Give yourself.

give

How deeply can we say Yes to life, to each other, to our common good? It’s easy to hold back, to give our money but not our hearts, to temper our enthusiasm, to stay aloof, to protect ourselves from being hurt. But is that why we’re here? To stay safe? When we give of ourselves, we listen with our whole hearts, we reach out to others, we spread joy. And our ability to do those things does not run out. Love expands when it is shared.

Love is…

ownway

In his letter to the early church at Corinth, Paul sets out how love shows up in the world in his effort to help them get along. It is a frequent text for weddings:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.

To those about to marry, an interesting exercise is to substitute the name of your beloved each time the word ‘Love’ appears. And an even more interesting exercise, for all of us, is to substitute our own names instead of the word ‘love’:

I am patient and kind; I do not envy or boast; I am not arrogant or rude. I do not insist on my own way; I am not irritable or resentful….

How did you do? For many of us, this simple recitation shows us the exact ways and times we are being less than loving and calls us to consider those actions. Must we insist on our own way? How do we know what is right? Isn’t it possible that someone else may be right, too? Are we becoming impatient with others? Can we take a minute to rein ourselves in, breathe deeply, and begin again? Are we holding grudges? Can we let the past go and try to make our present the best possible? And so on.

These checks we can do to measure our progress and monitor our moods against the ideal of love can be very helpful to keep us on track showing up in this world as close to lovingly as we can get.

 

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Carrot, stick, or something better?

playforher

Falling in love is one of the most powerful things we will ever do. It’s all consuming. We lose our boundaries and dive deep into exploration, spending hours learning about this “other”–person, sport, activity, place, hobby, whatever it may be. As time goes on, maybe we put our boundaries back up, or take things for granted, or revel in our own accomplishments or prowess. If so, remember back to when everything was new and startling. Remember back to when that love was young. How did it feel to drop your boundaries and protections and artifices and fall into the astonishment of discovering an all-consuming joy. That child lives in you still. Fall in love anew.

An unfailing love.

 

home

How many kids these days are seen by their parents as just another way to show off? Look at my honor student, or my beauty, or my accomplished someone. It’s a way of vicarious puffing–if my kid is so smart, beautiful, wonderful, popular, surely the parent must be, too. But that’s not love; it’s pride. Love loves without having to be earned. It is steady and true. The parent who truly loves their child delights in their essence, in their idiosyncrasies, in all the ways they are their own person. That kind of love sustains a child and lets them lay down the shackles of constant performance anxiety and welcomes them home.

Consider Thomas Edison. We think of him as one of our most brilliant inventors, a shining star. Would it surprise you to know his teachers gave up on him and sent him home to be educated by his mother? She, needless to say, did not give up on him but helped him thrive. We all could use a love like that!

Your love canvas.

artistic

The artist creates something from nothing.  Being artistic requires a commitment to keep working, to keep seeing with fresh eyes, to keep trying. Each individual creation may or may not be beautiful, but the artist keeps creating, for it is how they express their love.

Love creates something from nothing. Where once there were strangers, now people are joined by an invisible bond that has substance if not weight. Maintaining that love requires constant effort. Like the artist, the lovers keep creating, keep striving for something more perfect, keep expressing their love.

Both art and love are expressed in the doing.

Life’s a schoolroom.

schoolroomJust when we think we get what life is all about, something comes along to knock us upside the head and show us we have it wrong. It forces us to reevaluate our foundational assumptions about the purpose of life and look at things in a whole new way. It’s a paradigm shift.

Stephen Covey tells of a paradigm shift he experienced:

“I remember a mini-Paradigm Shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly — some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

“The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

“It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

“The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’

“Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.

“Many people experience a similar fundamental shift in thinking when they face a life-threatening crisis and suddenly see their priorities in a different light, or when they suddenly step into a new role, such as that of husband or wife, parent or grandparent, manager or leader.

“It becomes obvious that if we want to make relatively minor changes in our lives, we can perhaps appropriately focus on our attitudes and behaviors. But if we want to make significant, quantum change, we need to work on our basic paradigms.

“In the words of Thoreau, ‘For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.’ We can only achieve quantum improvements in our lives as we quit hacking at the leaves of attitude and behavior and get to work on the root, the paradigms from which our attitudes and behaviors flow.”

(from Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)

Or consider the paradigm shift that Ebenezer Scrooge’s partner, now a ghost, Jacob Marley, recounts to him before the visit of the three Christmas ghosts in Christmas Carol. Both Scrooge and Marley thought they had life figured out–it was all about business and making money, the more the better. But Marley has had a paradigm shift since dying:

“‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.’ “

Get ready to get hit upside the head, metaphorically speaking. It may be time for a paradigm shift.

Love is.

thinlove

“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t no love at all.” –Toni Morrison

Thin love says, “I love you if…” There are as many ways to fill in that blank as there are relationships. Thin love is conditional love, love that shows up only when its own needs are met first. Thin love is love that doesn’t show up at all when things get tough. Thin love puts itself first and is never sacrificial.

Love is bigger than that. It shows up whether you’re in prison or the boardroom, whether you’re top of the class or getting expelled, whether you are sick or well. Love gives wholly of itself and never runs dry.

Love is.

Celebrate love.

hidingplace

Love rejoices in the idiosyncrasies of another. Love says, “Look at this! Isn’t it amazing?” Love is curious and exhilarated, bold and exuberant. Love delights and comforts and feels safe. Love makes you better– more whole– and fills you with warmth.

In celebration of love–all kinds of love–here is a beautiful poem:

Bird Understander
by Craig Arnold
Of many reasons I love you here is one
the way you write me from the gate at the airport
so I can tell you everything will be alright
so you can tell me there is a bird
trapped in the terminal      all the people
ignoring it       because they do not know
what to do with it       except to leave it alone
until it scares itself to death
it makes you terribly terribly sad
You wish you could take the bird outside
and set it free or       (failing that)
call a bird-understander
to come help the bird
All you can do is notice the bird
and feel for the bird       and write
to tell me how language feels
impossibly useless
but you are wrong
You are a bird-understander
better than I could ever be
who make so many noises
and call them song
These are your own words
your way of noticing
and saying plainly
of not turning away
from hurt
you have offered them
to me       I am only
giving them back
if only I could show you
how very useless
they are not

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And always one more time.

mayalove

It takes courage to love, doesn’t it? Particularly after we’ve been hurt and know how vulnerable we can be. How much safer it would be to protect ourselves from being completely known, from loving wholeheartedly, from reaching out to others. But living behind a facade is a recipe for loneliness. Walling others out also walls us in. Going it alone directly contradicts the foundational truth that we are all interconnected whether we choose to be or not.

Love is the great adventure. It is the answer to the what, how, and why we are here. So have the courage to trust love one more time…and always one more time.

Consider the hummingbird

hummingdoyle

In his essay, Joyas Volardores, Brian Doyle begins with a very close look at a hummingbird, a creature whose heart makes up a good bit of its tiny body. They are remarkable creatures. We, too, are creatures whose hearts makes up a good bit of us, and Doyle ends his essay with a look at how our hearts, no matter how we protect ourselves and wall them off, are imminently fragile, with facades that can be shattered in an instant.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

Today, consider the hummingbird. Let it fill us with wonder and appreciation for all of creation, but especially our own hearts, and let it remind us of how tender and fragile each of is really, truth be told.