Love How You Can

Love is the word. Love makes the world go ‘round. And then there’s that commandment to love one another.

But what does love mean? And what exactly did Christ’s word really mean? How can we love everyone?

My brother Mike and I sat with our spouses and dozens of other people, all strangers, in the happy, busy, buzzy atmosphere of Abeulo’s in Myrtle Beach Friday night discussing the above questions. Our appetites sated and our moods elevated, we began talking about the homeless, the tired, the needy and what our responsibility was to them.

“We’re supposed to love everyone,” Mike said, not in a preaching way, just stating a reminder of something the four of us already knew, and he and I began to toss thoughts and feelings back and forth. I said my heart hurt as I thought of the Syrian refugees, especially the mothers and those little children. They’re as “precious in His sight” as my own grandchildren who had the good fortune to be born in America to parents who love them.

Did we come to a consensus or vow to devote ten percent of our time and money towards aid for the less fortunate? No. In fact, the only things we agreed on were (1) charity begins at home and we need to be more loving and kind to the people we live with and (2) we need to ponder Christ’s words and their implication for our lives.

Later that night I recalled Aaron Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. There are several kinds of love, including one called plain old “liking,” but the ideal love is consummate love. Consummate love is comprised of intimacy, passion, and commitment and is an ideal towards which many aspire. Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience consummate love, however, and even if it were possible, it’s not the type of love one can feel towards everyone.

I’ll spare you the rest of my pondering about Sternberg’s theory and its application to Christ’s commandment. It’s quite interesting and something you can easily find and read more about online. What popped in my mind as I was thinking of Sternberg is something a former colleague of mine quipped one afternoon as some colleagues were chatting about an office romance. The chatter turned into a heated discussion as people began to actually take sides. This is going nowhere I thought and was about to leave when someone said, “There are a lot of ways to love, Folks. People love how they can.”

There are a lot of ways to love, Folks. People love how they can. What I love (there’s that word again) is that it cuts right to the chase and, without embellishment or hifalutin theories, speaks volumes. I can’t take everyone home to raise or join the Peace Corps or round up all the homeless people or love people who abuse children. I can’t. But I can love how I can.

Saturday afternoon I parked my car toward the back of the parking lot at HomeGoods in Myrtle Beach. After I turned off the ignition, I read a couple of texts and was in the middle of responding to the second one when someone thumped on the passenger side window. Momentarily startled, I looked around to see a face (no description because of the situation) that I perceived as non-threatening, so I lowered the window.

“Hello, Ma’am. Don’t be afraid. I’m harmless. My name is ____________, and I’m a Vet who hasn’t been able to find a job no matter how hard I’ve tried, and I just need some money for a meal. Can you help Old _________ out?” All of this was delivered in one long string while I stared at her, recalling the conversation of the night before. I found the change purse my husband had bought me as a souvenir in Denali on a land/sea cruise we lucky ducks had taken and rummaged through it until I found a ten dollar bill. I gave it to the kindly-looking, well-spoken, middle-aged woman standing at the window, and off she went.

Was I crazy to have done that? She wasn’t dirty, disheveled, or lean—just the opposite. She asked, I gave. No questions asked.

If Mike is reading this, my answer to our questions Friday night is that you (all of us) love how you can.

 

Joel Osteen’s Message

I wish I could have come up with a snappier title, but I can’t.

Unless I’m traveling or sick, I usually make it to church on Sunday mornings, not because I’m a holy roller but because I need help. I understand all about loving one another, turning the other cheek, and practicing forgiveness, but there’s something about being in the midst of like-minded people (and sinners) that reinforces my desire to go from okay to good to better to best in thought and deed.

But yesterday we were traveling, and I found myself feeling a little fidgety and ill-at ease. I needed the communion of my church friends to buoy me up. I wanted to hear some beautiful hymns and ponder the mysteries of life and death and what comes after our tenure here on Earth…and what came before. I could have read about all those things and more, but reading wasn’t sufficient yesterday.

As we cruised along towards home, I recalled an article I’d read about Joel Osteen the day before and decided to listen to one of his podcasts. According to Success magazine, he’s “the most popular minister on the planet” and has a net worth between 40 and 60 million dollars. In addition to being able to pay bills, Osteen’s idea of prosperity includes having good relationships, feeling peace, and being able to bless someone else.

I know a lot of people don’t like him. They say he’s more into optimism and positive psychology than into theology. “A motivational speaker with a religious bent,” Osteen stays away from heavy discussions of Satan and hell. Maybe that’s why I like him.

Oops, the cat’s out of the bag. I do sort of like him, probably because he thinks like I do in some ways. I too feel that a person’s thoughts are central in determining destiny, and Joel says, “Your life follows your thoughts.” It’s not rocket science, but there’s truth in that simple statement.

