A Valentine’s Day Warning: Don’t Let Corporate America Dictate What Love Is

Happy Vlantim from Egypt – Source unknown

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I have mixed feelings about the day, but there’s one thing I know. It is far too easy to let corporate America dictate what love is to the eager masses. For weeks we have not been able to escape glossy images and advertisements about true love and how it’s best expressed through material things. From jewelry to roses, we are subject to a false understanding of love and relationships.

So here are some basic dos and don’ts about the day.

Some Don’ts

  • Don’t judge your relationships by Hollywood standards.
  • Don’t get swept up in what is purely a profit making machine.
  • Don’t get angry at your partner because they didn’t get the subtle and overt messages of what you wanted for Valentine’s Day.
  • Don’t walk around rejected and dejected because you aren’t in a relationship on a day when everyone is supposed to have somebody
  • Don’t confuse real love and tried and true relationships with the false image that will dominate the day.

Some Dos

  • Celebrate the people you love by letting them know you love them
  • Accept what comes your way with a gracious spirit
  • Realize that a partner washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen is a much more difficult way to say “I love you” than buying a cheap box of chocolates.
  • Let your single friends know that they are whole people and don’t need someone to complete them.
  • Ponder the difference between real love and fairy tale romance
  • Some reading on love and Lent and Ash Wednesday

Most of all, do realize that you are God’s beloved, and nothing in the world will change that. No chocolate, no roses, no candlelight dinners can ever replace knowing that God loves you in the depths of your soul.

Valentine’s Day does a great job at communicating love for one day, but it lacks the impetus or mechanism to help us do the hard work of love. And one thing required for the hard work of love is a repudiation of the very things that keep us from loving well. Ash Wednesday, with its accompanying fast, is that repudiation. – Juliet Vedral

This is 58

It’s my birthday. One week ago I woke up in a foul mood. It was a mood rife with I hate life and life hates me. I hated who i had been; I hated who I was; I hated who I would become. I began to believe my feelings were truth.

Thankfully I have people in my life who won’t allow me to wallow. (Things like “Snap out of it, ya big baby” might have been said by family members.) Sometimes you need empathy and other times you need to “snap out of it, ya big baby!”

So today I’m here to talk about 58.

What is 58?

It’s a massive thank you to a Mom who birthed me, nurtured me, and continues to love and challenge me in ways she will never know.

It’s a Dad whose memory is eternal; who lived life well until the day his body could no longer go on.

It’s four brothers who live around the world; who model tenacity, joy, and faithfulness to me and to their families. It’s four brothers who teased me mercilessly when I was little, and have my back now that I am older.

It’s four sister-in-laws who love well, who have raised amazing children, who continue to wrestle with the big and hard questions of parenting and faith.

It’s nieces and nephews who I would kill for; who are opera singers and nurses; diplomats and day care owners, who make the world a better place for you and me to live in.

It’s a husband who makes me laugh every, single day. A man who can make friends with an inanimate object like a wall and make that wall feel special, not to mention the people he befriends from around the world. A man who tells stories in virtual reality, prays for and loves his children so much it hurts, and will remember the names of refugees long after he has met them. A man who affirms my writing, challenges my faith, and prays with me every night.

58 is four (no five) adult children who are smart, passionate, and gifted. Who meet the challenges of life with stubborn resolve. 58 is the cutest grandson on ever earth who has a waddle toddle and is growing to be his own person.

58 is the dearest friends from here and around the world that a woman could ever hope for – friends who love the world and their families; who are not caught up in what culture says is worthy and instead fight for what is true, good, and right.

58 is cousins who live as far as Moscow and as close as Washington DC; cousins who are also friends.

58 is a creative job with often horrid bureaucracy; fighting for good healthcare for marginalized communities and pressing forward when it’s hard.

It’s colleagues who make me laugh hard, work harder, and allow me to get mad and cry.

58 is a body that sometimes betrays me, but responds pretty well when I treat it properly; it’s 10,000 steps a day because modern medicine allowed for a bionic hip; it’s wrinkles that I can only partially hide; it’s girlfriends laughing together because we never thought we’d have beards or boobs that hang to our knees. (The boobs that is)

58 is curling up on week nights and watching Stranger Things; it is knowing that grilled cheese served in candlelight with the man you’ve been through hell with is really great.

