Last week, Richard Rohr published a meditation that included this line.

“Love is the source and the goal, faith is the slow process of getting there and hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

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This week’s chalk wall – the Wall of Fame was temporarily replaced by Month of Love in honor of Valentine’s Day.  

It blew me away and so I wrote it up on our chalk wall in the dining room. We have 4 grids: Wall of Fame, Prayer List, Quote of the Week and Do-er’s Choice. We also keep a bucket of chalk on the table. Though I conceived of it as a place for family expression, probably about 80% of the time, I am the only one who expresses herself there. Occasionally the kids will chip in with a “Thanks, Mom,” or a “Way to go” on the Wall of Fame. A little more often, they will add someone’s name to the Prayer List. When they were small, they would jockey for space to draw in the Do-er’s Choice lower quadrant. When inspiration strikes, Tim will commandeer the Quote of the Week for a song lyric, usually from U2. So what I thought was a fun and inexpensive way to get the kids involved has mostly become another place for me to do my “mom-thing.” It does however, on occasion, open up some family conversation, so I just put things up and see what happens. Sometimes they ask, but mostly they ignore it.

However, I loved Richard’s words so much that I wanted to make sure they saw them. During dinner last week, I pointed out the quote and asked what they thought.

Clearly, I threw them for a loop, because they kind of nodded, said, “Uh-huh,” and moved on. Our dinnertime conversations cover topics like school, friends, our goods and bads, sometimes song lyrics, and these days, even politics, but rarely do we stray into theology. At the end of a long day, it’s just too much and on a normal night, if it were an obscure text from some 14th century mystic, I would have given up and moved on, but the idea is so central to my understanding of the world that I thought I’d try one more time.

“Let me draw you a picture.”

 

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“Love is the source and the goal.”

On the left side is our ‘source,’ the beginning of the universe, the Big Bang. It began with what the scriptures in Greek called the Alpha; what we would call God. Richard Rohr, drawing on the work of the saints and the mystics across the ages, calls it Love. That’s why it’s a heart. God’s desire to be in relationship got the whole thing started and it’s what keeps the whole thing going. NOTHING operates in isolation or solitude. On a most basic level, that’s what Love means. From the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the global population, we are drawn toward each other and we are changed and charged by those connections.

On the right side is our ‘goal,’ where we are headed. That is also God, what the Greeks called the Omega point. That is also Love, for God is Love and despite all the setbacks, the violence and injury we do to each other, the primal urge is to draw back together. What is scattered is gathered again. It is the way of life and evolution, the way of Love.

Faith is the slow process of getting there.”

The line from the left to the right is the length of our days. We go along; we live our lives. We are sure of our path and where we are headed, except when we aren’t. There are moments when our surety and safety are disrupted. Bad things happen! We get bullied; people die; we fail miserably at school, at a job, at a marriage. In those moments, we need Faith to see us through. Faith is our will to live; it is knowing where we came from and where we are headed.

“Hope is the willingness to move forward without resolution and closure.”

Even with Love and Faith, we will not move forward on that line without Hope, because things won’t be resolved as quickly as we’d like. In discouragement, it would be easy to stop, but Hope is the engine that drives us forward anyway. Life does not operate according to perfect plans, but even when we don’t know the answer, Hope allows us to trust that an answer will come eventually.

“Does that make more sense?” I asked them.

“Sure mom, we get the picture.”

Good enough, I thought. If they have the picture of Love at the beginning and end of it all, that’s good enough for me.

I sheepishly put down my pencil and the conversation moved on to other things. Sometimes, I think I overwhelm them with too many ‘big ideas,’ but I hope they will retain some of the biggest, the ones I repeat most often.

This is the truth of our lives. Love is where we came from and Love is where we are headed. Yes, we encounter circumstances every day that challenge that truth, but Faith allows us to carry on ‘as if’ it were true. And if we look for it, we can also find clear evidence to fuel our Hope. We can witness Love winning through compassionate giving, community building, truth telling, and resource sharing. I see it in my friends and my enemies. No one is exempt from the ability and desire to Love. And that truth gives me the Hope to walk further down the road in Faith toward even greater Love.

Even, and maybe even especially, during family dinners.

 

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Over the last few rainy days, I have been reflecting on my most recent blog. What am I really talking about when I talk about Love? There are clearly some things I don’t mean. Obviously, for me, Love isn’t just romantic, sweet or mushy feelings, but it isn’t simply an obligation to a person, community, or cause either. Recently, in another writing project, I defined Love in this way.

Love means saying, “Yes” to all that life brings me: to all that is, has been and will be.

When I am in Love, I have forgiven myself and others for past dramas, disappointments and detours. When I am in Love, I am not anxious about the future; I don’t have to force my own agenda, or protect myself from what might happen. Most importantly, when I am in Love in the present moment, I am at peace with what is: myself, my circumstances, the people and possibilities around me. When I am in Love, I don’t need to change anything and when I am really feeling it, I don’t even want to.

But I am not always able to Love like this, which is why I intend to practice Loving even more in 2016. It might sound funny to think of Love as a behavior we have to practice, but we do. Like anything we want to be better at, we have to give it our focus and find ways to improve our abilities, especially if it doesn’t come naturally.

I came across a great image to help inspire me in these early weeks of the new year. It is from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening. (If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, I highly recommend it.) Mark tells the story of a friend who wants to paint his family room. He gets home with all the supplies from the hardware store and preps everything in the garage, but when he wants to enter his house, he can’t get in. He has a bucket of paint in each hand, the drop cloths and rollers under his arms and the paintbrush in his mouth. He struggles to open the front door, refusing to put anything down, (because we hate to put anything down!) and just as he’s about to get in, he slips and falls and ends up covered in red paint. He could laugh about it now, but you can only imagine how angry and frustrated he must have been when it happened.

