A Word about Kindness

flowers with quote

A word about Kindness by Robynn 

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. It’s not a day I really grew up celebrating. I have vague memories of exchanging Valentine’s Day cards with classmates when I was especially young, before we ever left for Pakistan, when I was eight. Hallmark’s reach didn’t quite extend to Pakistan in those days. Boarding school wasn’t in session, consequently our classmates were scattered the length and width of Pakistan. Perhaps mom and dad gave us cards and candy? Perhaps my brother and I made cards for each other? If so, I have no memory of it.

After Lowell and I got married we settled in South Asia where Valentine’s Day hadn’t quite caught on. A few years into our marriage card making companies discovered a large untapped market. Love and affection on card stock was suddenly available at every Archie’s store in every city or town. By the time the cards were available and the promotion of such sentiment was normal, Lowell and I had already established our Valentine’s Day routines, which are simple and basic, and flies in the face of the norm.

Lowell and I exchange cards. We don’t get candy for each other. Only rarely have we gone for flowers on this day—and that only in India, where flowers were readily available and inexpensive. We don’t purchase elaborate gifts: no jewelry, no tvs, no cars (I’ve seen each of these advertised, ‘in the name of love’).

Usually first thing in the morning, we greet each other with a tender kiss, we declare our love for each other. Those routines happen every morning. On Valentine’s Day we give each other cards. We read them in front of each other. We hug and we remind each other of the affection we have for each other and we thank each other for the card.

When we first came back to North America, nearly eight years ago now, Valentine’s Day was a tremendous surprise! I had no idea it was such a big deal! I was taken aback by the advertising, the hearts hanging in every store, the excuse it became to sell computers and couches, dishwashers and necklaces. I was enormously cynical that first year. The second time February 14th, came by, my response had shifted, ever so slightly. I was still negative and full of mockery, but a little teeny tiny part of me now had expectations. It really might be nice to get flowers. As soon as the thought bloomed in my mind, I immediately and sincerely rolled my eyes at myself. Good grief! Flowers are expensive and even more so on February 14th. How ridiculous! Year three came and with it a tangible yearning for some attention, some visible sign of affection…perhaps a ring? Or dinner out? Or flowers and a ring? The sarcastic scoffer Robynn took long minutes to show up, and when she came she was pouting a little.  Our fourth Valentine’s Day we had our sweet morning moment, as we had done every year since our marriage in 1994, and then we fought and I cried. My want outweighed my reason. I had been converted by advertisers and culture. I had been ruined. 

At some deep level I had been convinced that the February 14th mattered more than Feb 11th or 27th, or July 18 or October 22nd. I had been duped.

What I didn’t remember on that horrible morning, February 14th, 2011, was that I am married to a perpetually perennially kind man. He doesn’t wake up in the morning on Valentine’s Day and feign affection for me. He truly loves me. And he shows it all year long.

When we first got married Lowell asked me what my worst chore was. Without hesitating I said I hated making the bed. He told me from now on he’d make the bed. And he’s made the bed every single morning since. Seven thousand, five hundred and fifty three days later and he’s still making the bed. Lowell makes me coffee or tea when I need it, or just because he knows I’d appreciate it. Hundreds of times he’s suggested going out for a cup of coffee, because he knows that I know that means an uninterrupted conversation and conversation is what connects my heart to him, it’s what keeps our marriage open and honest, it’s what keeps our hearts close.

Lowell hasn’t checked out. In the chaos of parenting three teenagers, he remains present to his children. He engages them. He enters their world. As their mother, that means the world to me.  It’s true with me too. He is curious about how I’m doing. Every day he asks me how I am and he waits to hear the answer. Three or four times a week we have deep conversations of significance.

This year with Valentine’s Day looming large I offer you kindness. Our world would be radically different if people were kind to one another. Children would thrive in a kind environment. Employees would work harder, I suspect, if employers were kind.

Marriage seems a good place to start. Because as odd as it may sound, I think kindness tends to wane in a lot of marriages. Daily kindness is hard work. It’s intentional and it takes effort. It requires seeing the little things, it requires action. And we get tired. Husbands work hard. Wives work hard. Routines become ruts and we follow in them rigorously. We remember each other, but we forget to be kind.

On the morning last April of that day that my father-in-law was suddenly killed in a tractor accident, he showed sweet kindness to his bride of nearly 58 years. He cut some of the flowers from her garden and brought them inside for his wife who wasn’t doing too well. He filled a green glass with water and he stuck the flowers in the water. He placed the bouquet in front of her on the coffee table and said, “I thought you might like to see these.” A little earlier in the week, my mother in law asked him what he would do if he had a day off from caring for her. Would he go to coffee with some of his buddies? Would he go into town? What would he do? He said he’d just go up into the woods to cut firewood. He loved the outdoors. He loved the quiet. He loved those woods. And on that day, last April, after bringing her flowers, after making sure she took her three o’clock pills, she kindly suggested to him that he go cut fire wood. She would be fine.