58 is a church community that I never thought possible; it is entering into Divine Liturgy with the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the troubled. It is working out my faith with a community of broken people, all desperately in need of the Eucharist.

It’s realizing that #metoo is no match for who I really am and no man can truly take away what God said is good;

58 is knowing in the depths of your soul that no matter what, you are God’s beloved and no amount of wrinkles, stretch marks, saggy boobs, or dementia will ever, ever take that away.

58 is you reading this and letting me know in a million creative ways that you care.

And 58 is a Mimosa, calls from Family and friends, and celebrating this thing called life — because tomorrow anything could happen.

58 is pure grace.

Also, I made a little video – watch it if you like!

Advent Reflection – To Love is to Hurt

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS Lewis – The Four Loves


It’s early Monday morning and the house is dark and quiet. I wake up slightly anxious with what I know to be a Monday morning dread. I turn our Christmas tree lights on as watchful cats curl up on the couch, nocturnal beasts carefully observing all around them.

It has been a full weekend. Baking, cleaning, readying our home for an annual open house to reconnect with friends from our different worlds; introducing dear friends to Eritrean food; connecting with our younger daughter over delightfully shallow Hallmark Christmas movies.

It all crashed down on me well after I was supposed to be in bed and asleep. Despite the full weekend of connecting, I’m caught in a vice-like grip of worry for those I love. Crashing against a tired body was a tired heart, a heart lost in tears that quickly dried leaving salt on my cheeks, only to come again with more force.

And it came to me again, like it has thousands of times in the past, to love is to hurt. To love my kids is to hurt for their pain, to rage at some of their choices, to delight in their successes, to weep at their tragedies. To love my adopted country means to weep that terrorists attacked a church, killing and wounding the innocent. To love my dad means to hurt that he is gone. To love my friends means to share in their trouble, to laugh in their joy. To love means to get tired from caring, to feel weary from listening. To love is to hurt.

During my childhood, I often heard about the disease called leprosy or Hansen’s Disease. This disease is not well-known, but growing up in Pakistan, I knew that there were places called leper colonies – places to quarantine those with leprosy. The disease carried a huge stigma and much was unknown about both causes and treatment of leprosy. The main thing I knew about leprosy was that the nerves were damaged and affected people’s ability to feel pain. Since they couldn’t feel pain, they would end up with sores and burns on their bodies, particularly their feet and hands.

Even as a little girl, through knowing about leprosy, I knew that pain was a good thing. Pain was a signal that the body’s nerves were working. 

I think about this as I think about the pain that I feel when those I love hurt. I think about the pain that God feels when his creation suffers and hurts.

Despite the tears, despite the inability to ‘fix’ things, despite the paralysis that often comes with these feelings, I will pick the pain of love every time, because I know the numb apathy of an ice-cold heart and ultimately that is far more damaging. This pain I feel is proof that my heart is alive, alive with God-given feeling; proof that my life is full, full of people and places that I love.

This pain is proof that I desperately need God. God, who reaches through pain and worry with a promise of redemption. God, who takes sleepless nights with tears and turns them into joy in the morning.

This pain is proof that I need Advent, I need the coming. I need the incarnation. I need to know that God became man to walk where we walked, to know our pain, to comfort us in the dark of night and in the light of day.

I need to know that my tears are heard, my heart is known, my pain is valued. 

On Friday, I read this from Ann Voskamp, and on this Monday morning when reality bites a little harder than it did yesterday, I leave it with you:


“You are not forgotten. You are not abandoned. You are not alone. 

Because he says to everyone with their unspoken broken: Come. 

He says to the unlikely: Beloved

He says to the weary: Rest

In a brokenhearted and beautiful world, His grace is the only pillowed relief for the tired soul to rest in this season — making all broken things into resurrected things.”Ann Voskamp

I Like Family – Family is my Favorite

In a faded, old photo album I read the words “Family makes you feel whole and strong – vibrant and needed.” The words are typed on an ancient typewriter, long gone in our travels and moves from house to house and country to country. The pictures that surround the words have lost their color and appear true vintage with no filter.