These are the words of wisdom Nepo gleams from the story:

…In a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door. Time and time again, we are offered the chance to truly learn this: We cannot hold on to things and enter. We must put down what we carry, open the door and the take up only what we need to bring inside.

As far as I’m concerned, it is the beginning of Love when we recognize that we are in front of a closed door in the first place. If nothing else, we’ll know we’re there by the way it feels in our bodies – the clenched jaw or balled-up fists, tension in our stomach or neck, our deep sighs, or raised voice. When we notice ourselves getting angry, anxious, or insisting on our own way, it is Love that allows us to stop, take a deep breath, and put our baggage down, whatever it is – our fears, expectations, justifications. Instead of seeing the situation, or person in front of us as an obstacle to be conquered, we see them as a doorway to something new.

In that moment, we are doing the most Loving thing we can. We are saying a resounding, “Yes” to what is, instead of ignoring, denying, or fighting against it. Once we’ve put things down, the rest is just a little bit easier. We can choose to act, instead of react. We can assess what we need to pick up, what is truly important and what will actually help us (and them) on the other side of the door. The rest, we leave behind. Loving actually makes us lighter! (How’s that for a New Year’s diet plan?)

The best way I know how to reinforce this kind of Loving is through my meditative practice of Centering Prayer. For twenty minutes each morning, I “put things down,” over and over again. Inspired by Jesus’ kenotic, or self-emptying, communion with God, Centering Prayer asks me to release my self-centered thoughts, desires and agendas. When I find my mind wandering through daydreams and to-do lists, I repeat my sacred word and put it all down. This practice reminds me that it is not my will that needs to be done.

Sidenote: In case you’re wondering, I have been meditating daily for almost three years and I still have to “put things down” at least fifty to a hundred times in those twenty minutes. I know, shockingly bad statistics there, but my first teacher told me that the only way to fail at meditation is to fail to do it. I choose to use that as my guide still.

Coincidentally, my meditation practice ends about the time my children’s alarm clocks go off. That’s when my real practice begins. My morning agenda is clear: get everyone fed, dressed and out the door on time. My expectations are much higher than that: I want morning hugs, smiles, thank yous for lunch, beds made, teeth brushed, dishes cleaned. You can imagine how many “closed doors” I encounter in those 45 minutes. Every morning, I have 45 minutes to practice Loving my kids in their tired grumpiness and haste. I have 45 minutes to respond to teenage stimuli with Love, patience, forgiveness, encouragement, and physical affection. I have 45 minutes to fail at Loving the way I want to, and when I do, (and yes, I find myself covered in red paint pretty frequently), I apologize. Love also means cleaning up the messes we’ve made. And then, when they leave, I just “put it down” again, even the self-criticism and frustration. I have to Love myself too, or I’ll never get anywhere at all.

In 2016, I want to meet more minutes of my days like I do those first forty-five, fresh off the meditation mat when the challenges are small and the challengers are people I care deeply about. It’s a different story entirely in the real world where I encounter people I don’t much like with even higher stakes. Pope Francis may have declared it the Year of Mercy, but I’ve declared it the Year of Love and I want it to last a lifetime! I will keep trying. At more and more of those closed doors, I will take a deep breath and drop my shoulders. I will think of the red paint I’m carrying. I will remember the crime scenes I’ve created when I refused to put my baggage down and then I will face that door with the freedom that only Love can bring.

So, yeah, in case you were wondering, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about Love.

Last Saturday, Tim and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of a darling couple. I’ve known Brianne since she was just a little tyke and she’s known her now-husband, Michael, for almost that long. The wedding took place in the same church where we were married over two decades ago. It was great to be back and recall the excitement and the nerves that accompanied us that day, but also the joy and the Love we felt. Watching Brianne and Michael, I am pretty sure they were experiencing the same.

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In honor of this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share with you the letter I wrote to them and enclosed with their wedding gift. I am grateful for my health, my family and friends, and my home, but I am most grateful for the opportunity to Love and to witness Love wherever it takes place, whether it’s halfway around the world, or in my own backyard.

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The happy couple

November 21, 2015

Dear Brianne and Michael Blackmun –

Granted this is an unusual wedding greeting – a missive inside a card. Wait until you open the box. It’s an unusual wedding gift as well. But you two, like Tim and I, make for an unusual couple. Personally, those are my favorite kind. So, when you open the box, this is what you will find. Two coffee mugs, two dish towels and one very special book called Big Magic.

I often give one of my favorite books on marriage, The Zimzum of Love, to young couples just tying the knot. You two, however, having been together for ten years, need a little less advice perhaps than most in that area. I love how madly in love you two still are after all this time and I’ve got a little secret for you…

You might have been told your feelings will fade, that it won’t always be like this, but I look at you and I think, “They’re wrong.” Brianne, you are clearly in love with LOVE itself (so am I – it takes one to know one) and so I think your marriage will always be full of love – the romantic, playful, silly, affectionate kind of love. Yes, there will be hard times and struggles and dry spells, but I think they will be weathered with affection, good humor, grace and forgiveness. Your marriage will always feel like an adventure, in good times and bad, something to be eagerly embraced, thinking, “I wonder what tomorrow will bring.” Brianne, this gift of Loving joyfully and whole-heartedly is not something everyone has and Michael brings it out in you, so appreciate it and use it well! You hit the Love Jackpot, not just in finding the right guy, but in having a heart made for it. Congratulations!

But there’s more, so on to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. The author calls it basically a permission slip for everyone to use their creativity.

Brianne, you are one of the most creative women I know. I remember going to your college graduation party with your degree in studio art and looking at all your work and being blown away by the tender beauty of it all, especially your heart sculpture. I hope you have that piece somewhere on display still! You decided not to pursue your art professionally, which I totally understand, but what I want to say, as you’re making this lifetime commitment to Michael, is that I hope you have also made a lifetime commitment to your creativity. Your artful heart and creative spirit are the essence of you. I hope this book will encourage you to continue to find expressions and outlets for the art that wants to be born from your soul. It is so important, for you and the world.

