What does love look like?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Valentine’s Day. While some people revel in the opportunity to share cards, chocolates, and messages of love, others have only scorn for this made-up holiday that benefits Hallmark, florists, and restaurants. Some would rather avoid the day altogether rather than face a bitter reminder of what has been lost or is missing from their lives.

            Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about love. But it doesn’t have to be about hearts, flowers, and grand romantic gestures. Love comes in many forms. It would be too bad if we missed love simply because it arrives in unexpected ways.  It might be a good time to ask – what does love look like?

I think love looks like

  • My husband checking the tire pressure on my car in the cold and dark before he heads off to work.
  • My parents calling me on January 17th to sing “happy ordination day” (to the tune of “Happy Birthday”). They remember every year.
  • Receiving a card from my mother. Her formerly lovely handwriting has turned into a barely legible scrawl, a combined result of near-blindness and severe arthritis. The card tells me of the time and effort it took to complete that task and I feel loved, even before I open it.
  • A text from a friend or family member with a simple heart.
  • A friend, upon leaving a meeting to discover a blinding snow squall, who insists on driving in front of me (nervous snow driver) all the way to my home to be sure I am safe.
  • Finding a note on my desk, “This place is a true blessing. My heart is filled with love.”
  • Discovering a drawing pushed under my door with the words, “Paster Sue, your the best.” Spelling doesn’t count in love notes.

What does love look like in your life? Is it a phone call? Chores done without reminders? Taking out the trash or scraping your windshield or sharing a cup of coffee? Maybe it’s the person who welcomes you with a smile or moves over so you can join the conversation.

            It may not immediately shout “love” to you. But it’s all about recognizing gifts we are offered in so many ways.

Let’s not miss love when it arrives without a bow or a heart. Let’s be open to the many ways that love can be passed on, revealed, and celebrated.

How will you share love today?

Love shouldn’t hurt

Domestic violence was the topic in worship last Sunday. Our Lenten celebration of kindness and loving our neighbor was punctuated by the reminder that love shouldn’t hurt.

Now, that may seem obvious to you. Yet Patty Sue Brown, an advocate for our local domestic violence shelter, shared startling statistics with us. They are eye-opening.

  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • Domestic violence is the 3rd leading cause of homelessness.
  • Women ages 18-34 are at the greatest risk of being victims of domestic violence.
  • Every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is a victim of domestic violence (the rate is even higher in other countries).

It was difficult to hear about pain happening all around us. Some folks wondered if this was a proper topic for a Sunday morning sermon. There were, after all, children and young people present. But this is a message for all ages and a topic we can’t ignore.

We learned that February is designated as “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.” It gives one pause to realize that such an awareness campaign is necessary. We want to encourage people of all ages to recognize the warnings signs. The power wheel illustrates that violence is not limited to physically hitting or grabbing someone.  Controlling behavior, causing another person to feel isolated or devalued, and words that belittle or shame are all on the violence spectrum.

Domestic violence 2As beloved children of God, each of us deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. We need to care for ourselves and be mindful of the needs of our neighbor.

During that same worship service, we heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, that unlikely hero who sees a person in need and responds with kindness and compassion. The story reminds us to actually see one another and recognize signs of distress and hurt. The Samaritan’s willingness to reach out to a stranger saved that person’s life.

The leaf added to our Kindness Tree this week was “helpful.” We offer ourselves as the hands of Christ, reaching out to all of God’s people.

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Hugs from strangers

The sounds of an emergency room are unmistakable. The swift footsteps of nurses as they hurry into a room. Machines beeping an urgent rhythm as they track heartbeat, pressure, and the flow of medicines. Doctors issuing orders. And all the while, loved ones endure an anguished wait.

As a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital, I am on-call for a weekend every month so that our hard-working chaplain can take a much-needed break. When a call comes in, I know it will be urgent. Often it is a family requesting a priest who can administer last rites.  I used to explain to the nurse on the phone that I was not a priest and therefore was no in position to offer Catholic sacraments. But over the years I have learned that most people yearn for any assurance that God is with them in a time of crisis. Even when the person delivering that assurance is a female Protestant minister.

Early in the morning, I huddled with a family, separated from their loved one only by a thin floor to ceiling curtain. We could hear the effort that was being put in to save this particular life. Calm but urgent voices counted CPR beats as carts were wheeled in to supply additional support.

And then – silence. Talking stopped. Machines were turned off. The hurried steps of these brave first responders ceased. The curtain was drawn back and the dreaded sentence was spoken, “I’m sorry; we did everything we could.”

That’s when grace enters in. Suddenly these strangers became the first comforters. Nurses came to offer hugs. Doctors stopped to offer condolences. The ambulance driver brought in chairs so the overwhelmed family could rest. Someone offered coffee, another brought in a pitcher of water. This was compassion brought to life.

