathtaking sight. The most colorful and beautiful fish in huge numbers swimming all around, oblivious to the people floating above them. It was a moment of pure joy. I felt almost transported. I could have stayed there forever, floating in the silence and watching the fish.
For me, joy comes like that. It’s unexpected. It may be in a peaceful moment in nature, listening to beautiful music, or receiving a grandchild’s hug. It comes out of the blue and touches me with a feeling of lightness and a sense that I am connected to the divine. I can cultivate contentment or even happiness, but I can’t cultivate joy. It falls as it chooses, a brief gift of the Spirit.
Joy is what we all are looking for, not happiness, but joy. It is what I gave my daughter for her middle name, Joy. It is fleeting, and yes, it comes mostly from moments with the family, or for me, in music. This Christmas I found joy in the most unlikely place. Let me explain.
To get our vitamin C daily, we make sure to have an orange, usually cut up on our oatmeal. But recently I have been buying the little tangerines, called “cuties” or “haloes.” They are just the right size, one for each, and easy to peal. Yesterday morning, as I peeled mine and smelled the citrus zest, I flashed a memory from my childhood.
Every Christmas Eve we drove an hour to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for dinner and presents with my mom’s brothers’ families. There, on a round wooden plate in the living room, were the year’s first tangerines. In those days oranges wouldn’t arrive in Minnesota until well after New Years’, but tangerines appeared just in time for Christmas. They signaled the zest of a new year coming, the taste of something foreign to Minnesota, but wonderful!
Yesterday, as I breathed in the scent of that tangerine, it all came back: the wonder of Christmas, the caroling with my cousins, the tasting of Swedish delicacies that my aunts had made and brought, the blue-lit Christmas tree in Grandma’s living room, around which we opened the hand-made presents of woolen mittens and hats, always the same, except for the colors. There were nine of us grandchildren, and she must have started knitting in early fall.
Joy is simple; joy comes from all our senses; joy can be missed if we are too busy; and joy is never to be missed. It’s too important!
Joy seems hard to find in this pandemic year, but it breaks into my consciousness from time to time nonetheless. It's the mundane quality of spending most of my time at home that makes it hard to experience anything out of the ordinary. When I take the time to consider it, though, there are evidences of joy all around me.
Thanksgiving Day, spent on our patio with Marc, Ruth, and Ruby was truly a joyous day. The weather was perfect, the food was delicious, and the conversation was loving and enlivening. My brother and his wife moved into a new home nearby, and their joy in their new space is infectious. Video of UPS and FedEx trucks rolling out of the Pfizer facility with Covid vaccines this week for distribution all over the country brought joyous tears to my eyes. Ordinary interactions--our neighbor bringing by a gift and staying for a long conversation in the driveway, weekly Zoom calls with my dearest friends, and the sight of a family of deer scattering from the park trail as I approach--all bring me joy.
I was responsible for a book drive at our church that ended Sunday for the elementary school we partner with, and I was overjoyed to realize we had collected five full boxes of books for the children. That joy was nothing compared to the joy the school expressed at receiving them! When I told them the church would also donate funds to the school this month for classroom supplies and additional books for the media center, there were tears of joy. It's clear joy is contagious.
May you find joy each and every day in both ordinary and exceptional happenings!
Some people hope that there will be peace on earth someday. I’m not one of them. History tells us that the ugly parts of human nature have never changed, despite our technological advances. However, we each have some measure of peace we can bring to the small part of the world that we inhabit. Our actions toward others and the values we embody have an impact. My pastor’s closing prayer includes these words: “go out in peace, pray for peace, wage a little peace, and love one another—every single other.” I like the idea of waging peace in our own lives. Peace doesn’t occur when we do nothing, but only when we actively bring it to our interactions.
I’ve noticed something about my internal state related to peace. For most of my adult life I lived in a constant state of busy-ness and stress. My life seemed to be a never-ending to-do list. In fact, I compulsively made lists of all kinds to try to get control of the chaos in my head. Sometimes I put things I had already done on the list just so I could cross them off! Retirement and covid have been good for me in addressing this imbalance. I have so much less to do and to worry about. At first this also made me stressed. I felt restless. But I’ve noticed as time goes on that I feel more still and quiet at my center. I’m ok with the rhythm of the days, and times of sitting with my own thoughts or simply sitting in God’s presence are welcome. I finally identified this feeling as peace. Still learning at 67!