I typed those words when we were living in Islamabad, Pakistan – miles from blood relatives. I wanted to create something special for my husband, a photo album of our family at the time. We were young and had a boy and a girl. We were all quite perfect in those days. Pretty and fresh-faced, without the weathering that life brings with its hard fights and its days of no return.

The truth is that in this age where family often loses its meaning, I like family. Family is my favorite. I more than like family – I love family.


We have just returned to Cambridge from a family wedding. My niece, Allison, married Paul. Paul comes from a large Italian family and I instantly loved his mom, Patty, and his Aunt Joan. They are women I would go to war with – or at least gossip with at a family wedding.

The wedding took place outside in a rustic setting, on the shoreline of Irondequoit Bay.  Chairs were set up outside beside a small dock, while the dinner was set to be served at the waterfront lodge, with stunning views of the Bay. A sudden, and violent summer storm had all of us scrambling and rearranging the ceremony venue to take place in the lodge. It was a picture of a family willing to go with whatever happened, determined that marriage would win over weather every time. A more brilliant metaphor for marriage is not possible and I know in my gut that these two will make it.

My niece was dressed in classic vintage – lace, a netted veil, and stunningly beautiful. She walked down the unexpected indoor aisle, and the ceremony began.

Who gives this woman? 

‘Solemn vows that none of us can possibly keep without the grace and mercy of God.

Readings from the Songs of Solomon and Wendell Berry.

Rings exchanged.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The sacramental pronouncement of a union authored by God, ordained by God, kept only by God’s goodness. 

You may kiss the bride. 

And then wild cheers and the song “Will the Circle, be unbroken, by and by Lord, by and by?”

A celebration followed where there wasn’t enough time to talk to everyone that we wanted to; where we enjoyed great food and amazing company; where family gathered, at one with each other and the spirit of the day. Even a nest of bright, blue robin’s eggs joined in the celebration. Not a sacrament, but a symbol of our God’s love of beauty and life.

In a world that is fearful and cynical, a world where marriage is discarded for something far easier and less permanent, a world where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have little to do with daily life, I once again bear witness to a family willing to live counter-culture. I once again witness the proclamation of the truth of marriage, once again hear vows that are humanly impossible being promised. 

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us and we are ushered into something even better then the best marriage possible.

I fell into bed that night in happy exhaustion.

Because I love weddings and the families that go with them. Because family does make me feel whole and strong, vibrant and needed.

So, Yes – I like family. Family is my favorite. 

Beloved

Due to a WordPress error – the date of this is wrong. It is actually Monday, December 5.

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A light snow is falling as I exit the subway. It’s so beautiful. I stop for a moment and watch the flakes. They are all different, I’m told. Not one the same – each one a beautiful reflection of the Designer’s creativity. Just one more sign of a Creator’s love.

*****

I work with a diverse group of people. One of my colleagues, an African-American woman has become a friend and unknowingly, an educator. Every time we have a conversation I walk away challenged in the best possible way. My friend helps me understand a different perspective – a perspective based on the color of skin and therefore, a life experience that I do not share.She challenges me without even knowing she is doing so.

Last week, we were sitting together at a meeting. As I looked over at her, I noticed that just below the hairline on her neck was a small, delicate tattoo. The tattoo was one word – the word beloved. On the way back to our office I asked her about the tattoo. She smiled and said “It’s just to remind myself of who I really am.” When people want to dismiss her, when they want to deny her humanity, and not allow her a voice, she still knows at her core that she is beloved. When the headlines tell a story of prejudice and discrimination, my friend remembers she is beloved. She knows who she is, and no one can take that away from her.

Beloved – that beautiful word that tells us we are cherished, treasured, owned by love.

Amid the crazy that has become Christmas in the Western world, there is a story that calls us into calm, that calls us into adoration and worship. It’s a story that has lasted centuries, a story that won’t die. The heart of the story is a small baby come into the world – God become man. The soul of the story is a conquering of death – but that story comes years later. The heart of the story is a God who so loved us that he chose to walk among us, chose to confine himself to place and time, to experience the joys and struggles of a life trapped inside a human body. He, who was and is eternity, restricted to impermanence and transience.