A marriage is only as healthy as each of the people speaking their vows and our culture makes it so easy to hide our truest selves behind all sorts of masks. But a marriage between two hiders can’t become the fullest expression of Love and happiness. It can work for a while, maybe even a lifetime, but it won’t allow each person to flourish and become all they are meant to be in and for the world. In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert will remind you over and over again to be Brianne! Be Michael! Commit to practices of concern, compassion and courage in your Love for each other and for yourselves as well.

You have so many gifts and cards to open that I will stop talking now.  This isn’t meant to be advice. It is just meant to be encouragement to listen to what your heart already knows. You and Michael clearly Love each other and are committed to the well-being and freedom of the other person. Keep living that out, all the days of your life!

With so much Love, hope and faith in you two!

Ali and Tim

P.S. – I couldn’t end without sharing one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets. This kind of Love works, but only if you’re both doing it!

“The Gift”

Our

Union is like this:

You feel cold

So I reach for a blanket to cover

Our shivering feet.

A hunger comes into your body

So I run to my garden

And start digging potatoes.

You ask for a few words of comfort and guidance,

I quickly kneel at your side offering you

This whole book –

As a gift.

You ache with loneliness one night

So much you weep

And I say,

Here’s a rope,

Tie it around me,

I

Will be your companion

For life.

Adapted slightly from Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi mystic and poet.

P.P.S. I wrote that letter before the wedding and sharing it here allows me to write a second post-script. I know that brides and grooms are technically supposed to be the ones writing the thank you cards after the wedding, but every time I leave a wedding, I feel like I’m the one who should be saying thanks. Not only are wedding days wonderful parties (and it doesn’t matter how big, or small the budget), they are also beautiful expressions of the energy, hopefulness and joy that Love builds and brings to the world. Since Love is my favorite emotion, weddings and newlyweds are some of my favorite things. Thank you, Brianne and Michael for delivering big time!

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Celebrating new Love with the Love of my life!

Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said that every person has three marriages in them. We marry the first time for sex, the second for security, the third for companionship. While I have great respect for the thrice-married Dr. Mead, I was grateful she added, “even if they are all to the same person.”

September 18, 1991, the birthday of Sarah Moses
This is Tim, my “first” husband, and I just after I gave birth to Sarah Moses on September 18, 1991.

Three years ago, I told the story of how I met my “first” husband, in the post, “So This Guy Walks into a Bar…” I highly recommend starting there to understand my marital history, but on our wedding anniversary, I’d like to introduce you to my “second” husband. He is usually referred to in my blog as “Tim,” or “Babe,” his given and pet names respectively, but he is almost always reduced to playing the straight man in my stories. He is frequently the Ricky to my Lucy, instead of the real, flesh and blood man he is and I thought this might be a chance to improve upon that limited role, so let me tell you a story about how I met my “second” husband.

By the time Molly Grace was born, Tim and I had been married for almost ten years. The purpose of our “first marriage” had been met, as was obvious by the number of dependents we traveled with. And so as she toddled off to preschool, I was ready for a new experience and attended a religious and spirituality conference in Los Angeles. I’m sure Tim never gave a thought to the trouble I would find there, attending daily mass and singing worship music with my Catholic mother. But I found it. Speakers like Ron Rolheiser, Paula D’Arcy and Richard Rohr spoke to parts of me I thought I had lost forever in the oxytocin-fueled haze of breastfeeding and the drudge of diaper changes. They reawakened my curious mind and restless heart.

But by the third day, I was so full of new ideas that I almost skipped out early, eager to get home to Tim and the kids, but I had one more ticket to see an Irish poet named David Whyte. I had never heard of him before, but something urged me to stay and to this day, I am grateful I did. Whyte offered a piece of wisdom that would become the pattern for my life moving forward. He said,

“You must learn one thing ,

The world was made to be free in.

Anything or anyone

that does not

bring you alive

is too small for you.”

(Please don’t read the poem dualistically. Not every moment of every day, or situation can bring us to life and it doesn’t mean we leave. It just means we can start asking questions and getting curious about the situation.)

Whyte postulated that we were not created to stay the same over the course of our lifetimes. We do not hit thirty, or forty, or fifty and stop growing. We are a product of evolution, and as such, it is our God-given gift and responsibility to evolve ourselves, to stay on the creative edge of life, always adapting to survive and thrive in the new situations and habitats we find ourselves in.

I loved Whyte’s deep, Irish brogue, but as I listened, anxiety churned in my belly for he was naming the very sense of discomfort that had been creeping into my life during that time. Though I had told my “first” husband that I all I ever wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom, I realized that wasn’t true anymore. Although I loved my life, some part of me was buried underground and I wanted to go digging. I wasn’t looking for Tim’s permission exactly, but I certainly wanted his support.

After tucking the kids into bed that Sunday night, Tim and I crawled into a hot bubble bath, our favorite place for long conversations on winter nights, and I began to unpack my ideas. He was a great listener. He didn’t get defensive, even though it couldn’t have been easy to hear that after providing everything I’d ever wanted, I now found it “small,” and limiting in some crucial way. I looked at the discomfort in his eyes, and plowed ahead. (Since then, I’ve learned the art of greater conversational subtlety and patience and how to apologize when I push too hard.)

David Whyte had echoed Mead’s insights on marriage – that marriage is about freedom, not limitation. Being married doesn’t mean you can’t change; in fact, it means you both have a safe place to do so. You’ve made a commitment to be just that. When you say, “I do” at the altar, you don’t marry just one person. You are vowing to love and honor every version the person standing in front of you will become over the course of your lifetime together. I told Tim that my intentions were good, that I didn’t want to become someone he wouldn’t know. I just wanted to look in a mirror and see beyond the roles I played, to the ME I might become if I explored the depths of my heart and the possibilities of my life. And then I asked him, “Do you trust me?”