Names were not necessary. In that moment kindness ruled. Everyone was aware that this was someone’s mother. Someone who had made breakfasts for decades and worried when her children came home late. Someone who played cards with neighbors and was always ready to offer a cup of coffee and a listening ear.
And now she was gone. Just like that. With no warning.
Tears ran down cheeks of people who may not have even known her name. Strangers gave hugs. And the family received comfort.
Living kindness and offering compassion is what we are called to do as human beings. The need for love is greater than all that divides us. Thoughts of which political figure was supported or disdained disappeared. We were just people together, confronting the fragility of life.

In that moment of life and death, love prevailed. Compassion, care and comfort were freely given.

It reminded me of how we are meant to live – with the ability to care for our brothers and sisters around us.  Even the ones we may not know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myths of Motherhood

“Cherish these moments,” cooing grandparents would tell me as they watched me tending my small tribe of children.  “These days will fly by.”

I hated that expression.  Inevitably, those words made me feel like a bad mother. Too often, they were simply not true. With three children under the age of four, many days did not “fly by.” Instead, there was often a seemingly endless parade of dirty diapers, spilled drinks, broken toys, missed naps, overflowing toilets or bathtubs, cranky children and even crankier mother.

These well-meaning adults, far removed from their own parenting moments, were passing along some myths of motherhood.  Idealized versions of parenthood are conjured up in commercials, greeting cards, Facebook and Pinterest. There are endless examples of smiling mothers and children enjoying tranquil moments of blissful calm as they share arts and crafts, tend exquisite gardens or create healthy meals. My reality never seemed to measure up. I often felt like I was falling short in the mothering department.

There was the day when my 3 year-old, 2 year-old, and infant all woke up well before sunrise, full of energy and ready to be entertained.  I struggled to rise to the occasion by reading books, offering craft ideas, and going for a walk (in itself, a feat that required ingenuity and stamina as I pushed the double stroller with the baby on my back).  Finally, I decided I would offer an early lunch so we could move on to naptime and a well-deserved rest for everyone.  Imagine my dismay when I looked at the clock.  It was 9:00 a.m.

No, days like that did not “fly by.”

Of course there are many precious memories. Those sweet moments of bedtime stories, snuggled together and delighting in escapades from far-away lands. The adventures of not one, not two, but three cross-country camping trips when we marveled at the beauty of changing landscapes and delighted at experiencing bison, mountain streams, and starry nights. Day-to-day family life, sharing laughter and games with friends and neighbors.

“Watch out!” people would warn us, “Before you know it, they will be grown up and gone.” But that isn’t the whole story. We do young parents a disservice, I believe, when we offer only the “Disney” version of parenting. Being a mother is the hardest and best thing I have ever done. A lot of time I was simply tired despite being blessed with my dedicated, hands-on, fully involved husband.

Instead of telling young parents that these moments will “fly by,” let’s share the wisdom an experienced mother told me.  “The days can be long,” she said, “but the years are short.”

Now our nest is officially empty; the era of all five of us living under one roof, regularly sharing meals and dividing chores is over. I am filled with gratitude for literally millions of cherished memories.

But I don’t want to forget the hard days. It took time, effort, and dedication to get to the point where our children could venture out independently.  Even now, we assure them that our nest has a revolving door; they can come home to re-group and re-establish themselves any time.

I am determined not to pass along myths about motherhood.  Instead, I want to offer new parents support, encouragement, and understanding as I acknowledge that many days will be far from perfect.  We don’t need the myths – the truth is more satisfying.

Long days, short years.   And blessings to last a lifetime.

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Wrapped in God’s Love

Why does our congregation give away prayer shawls?  This simple knitted or crocheted creations stand out as one of our favorite forms of outreach.  These beautiful shawls are often created in the privacy of one’s home so this is often referred to as a “behind the scenes” ministry.  It is not unusual for me to arrive at my office to find a bag containing a carefully crafted shawl. I often don’t know who stitched a particular prayer shawl and the crafter rarely meets the recipient, but it is nonetheless a personal, hands-on ministry and a testament to caring and compassion.

Every prayer shawl is unique. They come in a variety of shades, sizes, and patterns, reflecting the individuality of the person who took the time to knit or crochet it. Somehow this wide variety matches the needs of the people searching for a shawl for a loved one. When someone arrives at my office, yearning for a way to put their caring and concern into action, they are delighted by the warm colors and soft textures. They often touch the yarn, rubbing it between their fingers, until they say with conviction, “This one. This will be just right.”