He did this to show us how much he loved us, to call us his beloved ones.

It is branded on my friend’s skin permanently; may it be branded on our hearts eternally.

*****

The snow is still falling on a city that is both beautiful and broken. I sigh and move forward, resolute and ready to live as a beloved one.

“The engaged mind, illuminated by truth, awakens awareness; the engaged heart, affected by love, awakens passion. May I say once more – this essential energy of the soul is not an ecstatic trance, high emotion or a sanguine stance toward life: It is a fierce longing for God, an unyielding resolve to live in and out of our belovedness.” ― Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging 

 

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

We Had a Prayer Meeting

On Wednesday evening we had a prayer meeting. Our church isn’t big on prayer meetings. Prayer, yes. Prayer meetings, not so much. They happen very rarely. And this was no ordinary prayer meeting. The leadership of the church called us together to pray for racial reconciliation. The announcement read like this: “In light of the racial unrest of this summer, please gather with our elders on Wednesday, August 31st at 7 p.m. to pray for racial reconciliation in the Church and in the world.”

True to my nature I was in the foyer of the church visiting with a friend and arrived in the sanctuary just as things were about to start. Lowell guided us to a circle across the room, close to the front, where we knew one single mom of young black sons. He wanted us to pray with her. The circle also included other friends we’ve known for a long time and two young black women we had never met. We quickly introduced ourselves, shook hands and sat down as our pastor stood to welcome people and begin the prayer meeting.

The format was pretty straightforward. We sang a song or two, Pastor Steve shared some scripture and some thoughts, suggested prayer requests were projected on the screen, and then we prayed in small groups around the room.

It would have been better had I had a chance to chat with the young black women before we started. It would have been much easier to pray about such weighty emotionally charged issues, issues that are far from black and white, had we known everyone in our small group. As it was I felt so uncomfortable and so awkward. Who were these women? What was the condition of their hearts on this topic? Were they students at K-state? Were they from Manhattan? Were they from places torn apart by fear, prejudice and violence? What were their stories? Who were they?

I joined in the prayer, praying haltingly, hesitantly, tiptoeing around the deeper places, always aware of the place in my stomach that felt so very uncomfortable. I wanted to leave the room. I wanted to find some excuse and leave the room. The discomfort and dis-ease I felt in the pit of my stomach were poignant. It didn’t help that the two black women for reasons unknown to me (were they shy? did they know anyone in the circle? were they feeling as uncomfortable as I was?) didn’t pray out loud.

Midway through the evening, Pastor Steve invited Dr. Kimmery Newsom to the front to share before launching the next round of requests and prayers. Dr. Newsom is my personal friend. A strong black woman with unbelievable drive and determination, she’s a professor at Kansas State University and knew most of the people at the meeting. Her quick wit and expressive face diffused the dynamic with laughter. You could feel the room exhale and relax.

Kimmery greeted the elephant in the room. “Many of you are probably feeling uncomfortable. And that’s ok.” She read scriptures about love: the love of God and the love we are called to. “They will know we are Christians by our love,” she quoted. And then she ended matter of factly with this, “This isn’t a race issue, it’s a sin issue.” When you’re told to love, not loving is a sin. It’s that simple.

Love compels us to join a circle that includes people we don’t know. Love is willing to feel uncomfortable. Love sits with the discomfort in the belly, admits it, attends to it, but chooses to stay in the room. Love holds steady. Love takes a risk. Love is willing to step into the places that feel uncertain, awkward, and vulnerable for the great cause of unity and reconciliation.We are called to love. In this way we participate in the healing of our country, our community and of our own soul’s core.

The prayer meeting finally came to an end. My distress did not destroy me. I was not undone. As soon as the final amen had been said I turned to the tall young woman sitting to my right and enquired after her. My inner disquiet was silenced and we chatted freely. The holy work of prayer still encircled us, giving space for true communion graced with love.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:7).

Yeah, so we had a prayer meeting.