He looked at me in my excitement and pain and longing and he said, “Yes,” knowing it was going to cost him something, and praying it wouldn’t cost him everything.

And in that moment, I met my “second” husband.

My “first” husband rescued me, made me feel like a beautiful princess, and set about delivering my happily ever after. My “second” husband stepped back and let me rescue myself, knowing that true happiness could only come from within.

Brené Brown has developed a kind of litmus test for the maturity of partners in a marriage, or any deep relationship. She writes, “If you show me a man who can sit with a woman in deep struggle and vulnerability and not try to fix it, but just hear her and be with her and hold space for it, I’ll show you a guy who’s done his work and doesn’t derive his power from controlling and fixing everything and if you show me a woman who can sit with a man in real vulnerability, in deep fear, and be with him in it, I will show you a woman who has done her work and does not derive her power from that man.”

Like any young couple, Tim and I spent years trying to shore up our power by attempting to fix each other, the faults and annoying habits obviously, but also the friendships and foes that caused our loved ones pain. When you’re young, you think everything can be improved with just a little more effort and care, but when you’re older, you know life is more about keeping vigil than keeping it all in line. Tim showed me how that night and in the years that followed by walking and talking with me, listening to my prayers and holding me in my pain as I discovered who I wanted to be. A few years later, he let me return the favor when the economy tanked and his business was on the line. I couldn’t fix a damn thing when it came to the Great Recession, but I could do what he had done for me.

Over the years, we have become successively new versions of ourselves, transformed by our personal and professional successes and failures, as well as those of our children, families, communities and the world at large. If one of us is feeling “small,” we both try to show up to do the work it takes to set them free. To be clear, it is hard work and we often fail. Like any couple, we fight and bicker; we fall in and out of love (but never out of Love); our tempers get the best of us, though we are quick to apologize. That is the humility of marriage; the mirror is always there in front of you, reflecting your best and worst qualities, if you dare to look.

Team Kirks makes new vows 2008
Team Kirks makes new vows 2008

On our 15th anniversary, a few years after we embarked on our “second” marriage, Tim and I renewed our vows. We invited couples who had supported us over the years and also modeled the kind of marriage we were trying to practice ourselves: a loving, respectful partnerships of equals. Tim and I recommitted to supporting each other in what Carl Jung called “the privilege of a lifetime: to become who you truly are.”

I am so grateful for having experienced a “first” marriage that was so full of romance and intimacy. I am still blessed with a “second” marriage that transformed my still-lovely lover into a safe house for growth and experimentation and finally, we look forward to our “third” marriage, whenever it arrives, but we’re in no hurry. It feels like we’re living the three marriages of a lifetime already. We have a lover, a safety net and a best friend at our sides every day.

So when I make cracks about Tim tuning out my stories, or mocking my attempts to try something new, know all this about him too. Though I may write about him as my sidekick, he is so much more than that. I am only me, because I have been loved by him.

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Author’s Note: My editor, a.k.a. my sweet husband, commented that people might not get past the treatise on theology that kicks off this post. He thought I should ask you to PLEASE stick with it and watch the video at the end. It’s worth it. Thanks!

I woke early this morning, like 4 a.m. early, and decided to tackle one of my theology chapters for the Living School. I find it much easier to get through this type of work with a well-rested mind. What looks like gibberish at 10 p.m. somehow becomes intelligible after seven hours of sleep. This particular chapter was from a book called Christophany by Raimon Pannikar. Here is a sample:

Here we see clearly delineated a twofold dimension of Christianity that a dualistic vision of reality has difficulty keeping in harmony, despite the fact that nonduality is the quintessence of Christ’s mystery – totus Deus et totus homo (“The whole God and the whole man”) according to the classical expression. An inevitable consequence of this “panhistorical” vision of Christianity would be that the eucharist cannot be Christ’s real and true presence, but only an anamnesis (“memory”) of a past fact. In other words, without a mystical vision, the Eucharistic reality disappears.

After reading it the first time, there was nothing “clearly delineated,” and no “inevitable consequence” was obvious to me. However, after several passes a modicum of understanding emerged. If his meaning is crystal clear to you, leave a comment below and we will discuss.

However, if that paragraph of theology leaves you cold, read on.

I will confess, there is some part of me that loves academic work. I love the puzzle, the working things out, the “Aha” moment when I finally grasp the author’s point. It’s even better when I have not just comprehension, but also an opinion on their argument. That is a true victory!

But as I find myself being intellectually and egoically seduced by the power of knowledge, I also know, in the pit of my stomach, that it’s “nothing but straw,” as Thomas Aquinas infamously said in the final days of his life. Ultimately, on a cold day, in the concrete reality of our lives, most of what has been written about God would be most useful as fuel for a fire to keep us warm. Theology simply falls short of experiential knowledge. Simply put, our study of the Divine has far less of an impact on us than our experience of it.

The only theology we truly need to know is that God is Love with a capital L. Jesus gave us only two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s it. Like Hillel, he thought the rest would take care of itself. St. Augustine said simply, “Love God and do as you please.” But even this simple theology is worthless if we are not Loved in real life, in real ways, by real people, intentionally, compassionately, fiercely and unconditionally. Without the lived experience of deeply committed Love, by parent, spouse, friend or community, even this theology can be twisted and misunderstood.

I know academic studies of theology, philosophy and the like are crucially important disciplines. They elevate and animate conversations at the highest levels and shape our educational system and our vision of the world. They record the evolution of our collective consciousness. Without Plato, Socrates, Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, without Descartes and Voltaire, Locke and Hobbes, and countless others, we would not be where we are today. But these subjects are not for everyone and I am grateful for the “1%ers” who study them responsibly and have an opportunity to influence our world.

I know what they’ve done is good, but I read a story about Tamika Brown today, who is the embodiment of a lived theology of Love and

I am convinced that if all the theology in the world from every culture and religion, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and every other, ceased to exist tomorrow and instead we all Loved like this, the world would be a better place.