Osteen’s philosophy is akin to cognitive psychology. As Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and change your world.” He wasn’t a psychologist, but he was, like Osteen, a minister, one who focused on the power of thoughts. Detractors would say that positive thinking is more of an armchair activity while positive psychology is aligned with replicable scientific activity, and they’d be correct. Still….

But back to Joel Osteen. His 10.5 million dollar house bothers some people, and while that doesn’t endear me to him, it doesn’t completely turn me off either. I realize that everything’s relative. I have acquaintances who live in houses worth between three and four hundred thousand dollars and some who live in mobile homes, apartments, and condos. All have homes more spacious, safe, and comfortable than many (most?) of the world’s population.

As I wrote the above sentence, I recalled a sign outside of Food for the Soul that I saw this morning. Positioned out near the street so that passers-by could see it, the sign announced that the homeless shelter would be open tonight. 

I missed being in church yesterday, but I like thinking, “You have gifts and talents in you right now that you haven’t tapped into.” There are so many people who need to hear that message, so many people I could share it with. While I would have heard and been inspired by speakers, prayers, hymns, and hugs had I been in a chapel with others yesterday, I might not have heard Osteen’s message.

And maybe his is the one I most needed to hear…and share.

Chocolate and a Warm Home

This is my catch-all blog, the one where I can rant and rave and vent and expound as much as my heart desires. It’s not centered on one theme like religion, politics, families, or cooking.

You’re as likely to read something about exercise here as about the poverty in Burundi and how embarrassed I sometimes feel to have so much when those folks have so little. I just ate a piece of chocolate with almonds and am wondering how widespread that delectable treat is in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Oops, I strayed from my topic. Since I can write about anything I want to on this blog, today I’m focusing on love.

I never leave church without feeling spiritually energized. The peace and love that surrounds me is palpable. I kid you not. Then there are those lessons and talks and hymns that never fail to touch, educate, or affect me in some way. On Sunday, one of the teachers mentioned one little sentence  that I keep thinking of, especially in light of a couple of situations that have been troubling me lately.

Here’s what she said: “The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is love.” While that’s something that I already knew, I needed to be reminded of it. If you say you love God but make disparaging remarks about people of other races, ethnic groups, or social classes, you might want to examine your heart. If that sounds snarky, it’s because I need to work on that love thing too, and that realization puts me on the defensive.

I don’t have a problem with loving people who are “different” from me. I sincerely believe that we’re all brothers and sisters of the same Heavenly Father and that He doesn’t love me more because I’m a white middle-class person with the good fortune to have been born in America. Instead, I think He might actually expect more of me because of those reasons. “To whom much is given, much is required” and all that.

Lately I’ve been full of that loving feeling—for my family. My son and his wife just had a new baby, and I’m already in love with her little rosebud face. I enjoyed staying with the family and taking care of the little ones last week and am looking forward to doing more of the same soon.

There’s more. I helped someone with some troubling internet connections last week, and I cut some of my students some slack when they missed their due dates. I cooked a delicious pot of chili for my husband yesterday, but really, Y’all, that was easy stuff and required little exertion on my part.

But there are a couple of situations going on in my neighborhood that I’m concerned about. What am I doing to ameliorate them? Nothing. Nada. Not a darned thing except talk about them with my husband and friends. Talk is cheap. And yet, when does one know when to cross the line between minding your own business and helping someone who’s cold, hungry, neglected, or _______________?

This morning I’m sitting in my nice cozy home watching the gas logs flicker and flame while I know for a fact that one of my neighbors has no electricity. There are other sad scenarios being acted out all over town. I’m thinking of how the Savior (sorry if I offend anyone here) was virtually homeless during the last few years of His life, and yet that didn’t stop Him from helping and healing and doing good.

What am I doing? Nothing yet. Just writing and thinking.

What’s the answer? I don’t know, but I think kindness and compassion go a long way, and that’s something I can do more of. It’s a start, right?

 

Hospital for Sinners

I’m looking forward to going to church today. Boy, do I need it! Whoever said it was a hospital for sinners and not a museum for saints nailed it. I go, not because I’m a Miss Goody Two Shoes, but because I need help remembering and applying all the things I need to do to feel peace…and to live a happy and effective life. There’s often a difference between what He says for us to do and what I actually do, and attending church with like-minded individuals helps me to try a little harder.

He says to love one another. We love those who are most like us, those of a similar social class, religious affiliation, race, and ethnicity. If someone is a Hindu, Jew, or Greek Orthodox, and we are Christians, well, you know what I’m saying. Woe unto those people for being so ill informed and heathen. I seriously do not have a problem with this one, but I have seen it over and over and over again in other Christians. If anyone reading this ever sees me demonstrating (by word or deed) intolerance or prejudice, please call me out on it.

