Category Archives: Love

We Love, As We Are.

This morning my daughter looked at me and said, “Daddy? Last year you asked me if I would be your Valentine.” “Sweetie, you’re my Valentine every day of the year!” She was unmoved. Mine was not the right response. I did the only right thing I could. I asked her. “Sweets? Will you be my Valentine?” “Yes, Daddy. I will.”

I told a friend yesterday that I would be claiming Valentines today. “I’m not asking,” I said. “I’m out and out claiming. Consider yourself claimed!” She knows that I have a way of being over-the-top with people I care about. She took my comment in stride. It was late. I was tired, and punchy. I often say that after midnight I turn into a pumpkin. It was after midnight. I know, the proper analogy to the Cinderella story, is for a man to turn back into a mouse. It’s the carriage that turns into a pumpkin. However, I am not a mouse.

This morning I posed the following question on my Facebook page, “The people in your life who cherish you for you, as you are, regardless of your or their mood, are: a. Being paid to be nice? b. Complete fools? c. Confusing you for someone else? d. Your Valentine every day of the year? Or ___.” Most Tuesday’s I post a question. I always have a blank. It’s for the wild card. I believe in wild cards. Then, I added the comment, “Thank you for being my Valentines.” Yes. Jim Wallis of Sojourners is my Valentine. So is the President (I even told him that I “like” him). I’ve liked Vin Diesel for a long time. George Takei? He sends me funny pictures. Anne Rice just goes on and on, about everything! Goodness gracious. It’s like she’s family. Of course, they don’t know me, not really. All the people who do, and still cherish me for who I am, as I am? They’re people of substantial courage. They’re the people I’m intimate with. They, are my Valentines.

Valentines Day, like love, is fraught with anxiety. We’re aware of our flaws in a way no one else can be. We’re Cinderella, unable to imagine that the glass slipper, fits. Even so, we want to be loved. There is part of us that longs for Neruda’s words to become incarnate in an other:

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

One of the most wonderful things children teach us, is how easy this is to make real. If I whack my elbow, and your response is to kiss it better? Well, there are immediate space issues. Immediate. At work, there are HR issues. Besides that, it’s plain weird. Kissing your child’s elbow is another matter all together. The moment your lips touch their boo-boo, crying stops. Tears dry. You are so close that the ache of their bruise becomes the sweetness of your kiss. Your ordinary gesture of care, is not only sufficient, it is transformative.

My claiming of Valentines is meant in the same way. We spend so much time looking for the one that we lose sight of the truth that we all are that one. Love, as our children teach us, is the simplest of things. Make no mistake, I’m not advocating that we begin kissing each other’s elbows. Wouldn’t that be a sight? No. I’m suggesting that we take the ordinary things we do and see them as they are, as acts of love. So. Did you listen to me when I was struggling? You were loving me, when you did. When I thanked you, I was telling you that I love you. When I asked you how you were? That was my way of saying I love you, again. When I say I’m thankful for your support. I’m acknowledging your willingness to be intimate with me. It’s another way I let you know I love you. We do these things all the time. This is how we love. It’s never perfect, though it can approach perfection for short periods. Mostly, it’s the most ordinary of experiences. Imperfect, yes. That is as it can only be. After all, we love, as we are.


Sunday’s Word: Yes!

And Mary said,

Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
just as you say.

Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:37, The Message)

I’m not one who believes that there is one person out there for everyone. One true love. One best friend. One partner in crime. Instead, I think there are people to whom we say yes. Like Mary.

From what I can tell, most of us aren’t visited by angels when it happens. It’s more like we think the person we’re giving our yes to, is an angel. What makes that happen? What leads us to say yes? Is it the chemistry of our pheromones? Something the other says that makes us laugh? Might it simply be that in a given moment, they’re there? Or they say or do something that shows us they understand who we are in a way, we think, no one else ever has? Maybe it’s us too? Maybe we change. Maybe it’s just that, we’re ready. It’s a mystery to me.