Two years ago, Tamika’s son, Richie Knight, was stabbed to death when he was 19 years old. His killer was Ian Lorne Ellis, a 17-year-old young man from the neighborhood, who Richie had been in confrontations with in the months before the murder. Ellis pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and will serve twenty-one years in prison. This is what Tamika had to say to him in the courtroom on the day of his sentencing.

“Only God knows why I’m not angry, or why I don’t hate you. Would it shock you to hear that I love you? I thought to myself one day a while back, ‘Don’t lock him up. Sentence him to my home. Let him be my son that he took away from me.’”

Can you imagine if we all sought justice this way? If loss opened us up and allowed us to give birth to something new and miraculous, instead of hardening our hearts, seeking retribution?

Tamika sang to her son’s killer about the source of her Love, starting with the song, “He Cares,” but changing a few words on the spot:

“So you think that you can’t make it through,/ Just remember that my God cares for you…/Don’t give up, don’t give in/ Today make Jesus Christ your number one friend.”

In suffering, Tamika knew Love, but instead of sharing it only with her friends and family, she extended it to the other, her enemy. No one can say this is soft, or easy, or wishy-washy theology. This is Love from its the deepest source, in any culture and by any name. She changed the equation. We are accused and we get defensive; we are Loved and we can be transformed.

Theology is all well and good, but it should never trump the embodied reality of Love. Think of France and Nigeria. Think of Israel and Palestine, ISIS and Iraq. Think of Leelah Alcorn. All these tragedies were based on mistaken theologies, ones that said there was a something greater than Love. We have to do better.

I may study theology, but I choose Love.

If you want to read the local news story, click here.

December 5, 2014

Christmas is only a few short weeks away. Nineteen days to prepare, shop, bake and decorate. I was blown away at how quickly everyone got their Christmas stuff out and up and displayed on Instagram and Facebook last weekend. The turkey carcass from Thanksgiving dinner was still warm by the time the lights were on the tree. I’m not criticizing! I admire an ability to work on a full stomach. It’s just not the way I work.

I tend to put the Christmas cheer on a slow burn, much to Molly’s dismay. There have been years where the tree isn’t even bought until the 20th. Presents are kept in closets and cubbyholes until I get around to wrapping them on the 23rd. Some of this delay is simply practical. December is the busiest month of the year for Tim at the surf shop. My semester ends mid-December and I am inundated with finals and papers to grade. The kids are typically in school until the third week. Throw in a couple soccer tournaments, Christmas parties and holiday events and who has the time to decorate?

This year, most of those factors still exist, but more so than ever, I find myself holding back from the Christmas “spirit.” Instead, I’m immersing myself in Advent and the mystery of the Incarnation. If I could, I would wrap my house in deep purple. It would stay dark and candle-lit and smell like pine needles. I would transport us to the top of a snowy mountain where we could sit quietly and reflect on what it means to give birth to Christ in and through our very selves. Of course, Tim and the kids would hightail it out of there the first chance they got, hopping on toboggans to the nearest gingerbread village they could find.

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My December dream house

 

Trying to keep them away from the joy of December, Christmas carols and cookies is more Grinch than Mother Mary, so decorating, baking and singing will commence tomorrow morning. I hate to hold back anybody’s good time, but in my own quiet time, in my reading, writing, and meditating, I am going to hold on to the mystery of the Incarnation that is pressing so deeply on my heart these days.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was born from and through Mary, but the Christ is born in each of us, over and over again, throughout time and across every continent, in every gender and age, regardless of purity, sanctity or professed faith tradition. All is takes is a willing heart.

Every act of Love is an act of incarnation.

God is Love and Christ is the physical manifestation of God, so whenever we Love, truly, actively and deeply, we are bringing Christ to the world. God is incarnated through us.

Mary said Yes to giving birth to Jesus, because she Loved God. She trusted that God’s Love would sustain her through the shame and pain and instability the Incarnation would cause her. The result, she was assured, would be something wondrous, greater than anything the world had ever known. Love like this, in flesh and blood, would change everything.

Let’s be brave like Mary this time of year. Instead of going nonstop, let’s wait. Let’s sit quietly in our homes sometimes, maybe for a few minutes in the evening by the light of our tree, maybe with a cup of tea on our couch in the morning. Let’s be still and listen for where God is asking us to bring Love into the world through our own flesh and blood.

With God, who knows what that request will look like?

toy-christmas-heart-heart-red-branch-needles-pine-tree-holiday-decoration-christmas

On Saturday, my family had the pleasure of attending a wedding; I had the privilege of speaking there at the request of these two lovely people.

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Todd and Amanda, courtesy of ChristaSuppe Photography

This is Todd and Amanda. Their love story is unusual. Todd’s a little older than Amanda and their romance began under some rather unusual circumstances, but over the last 18 months, I have seen their love grow.

None of us knows where romance will take us when we first start out, but I think these two have navigated enough detours to find themselves on the right path. The tricky part, for them and for all of us, is figuring out how to stay there. I hope I gave them some good advice.

Here’s what I shared during the ceremony:

“I am known to Todd and Amanda as someone who loves Love. My theme song: “All You Need is Love.” My blog: #Signs of Love. I find Love in the form of hearts everywhere I go – in dirt, in rocks and leaves, water, shadows and food and post them on Instagram. You might say Love is my thing, so they probably thought I’d have a thing or two to say about.

I’m going to start with my favorite poem about Love by e.e. cummings.

It’s called “i carry your heart with me.”

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in

my heart) i am never without it (anywhere

i go you go ,my dear; and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

 

                                                      i fear

no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

 

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

 

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

I had a copy of that poem hand-calligraphied for my husband Tim for our 5th anniversary. The first line is inscribed on the inside of his ring. It has always spoken the truth of how I feel about him. When I was younger, I was afraid it made me sounds a little clingy, but after 20 years, I don’t worry about that. I know that Love goes and grows even deeper than that, even deeper than I thought possible. For me, this poem is about love on a cellular level.