And about that love thing, we often find it easier to love those who love us. If someone ignores us, hurts our feelings, or fails to appreciate us, then that person must have a problem! He or she is therefore unworthy of our love. To take that a step further, some people are so busy loving one another outside of their own homes that they have very little left to offer their own families. I’ve been guilty of this.

He also says to forgive one another. Seventy times seven and all that. But that’s hard to do. In fact, it’s evidently so hard that a member of our bishopric in Camden gave a talk about it last Sunday. Brother Adams reminded us to be humble, meek, and lowly of heart, and among several other scriptures, read Matthew 6: 14-15:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

That’s scary stuff! If we don’t forgive, then neither will He.

And how can anyone who knows anything at all about Christ remember His betrayal in the garden and his words from the cross? “Father forgive them.” If I had been in His position, I definitely would not have been so benevolent. But I’m trying. Just about anyone who knows me has heard me say that the combination of religion and psychology have saved my life (figuratively) many times.

I’m reminded of David A. Bednar’s statement that we choose to be offended. It’s a personal choice. As a person who loves cognitive psychology, I can see the truth in that. For my own mental and emotional health, I choose to turn the other cheek, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not to take things personally. Not doing so is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die. Crazy, huh? And yet, I’ve been there, done that. It’s no fun.

I’m wondering how many stories there are in the scriptures about love and forgiveness. Christ and his mistreatment and suffering top the list. Then there are the prodigal son, Joseph and his brothers, and Jacob and Esau. And yet, sometimes we look right over these and other stories and think they are for OTHER PEOPLE. As most intro psychology students can tell you, we just don’t see ourselves the way we really are. It’s a protective mechanism.

No rat poison for this gal. I refuse to be offended and plan to look for the good in everyone I meet–and to try to love them in the best way I can. That doesn’t mean taking them in to raise. It means “in the best way I can.”

 

 

Birthday Request

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There’s nothing like a birthday to make one pause and reflect on where she’s been, where she is, and where she’s going. Serious reflection is even more likely when the celebrant is crossing the line between middle and later adulthood. That’s right: 65.

Years ago I came across William Hazlitt’s pronouncement that no young man believes he will ever die. “True for young women too,” I thought. If young people truly thought about the inevitability of their own demise, they’d probably do things differently, with more gusto and verve. They’d say yes more often to opportunities, adventures, and experiences and no more often to obligations that involve drudgery or cause resentment.

What’s the meaning of life? Does my life have meaning? Are people and relationships and connections (even those across time and cultures) what make life rich? These and dozens of other questions crossed my mind last week. To be honest, I think about those sorts of things quite often. I think it was Socrates who said that an unexamined life is not worth living.

I’m not sure (is anyone?) about all of the answers to the above questions. I do know that people count and that relationships need nurturing. I know that everyone you see is, has been, or will be fighting a hard battle. Everyone needs a hand, a hug, or a smile from time to time. Sometimes people need a lot more.

Last week when one of my daughters-in-law and I were chatting on the beach pondering such issues aloud, I told her that Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS church, always asks for the same birthday request each year: that each member do at least one good deed on his birthday. He needs no gifts, and nor do I (but don’t tell my husband or children that!).

Seriously, what I’d like for a belated birthday gift is for every one of my friends, relatives, and acquaintances to do something nice for another person. This could be paying for their meal in a drive-thru, giving a few dollars to a homeless person (even if you disapprove of what you think he might do with the money), spending time with a child, or simply paying someone a compliment. Mark Twain said that he could live for two months on a good compliment, and really, how hard would it be to give one???

About spending time with a child, this has one major qualifier. Make sure you give him or her your undivided attention. Put your cell phone away for a few minutes and really get to know the little one better. Recently I read about a person who said he could see a child’s internal light begin to dim when trying in vain to get his dad’s attention. The father was holding the child on his lap but was too tuned in to Facebook, a game, or a news report on his phone to even look at the child. Come to think of it, it’s not just children. It’s anyone we’re in a relationship with. Could you turn off the television for a few minutes and actually look at the other person while he/she is telling you something?

Enough instruction! You know as well as I do what constitutes something kind. Just go out and do it for my birthday. And me? When talking to my daughter Elizabeth, I told her that I was going to try to do 65 good things for people this week.

“Why not make it this month, Mom? A week doesn’t give you much time.”