Early, in my second year of college, I found myself with a pair of tickets to a concert. Who to take, I wondered. Should I ask Abigail? Zelda? Everyone in between? I thought it might take that. To my roommate, the answer was obvious. “You have to take Mary (not her real name). She’s already said yes.” “What are you talking about? She couldn’t have. I just got the tickets!” He smiled and asked, “When you go to the dining hall for breakfast, who do you eat with?” “Mary.” “Is she already there, or does she come and join you?” “Usually, she’s there. I walk in, and she’s there.” “Everyday or just once in a while?” he asked. “Every day.” “Every single day? Really?” “Yes.” “And dinner? What about dinner?” “I usually eat dinner with her too.” I paused. “Oh my God.” “Yeah,” he said. “I thought you’d never figure it out.”

I asked her. She said, “Yes.” And for the next four years we gave our yes, to each other.

Last night I watched the 2003 film, Love Actually. The film tells not one, or two, but eight different love stories. What I love most about the film is the way it captures the varied forms of awkwardness that falling in love, and giving your yes, entails. The awkwardness is always there, at least for me. And our inability to see mutual affection when it’s staring us in the face? The way I couldn’t with my Mary? That’s often part of it too.

For me, one of the wonders of the film is the way it spends time showing characters coming into the awareness that giving someone your yes, isn’t just about saying that one word, or the familiar three (I love you). It’s a response you give with your whole being. When you do that, this little three letter word, becomes everything. The orientation of your life changes, fundamentally. To me, that’s the wonder of Mary’s yes in the story of the Nativity. We are only told that she “pondered” the angels words, not what that looked like.

Recently, friends of mine adopted twins. When I learned this, I thought, “Wow! What courage!” And, also, “Oh my! I wonder if they have any idea of what they’re in for.” Babies… Women have them, and you bring them home. Or you birth them in a tub as if it were the most natural thing in the world, which it is. There’s no test to pass. No class to take, or degree to obtain, in parenting. There are manuals, yes. Mostly, they don’t help. Fact is, most kids grow up thinking their folks are certifiable with good reason. We are learning as we go. Being a parent, takes courage every day. Mary, must have had a helluva lot of courage. Joseph too, for that matter. They did not know what they were in for. Like my friends, they both, said yes.

I often hear parents say that they live for their children. There is an obvious reason for that. Babies require so much care, that if we expect them to live, they have to become the center of our lives. Children live, and thrive, because people in their lives have the courage to say, yes. And by the way, for what it’s worth, I think the most honest book a new parent can read is Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions., It’s marvelous, honest and hilarious.

We’re one week away from Christmas. One week from celebrating love, actually coming into the world and dwelling in our midst. That baby, like all babies, asks us to to make him the center of our world. He asks us, for our yes. What does it look like for you to listen the way Mary did? What does it mean to take action, to give your yes? My guess, is that you won’t see any angel as you ponder these questions. If you do, it’ll be in the form of a friend or a stranger unexpectedly meeting a need you didn’t know you had.

I lied earlier. I do that, more often than I like to admit. There is one person out there for everyone. One true love. “Do not be afraid” about giving him your yes. This babe, born in a manger, has already given you, his.

Merry Christmas!

Lent’s Compass. Day Twelve: A Human Love

As Christians we are not meant to be less human than other people, but more human, just as Jesus of Nazareth was more human.
One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally, he looked at me and said calmly, “Who are you to think you are better than our Lord? After all he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.”
That remark, made to me many years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again. I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.
~ Madeleine L’Engle Walking On Water, pp  59-60.

As a parent I identify with L’Engle’s conversation with Canon Tallis. It’s not that Sweets or Bud have ever done anything that was “that destructive.” Still, the days where I could look at them for hours are gone. Even before they could talk they were the “most beautiful boy” and the “most beautiful girl” I’d ever seen. I know, yours were too.

Don’t get me wrong, I marvel at the people they’re becoming. It’s just that when they catch me, it’s not cooing or a cutely mashed up word I hear. There are no new Vinny Mans or Popscillos. They don’t just talk. They talk back. “Dad, why are you staring at me?” or “Dad? You can leave my room now.” Those are not the most pleasant interactions.

I used to wonder what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do a better job at parenting? When Bud was young and needed a nap things were easy. I’d put him in the bouncy chair or take him on a five minute car ride and he’d fall asleep within a few minutes. Now it seems that most of my tactics raise anxiety instead of reducing it. With him. With me. Sometimes their mom calls to vent. In measured tones she says, “You’re not going to believe what he just said to me.” She describes what’s happened. What she tells me, is the same thing he said to me a day or two before. I sigh. It’s not me. I know that now. Most of the time. But it’s nice to have that confirmation.