Love doesn’t just happen up here, in our heads, in our decision to care and commit to someone. It doesn’t happen just here, in our hearts, in the way we feel about them. Love happens here – from my head to my toes. Love happens with every breath that we take.

Quantum physics has discovered that something like Love actually exists on a molecular level.

An atom’s attraction to another atom – it’s not just random, like I always thought. It’s actually deeply personal in some way, as strange as that sounds. There are billions of atoms bumping into each other all the time, but they don’t get together. They wait until the find the right one and when atoms choose each other, they willingly give up some part of themselves, so that they can come together, and be balanced. What happens between those two particles is selfless, creative and life-giving. Together they create something new, something more complicated, but generative too. They are no longer two, but one and that brings life to the world. It isn’t just hydrogen, it isn’t just oxygen any more; it’s water.

One of my favorite writers and mystics, Teillard de Chardin, who was a scientist as well, claimed “the physical structure of our universe is Love” and I couldn’t agree more.

In 1 John, the writer states: “God is Love,” which we’ve turned into a totally overused phrase, I know. But when we say “God is Love,” I think that’s actually what we’re talking about. God is Love and Love is actually the physical structure of the universe. Love is the energy that sustains everything, through continual selfless, creative and life-giving actions. And so when we commit to Love, like Todd and Amanda are today, they are committing to a practice of selflessness and creativity, so they can bring new life to the world – not just in the form of grandbabies for Bruce and Clara and Ramona – but new life to the universe itself, in ways they can’t even fathom, but that I am sure God is counting on them to deliver. God’s counting on all of us to deliver.

Like the atoms we are made of, Todd and Amanda, you’ve made a choice for each other. Out of seven billion men and women in the world who bump up against each other every day, you’ve said, ‘That’s the one for me.” You’ve willingly given up many things to be here today: treasures from your past and perhaps even some dreams for your future. And everything about this wedding, from the invitations to the table settings to the ceremony, speaks of your creativity, which I now hope you will pour into your marriage and relationship.

When each of us is born, God whispers in our ear, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart).” There is no dividing us from God’s heart and today, you make that same promise to each other. Carry each other’s hearts lovingly, gently, patiently, honestly, compassionately and faithfully and I promise that the life you gain will “(grow higher than soul can hope or mind can hide).” It will be the very wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.

Fear no fate and want no world, other than the one you begin today in Love.”

 

I loved sharing those thoughts on Love, though I’m not sure they came across quite like I wanted them to. They came from my heart, but might have sounded a little academic. The mic kept going out, so I felt like a techno remix of myself, dropping syllables and beats as I went along. I would look out at the crowd of 250 blank faces and get scared, but then look back into the smiling eyes of the bride and groom, just a foot away from me, and relax. They heard me just fine.

It was also hard to choose what to include and what to leave out. There are a hundred poems on Love I could have shared from Rilke, or Shakespeare to Bono or Leonard Cohen. I wanted to talk about quantum entanglement, the importance of commitment, the risk/reward ratio of investing your whole life in someone else. Love involves all those things and more, but I had to make a choice. They asked for five minutes, not fifty, and so I spoke the truest words about Love I know.

Here are a few more things I know.

In our deepest being, Love is what we are made for.

If we are not Loving, we are not truly living.

Love asks us to die to ourselves, so something new can be born.

We have to be willing to let go of our dreams of perfection in order to keep Loving. If we refuse to grow and change, or keep others from doing so, we create a legacy of broken promises and broken hearts (especially our own).

Love is mutual.

It never requires only one to give and the other to take. If that is how your relationship works, it might be romance, or co-dependency, but it isn’t Love.

God is Love.

If you know Love, you know God. And if you claim to know God, but do not Love selflessly, creatively and in ways that bring new life to the world, you have a case of mistaken identity. You know a god, who is not God.

Love isn’t love.

We throw the word around carelessly, “loving” this and that, based on our expectations and emotions, but what the world calls love is not Love at all. It’s a cheap imitation based on infatuation, without integrity. It can become Love, but it doesn’t start out that way. Love with intention, which “grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide” will change the shape of our lives and if we lean into it, the very course of the world.

I write these words from my experiences of trying and failing to Love with my whole heart, over and over again. I have been committed to the same man for photo 1over 23 years, more than half my life. I have given birth to four beautiful children and have had the privilege of raising three of them. I have two parents, three siblings, eleven in-laws and dozens of relatives and friends. I have met thousands of people along the way. I have tried in some way to Love them all. I have failed as often as I have succeeded, but I hope I’m getting better with age and practice.

I have studied Love, watched Love, written about it and found it written in the ground beneath my feet. But it still surprises me. It can take my breath away, sometimes with its beauty and sometimes with the impossibility of what it is asking me to do. You want me to Love that? I find myself thinking when faced with an extremely difficult person, situation, or institution. Yes, is always the answer.

And so I keep trying, because I have been Loved by Love itself.

After saying “goodbye” in a sense to #Signs of Love in my last post, they came back with a vengeance. Since Valentine’s Day was coming up, I kind of expected to see a lot of hearts, but I didn’t expect to be given so much Love.

Publishing my last blog was scary for me. It made me feel weak and vulnerable, but I have learned that in those moments, I need to be brave and strong. Fear will keep me stuck; courage will set me free.

This was the extent of my planned expressions of Love for today.

My uber-romantic card for TIm. I really am a total geek  and he loves me for it.
My uber-romantic card for TIm. I really am a total nerd.

Instead, this is what I got.

#Signs of Love surrounded me
#Signs of Love surrounded me

Since Wednesday, everywhere I went, every time I stopped, a #Sign was there to remind me that Love isn’t through with me yet.

photo 2

I am so glad.

I hope today is a good one for you, but if it isn’t looking that way, rest assured.

Love’s not through with you yet either.

