Dear Dorothy – A Letter to my Mother-in-Law

Tomorrow I will board a plane and travel to Florida for my mother-in-law’s funeral. Since we found out last week, I have been thinking about death – how final it is, how permanent it seems, and how unreal it is until you are actually back in a place where the person lived.

I read these words in an article on grief:

“Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do.”*

They are true words in an otherwise mediocre article.

Memories have resurfaced – some that make me laugh out loud. My mother-in-law was a force of nature. It’s impossible to compress a life into a blog post, and I won’t try, but I want to share some memories of this force who was Dorothy. Thank you for reading.

*****

Dear Dorothy,

On a hot July Saturday in 1983, I received my first phone call from you. I had begun dating your son in February, but he headed off to the Middle East on a study trip in May. It would be a long summer for me; an exciting one for him.

So on that July day, your phone call was welcome. You introduced yourself to me as “Clifford’s mom” and I remember voicing surprise at your southern accent.

“Well, what did you expect” you retorted! “That I would talk like a Yankee.” And that was my introduction to your quick wit and comebacks, something you passed on in no small way to your sons.

In late summer, after Cliff returned from the Middle East, we took a trip to Florida to meet the family. We arrived on a gorgeous day and went straight to dinner at a restaurant.

I was nervous until you looked at me and said:

“The service has been terrible at this restaurant the last 12 times we’ve come.”

“Then why do you keep coming back?” I said. It was the perfect opener to help me relax.

Later that week, as I came into the kitchen ready to head out for a trip to Disney World, your eyes took in my outfit from head to toe, and you said “Well Cliff’s safe with you. No truck driver is ever going to pick you up in those pants!” Cliff looked at me and confirmed your opinion. No one had ever told me how bad I looked in them. Thank God I found out sooner rather than later.

Through the years, you amazed me with your artistic and creative ability. Whether it was China painting or sewing, you knew how to do it. My children wore sweatsuits with embossed designs, drank tea out of tiny china cups that you had exquisitely painted, even admired china cremation urns that you were making for a funeral home.

There are two memories that still come to mind after all these years. The first was a time when your youngest son, Greg, and your husband, Richard were sitting in the family room discussing the weight of football players. I could hear them from the kitchen.

“Did you see the weight on that guy? Wow! 240 pounds! How about that other player? He’s 300 pounds!” And on went the discussion by two men who didn’t have one extra pound on their bodies.

Suddenly I heard you come up behind me. You were laughing so hard you could barely speak. You finally stopped long enough to whisper in my ear “Did you hear them talking about weight? Thank God they don’t know what I weigh!”  I joined you in laughing. Both of us had a struggle with weight that wasn’t easily managed, and having two thin men discuss body weight just added insult to what was already difficult. But laughter was something you did well, even when it was at your own expense.

The second memory makes me smile hard. Again, I was in the kitchen and Cliff and the kids were resting somewhere in the house. It was early afternoon, and you had gone out to do some errands. I heard the living room door open, and then heard a “Psst.” You repeated it. I went to the opening between the kitchen and living room area, and there you were with two beautiful boxes.  You slowly opened them. In each box was the most delectable fruit tart that I have ever seen. The perfectly fluted crust was piled high with cream, then fruit, then more cream. They were magnificent.

As I surveyed them with shining eyes, I realized that there were only two of them.

“Shall I call Cliff?” I asked, thinking that you had bought one for him.

“NO!” you retorted! “This is for you and me! I didn’t even buy one for my son!”

We sat at the kitchen table, like two naughty little girls, savoring a stolen treat. We laughed and whispered, eating every single mouthful and then wiping the cream off of our upper lips. It was heaven.

Something about that moment has stayed with me all these years. Any mother and daughter-in-law combination has its challenges, and ours was no exception. There were times when I fought hard and you fought back. But the shared treat of that moment was a communion of understanding — understanding that sometimes moms need to forget the needs of the rest of the family and eat rich and creamy fruit pastries.  Perhaps also, understanding that sometimes the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship needs those occasional moments away from the rest of the family to forge a bond.

Your life was not all easy, and there were times when I saw glimpses of that.  By the time you were in your early twenties, you had four active boys and were raising them all over the country followed by the world. You knew what it was to pack up and move multiple times, say a million goodbyes, and leave places you would never see again. Yet you made sure that those kids were able to see every sight possible during those four years in Europe. I imagine these last few years with increasing health problems, a husband who is struggling with his own health, and a scattered family were some of the hardest. But every day, you got up, and sometimes that’s all any of us can do.