Bud is becoming his own person. Sweets is often fast to imitate her big brother. That’s double trouble from two fabulous kids whom I love dearly. And now I remember that the five minute car ride eventually turned into a twenty minute one with the heat on. They stopped when he and later she were done with naps. Their mom and I had no say in the matter.

There are bunches of changes to come as Bud moves through his teenage years and Sweets follows. Individuation is like that. Bud’s already showing me that he hasn’t only learned the lessons his mom and I were trying to teach him. He’s absorbed everything. He’s going to continue to do so. Me? I’m not sure I’m a better parent today than I was ten years ago. I am different. There’s no Super Dad. Just a guy who tries to love him as much as I can.

Lent’s Compass. Day Three: Unrequited Love

Unrequited Love by Jude Simpson

Jesus is in turmoil.
He can’t stop thinking about you.
Every moment without you feels like eternity.
He blushes whenever someone mentions your name.
His heart skips a beat when you walk in the room
any room
every room
he’s in all of them.

Jesus lies awake at night trying to think of ways to get your attention.
He composes emails to you that never get sent.
He really has to force himself not to follow you home.

Jesus remembers every word you’ve ever said to him, and I mean every word
though to be fair, there aren’t a great deal.
Only on occasions,
when something feels like it’s about to go really wrong.
Once when your Nan died.

Yesterday, Jesus spent half an hour just trying out your name with his –
how good you would sound as a couple – Jesus and Shaun – or Shaun and Jesus?
He’s tried swapping surnames – both ways.
He thinks Jesus Penlington sounds marginally better than Alison Christ.

Jesus keys your name into Google at least twice a week
The results are always the same –
an obscure mention in someone else’s blog,
and the medal table of a judo competition when you were twelve –
but even so, it still makes him feel very slightly closer to you.

You see, Jesus wants to be with you all the time.
He could sit all night just watching you sleep
Sometimes he does,
but not very often,
in case you wake up and think he’s a psycho.
That might not help.

Jesus tries to say to himself, that he just wants you to be happy
but he doesn’t.
He just wants you to be happy with him.
Jesus bought the Zutons new album last week.
He overheard you mention that you like the Zutons.
If you ever come round, he’s not sure what he’ll do.
He might have to hide it in case you realise he only bought it
because of you.

But if he’s feeling confident, he’ll casually leave it out, and when
you see it he’ll go, “yeah, I love the Zutons – what –
you do too? Wow, that’s amazing! Hey, actually –
what a coincidence!
I’ve got two tickets for their next gig next week
and my mate’s just pulled out – I don’t suppose you’d …..

But it’s all just a fantasy,
what can he do if you don’t even seem to notice him?
You are Jesus’ hero and you haven’t got a clue.
Sometimes Jesus feels like you don’t even know he exists.

~ original post found here:

I’m spending Lent working through 40-Day Journey with Madeleine L’Engle (40-Day Journey) Each day’s entry begins with a quote of L’Engle’s followed by questions to ponder, journal reflections and prayers for the day. I’m using the quotes as writing prompts for my own reflection, which I’ll share here. Sometimes, like today, the quote will spin in my head and remind me of someone else’s work and reflection. I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post. I’d like to do a daily post, but that might be beyond the scope of what I’m able to do. There may be pauses in between posts, where life takes me to different places and keeps me from sharing my thoughts here. We’ll see.

And so, the first three posts move from agape’s unconditional love, to the impossible becoming real and now Jude Simpson’s “Unrequited Love.” The link to Simpson was triggered by a quote about false expectations. You may find yourself chewing on both.

“We have false expectations of our holy days, of our churches, of each other. We have false expectations of our friends. Jesus did not. He had expectations, but they were not false, and when they were not met, he did not fall apart. He was never taken in by golden calves! Friendship not only takes time, it takes a willingness to drop false expectations, of ourselves, of each other. Friends – or lovers – are not always available to each other. Inner turmoils can cause us to be unhearing when someone needs us, to need to receive understanding when we should be giving understanding.” ~Madeleine L’Engle