#sign in the sand
#Sign in the sand

If you need a little more Love, go to my #Signs page here. There’s lots to look at!

Dear Readers:

This month, my husband Tim is trying to support me in my endeavor to be more still, more present, more aware and more in love.

To that end, he offered to write a blog post for me. He’s offered in the past, in a half-joking way, but this time I actually took him up on it, much to his surprise and immediate consternation. However, he did it and I think he did it pretty darn well. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the musing of my better half.

First Time/ This Time

I am not a very cultured person. I spend far too much time watching sports and Seinfeld re-runs, and far too little time reading good books or poetry. There is not a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from NBA games or from Jerry, George, Elaine, & Kramer. So I’ll take it where I can get it, and I seem to get most of it from song lyrics and movies.

Which brings me to U2. Bono’s song lyrics are about as close as I get to reading poetry. I’m not sure where he’d rank amongst the all-time greats, like Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings , or any of the other famous poets that I’ve heard of but have never read, but it seems to me like he’s knows what he’s doing.

One of my favorite lines is from a song called “Vertigo.”

         a feeling so much

         stronger than a thought

Often, Bono’s words have a way of pulling me out of myself and opening me up, allowing something to sneak in through the side door and change my perspective.

Recently I was feeling like I was in a bit of a funk. I have been in one of those “glass half empty” modes for the past couple weeks, months, years, decades (who are we kidding?). I have recently come to accept that, unfortunately, this is my default setting. And although I am aware of my blessings (my wife, my kids, my health, my friends & extended family, my business… the list could go on & on) I spend much more time and energy focused on the things that aren’t quite “right” (the recession, finances, my kid’s behavior, my favorite team’s ineptitude, Homeland Season 3…). The list could go on & on.

I know I am blessed, but I don’t really feel it. And as Bono reminds me, a feeling is stronger than a thought.

This is my ongoing struggle: feeling what I know to be true. Because when I feel it, everything changes. Everything is… better.

“Vertigo’s” lyrics were ricocheting around inside my head when I was trying to find something to watch on TV the other night. As chance would have it (or maybe it’s a combination of divine intervention + the rapidly approaching holiday season), an oldie but a goodie was just starting: Love, Actually (a semi-cheesy, romantic comedy from the 90’s starring Hugh Grant and a bunch of other English people). I’d seen this movie when it came out, and a couple of times since, and always thought it was pretty decent: funny, clever, and sweet, with good looking actors and witty writing. What’s not to like?

The movie opens with montage of reunion scenes at Heathrow Airport, with a voice-over from Hugh Grant, one of the main characters:

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.”

Now I don’t want to mix metaphors here (or whatever you call it when you reference a different movie in the middle of your story which happens to be about another movie. Cue final scene of Jerry McGuire) but Hugh Grant had me at: “love, actually, is all around.”

With his opening line, he had me. “Love is all around,” I thought. “It’s everywhere.”

For the next couple hours, I re-watched this movie and found myself in tears for most of it. I’m not exactly sure why, as the movie isn’t particularly sad. I think it’s because I was opened up and I was seeing it from a different vantage point.

Sometimes, I think, the major themes in stories elude me the first time through, probably because I am too wrapped up in the plot and how things are resolved. But this time through, I think I finally picked up what the filmmakers were laying down. This time through, I noticed things I had never noticed before.

The first time I saw this movie, I noticed all of the “typical” love stories that were about romantic love. This time, I noticed all of the other kinds of love that were happening between all sorts of different humans.

There is love between siblings: Sarah, played by Laura Linney, chooses to love her brother, who lives in a mental institution, even though it costs her opportunities to pair up with the good looking dude from her office, and will undoubtedly cost her similar opportunities down the road. But she is committed to him and she prioritizes her decision to love him over her own desires. Ali and I often tell our kids there’s difference between love, the verb, and love, the emotion. The emotion fades in and out, and sometimes love is hard. And in those times when it’s hard, you have to choose it. Sarah chooses it, again and again and again.

  • The first time through, I noticed Sarah’s love for the hot dude from her office. This time through, I noticed her love for her brother.

There is love between a father and his step son: the father (Liam Neeson), whose wife has recently died, notices that his step son is acting strange, so he pulls himself out of his own sadness to try to help the boy. When it turns out that the boy claims to be in love with a girl at school, rather than laughing it off or telling the boy that love will only leave you heartbroken, he decides to help him get the girl. He participates in the love story of the boy, and won’t let him give up.

Near the end of the movie, when the girl is about to get on a plane back to America, he gives him one last push:

“Sam, you’ve got nothin’ to lose, and you’ll always regret it if you don’t! I never told your mom enough. I should have told her every day because she was perfect every day. You’ve seen the films, kiddo. It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The boy replies, with the most flawless line in the entire movie:

“Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

  • The first time through, I noticed the cute story about the boy’s puppy love. This time through, I noticed the father’s love.

There is love between friends: the creepy old singer realizes at the end of the movie that “the love of his life” turns out to be his chubby manager.

“And I realized that, as dire chance and… and… and fateful cockup would have it, here I am, mid-50s, and without knowing it I’ve gone and spent most of my adult life with a… with a chubby employee. And… and much as it grieves me to say it, it… it might be that the people I love is, in fact… you.”

He wasn’t coming out of the closet, he simply realized that it was Christmas, and it occurred to him that you are supposed to be with the people you love on Christmas, and the person he loved most in the world was his manager.

  • The first time through, I noticed the creepy old dude’s love for himself and his career comeback attempt. This time through, I noticed a sweet, older person having a life-altering epiphany.

Of course, there is also romantic love. Between the prime minister and his secretary. Between the sweet young couple that works on the adult movie set. Between the young, single English dude and the Midwestern American girls he meets on vacation. But my favorite love story in the movie is between the writer and the housekeeper.

The writer, played by Colin Firth, is English. When he goes to France to work on his book, he meets a Portuguese housekeeper who comes to clean his cottage every day. They do not speak the same language, and have a tough time communicating. But they slowly begin to fall in love.