So from now until the end of August, I’m going to commit up to 65 charitable (loving, nice, kind) acts. Later today, I’m going by a neat store called Coccadots and get some cupcakes on the way home from Myrtle Beach. I’m giving four of them to a special group of teachers, the Core 4, who teach at Aynor Middle School. And I’m counting this as four nice things instead of one. I have to get to 65 the best way I can!

What about it, Folks? What is something nice you can do to make my first chapter of later adulthood better? Will you accept the challenge?

Rise Above It

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“Rise above it, Jayne. Rise above it.” That’s what my friend Murph used to say whenever the two of us would get upset over a work-related issue, especially the ones involving people. She was right, of course. There’s no point in getting bent out of shape because someone is being irresponsible, smart-alecky, bull-headed, or downright belligerent.

There are at least half a dozen other phrases that convey similar messages, and I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit lately. We’re told to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:39, and in Matthew 18:22, there’s that seventy times seven thing. You know what I’m talking about, the reminder of how often you’re supposed to forgive. Sometimes forgiving is easier said than done, and yet I know that being unforgiving can be especially poisonous to the one holding a grudge.

The Bible isn’t the only source of reminders to let things go. “Don’t take anything personally,” reminds Don Miguel Ruiz in his book The Four Agreements. According to Ruiz, if someone hurts you verbally, physically, or emotionally, it says more about the other person than it does about you. If someone tells you to stop that caterwauling when you’re singing your heart out, don’t take it personally. Maybe the other person doesn’t know good singing when she hears it. Or maybe she doesn’t appreciate that particular type of singing. Then again, she could just be tired and in need of some peace and quiet.

Then there are quotes from famous people that often ring true. Regardless of what you’re going though, there’s a perfect quote from someone you admire who’s “been there, done that” that can make you feel okay again. Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Thanks Mrs. Roosevelt. I will not, will not, will not give my consent.

Even among the best of friends and the closest of family ties, there are occasional comments, oversights, or slurs that can break one’s wings. At those times, you just have to rise above it, be forgiving, refuse to take things personally, and decline to give your consent.

Feed the Lambs

IMG_3462If you read Saturday’s post, then you know that I spoke on becoming a more Christian Christian in church yesterday. As always, I had gathered more material than could possibly be covered in my allotted 15 minutes, but since I’m pretty good at condensing and paring down, I stayed within my time limit. Though a bit nervous, as I sat on the stand and looked at the faces of those in the congregation, a feeling of peace came over me, and I knew that things would be fine.  

Yesterday, I stayed close to Robert D. Hales’ address found in the November 2012 Ensign. To me, the overall theme of his address was “Feed My Sheep.” If you want to be a follower of Christ, then feed His sheep. While I gave a few examples of how to feed the lambs, this morning I remembered several examples of showing love, compassion, and caring among the the people I’m fortunate to know. With some modification, I’m lifting all of these from Eve’s Sisters http://tinyurl.com/agsyetr.

Here’s a scenario shared by Valerie. She and her husband and small child were shopping in Target when they saw a young couple with a baby. She sensed that they were struggling with deciding what to buy with their limited funds. How could they make the proverbial dollar stretch? Compassionate and caring, Valerie sent up a silent prayer to her Heavenly Father asking that He help this young couple.

She walked on by, and after a few seconds, her little girl asked, “Where’s Dad?” They turned around and spotted him. Wallet open, he was giving cash to the couple. A lump in her throat, Valerie thought of how she had prayed, but her husband had acted. I’m certainly not dissing Valerie, one of the most loving people I know. I used her example to illustrate that at any given time there are people around us who need our help. We just need to be more mindful.

I once slipped a few dollars and a note into an envelope and gave it to a student with instructions to have her eyebrows waxed, something she had indicated a desire to have done. She sent me an email saying no one had ever done anything like that for her before and that she sat in the car and cried when she read my note. That saddened me. Why hasn’t anyone done anything like that for this lovely young woman before? Why don’t I do things of this nature more often?

What we do doesn’t have to be of huge magnitude. If we all perform small acts of service in our own little spheres, I think Christ would be happy. Here are some things that crossed my mind this morning:

  • Lib is the consummate baker, and she regularly bakes her special lemon pound cakes and delivers them to people  to welcome them to the community.
  • My sister Ann, a math teacher, regularly tutors church members and family free of charge.
  • The mother of my daughter’s former obstetrician knits hats for newborns. 
  • Several women of my acquaintance keep a stash of all occasion cards that they send to people who might need a    little encouragement.

We’re all different and should do whatever we can without feeling guilty about what we can’t do. Can you send a card? Can you find the time to just sit and listen to one of your children, a parent, or a friend? Can you pay someone a compliment? I think it was Mark Twain who said he could live for two weeks on a good compliment. How hard is that to do??