And now you’re gone. It’s not real to me yet – it won’t be until I see Richard alone at the funeral. Your quick answers won’t be a part of this weekend’s gathering. You won’t be chiming in with opinions and laughter. But you will be there, because we will be celebrating you and your life. We will be celebrating the creativity, laughter, quick quips, tenacity, and personality that were uniquely yours.

I hope I will get to eat a creamy, fruit tart and as I do, lift my eyes to Heaven and thank you.  I love you and I look forward to the day when I see you again in another time and another place. Perhaps you are already saving a fruit tart for me.

*Time Magazine, 4.24.17

Loving People Well – Djibouti Jones

Readers, I’m sending you over to Djibouti Jones this morning. She has written a beautiful “post U.S. Election” piece called Loving People Well.

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Here is a just a taste of her beautiful piece:

What does it look like to love well? Listen to broken hearts, serve the needy, give up my tendency toward greed so that my neighbor can be clothed, welcome a stranger who needs someplace to sleep, bandage wounds, take financial and physical risks. I mean these things literally. Placing bunches of bananas near the head of a sleeping homeless man so he can wake to a feast. Giving a woman who just had a miscarriage money for the hospital. Or for drugs, how can I know? I can only know that she has no roof over her head and I have money in my wallet. Risking so much to start a school so there can be jobs and education and community. Caring for my family with zeal and creativity…

You can read the rest here.

I’d love to have you respond to this question in the comments – What does it look like for you to love well?  I would encourage you to be specific. That way we can all learn more tangible, concrete ways to love well.

After the Election:How to Build a Bridge

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At 2am I received a message from a Turkish friend living in Istanbul.

She wished me luck with the election. “I hope it will go well for you” she said.

I was deeply touched. Global friendships are a gift that God has given me and I am grateful. Right after I heard from Elif I went to bed. It was over. The United States had elected a new president.

The first thing I did when I got up today was to write some email notes to my Muslim friends. I didn’t talk about the election — I just said that I was grateful that they were in my life, I was thankful for what I learn from them. I told them that I needed them.

Then I got to work on a Muslim Women’s Health Project. This is a project that I have been working on since January and it has been one of the highlights of my career. It was a balm to my heart to be able to do work I love with people whom I love.

It was also a reminder to me that my job is to build bridges. 

In an old book titled Observations on the Re-building of London Bridge by John Seaward, he says this:

It is generally acknowledged that the construction of a commodious bridge over a wide, impetuous river is one of the noblest efforts of human genius. In no country that has made any advances in civilization has the art of bridge-building been neglected. On the contrary, it has everywhere been esteemed for its great utility and has engaged the attentive care of enlightened men.

I want to focus on these words:

In no country that has made any advances in civilization has the art of bridge-building been neglected. 

I’m struck by how much this applies to work of non-physical bridge-building and the hard work that is needed to move forward. How wise we would be to pay attention to these words!

In light of Election 2016, “bridge-building” is no longer just a nice idea. If we have any hope of moving forward, bridges need to be built. We cannot ignore the art and the process. It is our only way forward.

“Bridge is not a construction but it is a concept, the concept of crossing over large spans of land or huge masses of water, and to connect two far-off points, eventually reducing the distance between them.”*

There is an art to building bridges.

I am not an engineer, but I do know how to look things up on google. And there are a few things about physical bridges that can be used when we think about bridge-building in our communities.

Know what you want your bridge to accomplish. Understand why it is important to build a bridge. Maybe it’s easy to understand, maybe it’s about making a community stronger, or offering health care services. But maybe it’s more difficult to know what you want to accomplish. Be able to say in clear language why you think bridge-building is so critical in our world.

Phrases to use: “I’d like to understand” “How can I help you understand why this is important?”

Understand the ‘load point’. The load point is the area on a bridge that needs to be able to sustain the most stress. This is critical. What are the areas where you see the biggest gap or divide in thinking? Those will take the most work, so start with the easier pieces. Perhaps the easy points are around food and kids — focus on the commonalities and then move into the harder things.

Phrases to use: “Tell me more.” “What do you think?” “How else can I help?”

Gather the materials – or the right people. Everyone doesn’t know how to build bridges, but gathering the right people gives credibility and strength to your bridge.

Phrases to use: “Can you help?” “Thank you for being a part of this.” “Thank you for going out of your comfort zone.”

Build the bridge step by step, activity by activity, conversation by conversation. Bridge-building doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of people died building the Golden Gate Bridge until the bridge builders put a safety net under it. Be willing to be patient. Rejoice in small victories and progress that seems slow.