We keep a supply of shawls on hand at the church because we never know who will want a shawl and when the need might arise. It might be a joyous occasion like the birth of a baby; we can offer that happy yet tired mother a virtual hug and some comforting reassurance as the shawl drapes around her shoulders.

Just as likely the shawl will go to someone who is enduring a difficult time filled with grief or pain or worry. We enclose a card with the shawl with a quote from Julian of Norwich: “May God’s love wrap and enfold you, embrace you and guide you, and bring you comfort.”

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Cards by Anne

We often cannot solve the problems of others, but we can remind them that they are not alone.

On March 13th part of our worship service will be dedicated to blessing our prayer shawls. In these somewhat dreary pre-spring days, it is a delight to be surrounded by the bursts of colors that the prayer shawls offer as they are ensconced in the windowsills of our sanctuary.

The shawls will be distributed throughout the congregation, allowing our congregation to participate in the gift of laying on hands and offering prayers. We will call upon God with names like Gentle Spirit, Encircling God, Loving One. We will depend on God’s healing presence and nurturing Spirit to fill these lovingly made shawls with blessing and strength. We will sing the refrain to Rosemary Crow’s gentle song Weave: “Weave, weave, weave us together. Weave us together in unity and love. Weave, weave, weave us together, together in love.”

Sometimes we are called to witness to God’s presence in loud, dramatic ways. Other times, a reminder that we are surrounded by God’s grace and wrapped in God’s love is blessing is enough.

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My Parents: A Love Story

September 9, 1950
September 9, 1950

A&P walking

At 8:00 p.m. on September 9, 1950 my parents were married at Saint Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland Oregon.  Every anniversary they take the opportunity to review the past year and spend some moments to dream about the future.  They also jokingly (I think it’s a joke) decide whether they should “re-up” for another year of marriage and keep this partnership going. And so far, they have agreed to stay together. As my mother says, it looks like this relationship is going to stick.

Sixty-five years. It’s a daunting number.  Their partnership has spanned decades that have brought social, technological, and political changes that were unimaginable in those early post-war years. Side by side they have weathered a lifetime of events – personally and globally – from sad and tragic to joyous and glorious.

As a pastor, I engage in pre-marital counseling with couples preparing for marriage.  I encourage them to consider which marriages they admire and which relationships they might want to emulate. One of the great blessings of my life is that I experienced first-hand my role models for marriage.  Over the years I have observed my parents intentionally nurture their relationship as it continues to evolve as an active, thriving, and love-filled union.

Here is some of what I have learned from their love story:

  • Be willing to take a risk. My mom lived in Oregon, my dad was from CT; they met when my mother’s brother married an East Coast girl. Over the course of three years, my parents saw each other only four times before their wedding day. They trusted their gut feeling that this was a relationship worth working for.
  • Dare to reveal who you are. Hundreds of letters helped them bridge the 3000 mile gap between them. Each note offered glimpses of their hopes, dreams, disappointments, feelings, and questions. These shared imaginings and stories formed the foundation of their relationship.
  • Learn new things. My mother was a 20 year old city girl who moved to rural Connecticut surrounded by dairy farms and apple orchards. When my father left for work (they only had one car), she was left on her own to meet the neighbors and discover the mysteries of gardening, preserving, and canning.  She is one of the bravest people I know – she dove into this new lifestyle wholeheartedly, determined to make this challenging situation work.
  • Cocktail hour is important. It isn’t about the drinking (sherry for my mom, Scotch for my dad), but about the listening.  Every evening this was their precious time to sit down together, talk about their day, and catch up with one another.  It taught me the value of taking (and making) time for my partner.
  • Say thank you. My parents thank each other for big and little things – thank you for taking out the trash, for cooking supper, for changing the lightbulb, for being there when I need you. They taught me the value of appreciation.
  • Notice at the sunset. Our tiny house on top of a big hill faced west. Almost every evening my parents would call my brothers and me together to admire the changing colors and growing dusk as the sun sank behind the hills. Even something that happens every single day can be precious.
  • Invite your friends over. My parents hosted cocktail parties, bridge gatherings, and countless holidays for an eclectic band of relatives and friends. They encouraged us to do the same – cast parties, birthday celebrations, Easter morning sunrise service for the youth group – everyone was welcome.  My appreciation for hospitality began in that small cottage that always had room for everyone.
  • Make the best of any situation. A broken down car was an opportunity to walk home and get some exercise, the electricity going out was a chance to eat by candlelight, a sudden change in the plans was an invitation to try something new. My parents never dwelled in disappointment but instead discovered the unexpected that was offeredWhen two people get married, no one can know what the future will hold. I was blessed to grow up with two people filled with love, integrity, creativity, strength and courage.  That is something worth celebrating.
  • Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.
  • A&P dancing
  • (My parents dancing at my niece’s wedding, August 2015)