It’s easy to see the story on the surface and jump to logical conclusions: boy meets her, girl is young & beautiful, girl is in maid’s costume, girl can’t nag boy because she doesn’t speak English…  therefore boy falls in love with girl.

On the flipside: girl meets boy, girl makes minimum wage as a housekeeper and comes from low-income background, boy is an awkward, lanky nerd, but is also very rich and seems like a nice guy…  therefore girl falls in love with boy.

But underneath the surface, I saw two people who couldn’t rely on words to communicate, so they had to find different ways. So they communicated with eye contact, and with gestures, and with kindnesses, and with their reactions to things that happened (like when the wind blows his entire manuscript into the lake and she jumps in to try to gather up all of the wet, ruined pages).

It occurred to me that their true selves were falling in love with each other, and that if they had been able to speak, the words would have only gotten in the way. Words have a tendency to do that sometimes.

  • The first time through, I noticed a typical “falling-in-love story,” the most typical of them all, where physical attraction kicks in and people are powerless to stop it. This time through, I noticed a pure love story, where two people’s souls were able to fall in love because words weren’t available to screw it up.

By the time the credits started to roll at the end of the movie, I felt different. I was in love. In love with my wife. In love with my kids. In love with my friends, and my family, I was in love with pretty much everybody. And I was feeling it, not just thinking it. And I think I remember hearing somewhere that feelings are stronger than thoughts.

How long will this feeling last? I don’t know, but I assume it will fade, and my default setting will be restored. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this feeling, enjoy that my glass is, not only half full, but overflowing.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m not very cultured. My life lessons are delivered via pop music and cheesy rom-coms. I should have also mentioned that I’m not very smart. I had to see this movie four or five times before the light bulb went on. But at least it finally went on. Love is, actually, all around us. All we have to do is notice it, choose it, participate in it, and be changed by it.

Thank you, Bono. I love you, man!

I’ve just finished reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor and general bad-ass. This isn’t meant to be  a book review. I liked the book – okay, I loved it – but that doesn’t mean you will. She’s a recovering alcoholic and swears like a sailor. In fact, she reminds me a little bit of Anne Lamott (if St. Anne had gone to seminary and taken up Cross-Fit). The only thing more fascinating than Nadia’s 6 foot-tall, tattooed body is her beautiful and gritty theology.

Pastrix3Nadia, like me, like all of us if we admit it, are slow-learners. We might have gotten straight As in school, have college degrees, be able to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle (at least the first half of the week), but when it comes to the really important stuff, like life and death, change, anger, love and just general human challenges, we generally don’t rise to the occasion. Most of us (all of us really, but if you want to keep pretending this doesn’t include you, that’s okay) just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again – whether its going out with the wrong guy, losing our temper, saying ‘yes’ to too many things to make ourselves feel better, or having “just one more drink” when we should have stopped two drinks ago.

Chances are that at one point in our lives, we learned our lesson well; we made the mistake, faced the consequences in an emotionally, physically, or fiscally painful manner, and thought, “I am never going to do that again.”

And we don’t.

For a while.

And then we do.

We let our guards down; we think we’re different people, or that the experience changed us on some cellular level. Sometimes it does, but often as not, when the pain fades away, the old scripts and habits resurface and we are back to where we started – dating the jerk, yelling at our kids, drinking the vodka, or handing over the credit card.

There have been seasons in my life when I have beat myself up over my apparent need to have certain “Life Lessons” repeated ad nauseam. They almost always have to do with how to love someone better (usually my husband, my kids or myself), or how to forgive more quickly and completely (usually my husband, my kids or myself). I seem to be continually enrolled in Love and Forgiveness 101.

Nadia’s book helped me understand that there is no shame in this repetition; it’s part of the human condition, but it’s not completely unavoidable either. We usually have a choice. We can race through life, insisting on learning our lessons the hard way, crashing and burning, leaving us, our loved ones, and even society scarred in the process, or we can watch for the warning signs and make adjustments. (Congress, take note. We’re in a downward spiral here.)

Now Nadia is not one of those crazy, “God directs everything I do” kind of people and neither am I. I do plenty of things that God isn’t directing and in fact, probably isn’t crazy about, but when I remember that I am still a student – that I haven’t, in fact, graduated to perfection just because I’m a grown up – I can be attuned to the lessons I still need to (re)learn. Throughout her memoir, Nadia describes the experience like this:

“God comes and gets us, taps us on the shoulder and says, ‘Pay attention, this is for you.’ Dumb as we are, smart as we are, just as we are.”

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to ignore the tap and miss the lesson. The universe is full of opportunities to learn, but we have to be open to the interruption. Every day, we hear and see things that could remind us who and how we want to be in this world. We encounter stories and people and problems, songs and articles and traffic jams and most of the time, we don’t pay attention to what they might have to teach us. We simply take them at face value, as entertainment, or annoyance. They go in one ear and out the other. They fly across our screens with a flick, or a click of a finger and they are gone, hardly registering. The moment is lost.

I hate that.

I hate that most of the time I’m too preoccupied to pay attention when God says, “This is for you.” Someone in my home loves to sing in the shower and I could share the joy, but instead I think about how much water is wasted.  Listening to Kiko play the ukelele could relax my heart and soul, but instead I fret about the homework that still needs to be done. When Tim stops me for a hug after work, it could remind me that I am loved, but it could also annoy me if I’m in the midst of something else. I wish I weren’t too busy, too anxious, too wrapped up in my own little world to see the very things that could get me to slow me down, so I don’t crash and burn.

But I’m trying. Nadia’s stories have inspired me to stay in the classroom a little longer each day. Whether I’m in Love and Forgiveness 101, Silence and Stillness for Beginners, or Holding Your Tongue for Dummies, I’m trying to take more notes and listen when the teacher say, “Pay attention, this is for you.”