He never returned.

Unknowingly, they said goodbye to each other with acts of tender kindness.

His youngest son, found his body pinned under the tractor, that was pulling a trailer too heavy with all the firewood he had cut. The trailer pushed into the tractor on a down hill slope and the tractor flipped and slammed Larry’s body into the earth he loved. He died suddenly, enjoying the afternoon he’d been given.

The flowers stayed on the coffee table for over a week. They wilted and drooped and dropped their blossoms before any of us dared to throw them away. They were his last words to his wife. They were the kind gift of a long love.

By all means, if celebrating Valentine’s Day is part of your kind habit towards your partner, then certainly, celebrate it with joy! But I give you this: the year is long and often difficult and Valentine’s Day comes only once. Learn to love well, intentionally with gentleness and large doses of kindness spread throughout the whole year.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness… (Col 3: 12-15 The Message)

Picture credit: http://pixabay.com/en/porcelain-vase-vase-bouquet-deco-402200/ Word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Series on Suffering #10 – Kindness

Robynn continues the series on suffering today with a look at kindness.

kindness I’m wondering if suffering gives us a taste for kindness? In suffering you are stripped bare of all your own resources. There’s a desperation of spirit that settles in, a profound loneliness, a longing for empathetic companionship, a desire for kindness. In some ways we fail to recognize true kindness until we’ve tasted sorrow and despair. Kindness, like generosity and joy, are taken for granted until we’ve known heart-aching suffering.

A faraway friend, who has tracked this series on suffering, sent me this poem a few weeks ago. It has been simmering in my soul ever since. The poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, is certainly a woman who has lived between worlds. Raised by a Palestinian father and an American mother, she spent parts of her life here in the US and parts of her life in the Arab world. She understands the complexities of living with a scattered soul and her writing reflects that.

Nye once said, “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…”

She has seen up close, “how desolate the landscape can be.” Nye knows suffering and sorrow. She knows the agonies of loving two places at once –and the horrors of knowing those two places misunderstand one another. After the Twin Towers attack in New York City in 2001, Naomi Nye contributed some of her most meaningful work in an effort to bridge the divide between Americans and Arabs.

Today I give you her poem, Kindness. Originally written in 1995, it resurfaced with powerful meaning after 9/11. Violence in the world opens our communal longings to questions we might not have asked before. We find ourselves begging for meaning. Personal suffering does the same thing, on a smaller scale, perhaps, for the universe, but in a much more demanding way for the individual soul.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye


Read more about Naomi Shihab Nye here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/naomi-shihab-nye

Farewell and Be Kind!

When I’m looking for it I see grace everywhere. Last week through a photograph  posted by a niece I was given the glorious grace of a challenge to be kind. It was a good week to be reminded that people and relationships are far more valuable than ideologies and ideas. As we end out this week in a world that can often feel short on kindness, may you carry this picture with you!

courtesy of lovely Ruth Anne Burke

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle~ John Watson

God of the Details

After a freak early snow storm that caused enormous damage in parts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we are back to enjoying spring-like, balmy weather. It was in this weather, walking along brick pavement and watching a squirrel toy with an acorn and a leaf, that I was overcome with the God of the details.

Maybe it’s because I have traveled and moved so much, maybe it’s because my life has been anything but predictable, but all these details add up to a miraculous expression of love and grace.

The reimbursement check right when you thought you wouldn’t have enough money to pay the electric bill.

Creation – from the tiniest bud to the largest Red Wood tree – full of details that matter.

A visa, giving you permission to enter a country, minutes before you were to board a plane.

The free ticket to the United States when you were so homesick you thought you couldn’t bear it.

The unexpected message from an acquaintance saying she had a job for you when you had given up getting a job you wanted.

The phone call with news that you got the job on the day your unemployment benefits were to run out.

There are so many deeper things that can’t be shared for fear they’ll lose their mystery and power. I think of Mary, mother of Jesus, who “pondered all these things in her heart”. She pondered all the details. The words spoken and the little things that happened as she raised the Son of the Living God. God of the details.

In the book of Genesis there is a story of Abraham’s servant. Abraham has begged his servant to not let his beloved son Isaac marry a woman from the area. Abraham feels so strongly about this that he has his servant swear by the “Lord, the God of Heaven and of Earth”.  He asks his servant to go back to his people and his country to find a wife.

So.as a servant who loves his employer, the servant heads off. What a monumental task! A future is resting on his shoulders and a family is counting on him. The servant utters a specific prayer that basically says “If I say to a girl ‘please give me a drink’ and she says ‘here’s a drink for you and let me water your camels as well!’ then she’s the one for Isaac. He ends the prayer by saying “By this I will know that you have show kindness to my master.”

And the God of the details does just that. Exactly as the servant prayed, no more, no less.

How has God been God of the details in your life? How has he shown his kindness to you through the details? Join in through the comment section.