Phrases to use: “I want to learn.” I want to understand.” “I trust you.” “I’ve got your back, I’ll stick up for you.”

Evaluate and learn. Test your bridge, and if it breaks look at why and how. Ask questions, and humbly admit what you don’t know. Keep on building and learning and growing. An Arab proverb says this: “Those who would build bridges, must be willing to be walked on.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that proverb.

Phrases to use: “What else might work?” “What have we not thought of?” “How can we do it better?”

And now I speak to fellow Christians.  Whether you are Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, or Miscellaneous – you are called to build bridges. Because this I know, and I know it well: We know the ultimate Bridge-designer who bridged heaven and earth so that we could find our way. So we are called to build bridges and tear down walls. We are called to be gracious and give graceThere is no other way. 

“Strive always to love those who hate you. Never forget that we aren’t dealing with a fog-like ‘movement’ but with real three-dimensional persons, whom God loves just as much as he loves you. Christ saves only sinners—people like you. So be courageous, but always loving, for the battle is not won or lost on the public stage but inside the yearning heart of every person.”            Frederica Matthewes-Green

*The History of Bridges

It Takes a Long Time to Grow an Old Friend

Friends – I am in Cairo, Egypt on a speaking trip. It is a gift to be here in a place that has meant so much to me through the years. Though things have changed, there is a sweet familiarity all around me. It is in the palm trees and dusty roads; in the call to prayer and the easy smiles on faces. I will be writing more about where I am and what I’m doing when I return, but I wanted to post this piece that I wrote last week. I wrote it as I was thinking about my dear friend Karen, and how she welcomed me into her world so many years ago. Enjoy! 

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Karen entered my life 20 years ago on an Autumn Day. We had moved from Cairo to the picturesque and provincial coastal town of Essex in late August when the humidity and heat index were high. The kids entered school at the beginning of September and my husband and I found jobs in October.

It was a time of transition for our family. For me it was also a time of deep grief. Every day I grieved for what had been, for what I had left.

We found a church fairly quickly — my parents knew people at every Baptist church in New England and we found a church about a 15 minute drive from our house. We didn’t consider ourselves Baptists per se, but the people seemed friendly enough and we were slowly forging our way into the life of the church.

The day that I met Karen was  a Sunday afternoon. Our family and hers had been invited to dinner at the home of another couple from the church. We stood outside on a lawn covered with golden leaves and Karen extended friendship to me. I almost dismissed her. I was in a place where I didn’t know what each day would bring and I wasn’t sure I could enter into friendship, much less with anyone as open and confident as Karen.

The truth is, I’m not sure I did take up her offer, or if she was just so persistent that soon I wouldn’t know what it was to not have her in my life.

Karen and her husband Jon had two little ones similar in age to two of our kids. We quickly identified a mutual love of curry, film, and fun. We didn’t really believe them when they said they loved making curry. Our experience of others in the area had confirmed that most people thought good curry was a bit of meat or vegetables with some water and curry powder thrown in. But we kept that to ourselves, and to this day we talk about how after a first bite of their curry, my husband and I looked at Jon and Karen and exclaimed “Wow! This is so much better than we expected!” We couldn’t even hold it in – we were that surprised.

Through the years we have filled our memories and photo albums with apple picking, pumpkin carving, watching rowers on the Charles River, birthday celebrations, walks by the ocean, long conversations over dinners, films, Christmas Eve gatherings, and so much more. When we moved to Phoenix, they visited us. When we moved back to the Boston area, they were right there, ready to welcome us in the middle of three feet of snow.

There is a safety and peace in our friendship that are not always easy to feel. We can go for a long time not seeing each other, and then walk into their kitchen and pick up at the very place we left.

“It takes a long time to grow an old friend,” the quote says. There is an undeniable history in our friendship and the roots now go deep into the soil of New England. Through the years events and times together have come and gone, like the cycle of leaves on a tree. We have watched some of our children grow up and leave home, forging their way into a world of work and marriage. We have been through cycles of sadness and cycles of joy, those normal rhythms that make up a life well-lived.

As I look at my friendship with Karen, I am grateful for so much: for persistence, for memories of open fires on the beach, long talks over good meals, laughter over films; but most of all – for a friendship that grows deep into my life soil.

Because it takes a long time to grow an old friend. 

#Hashtags and Relationships

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It’s difficult to write today, but it would be worse to keep silent.

“I don’t want to become a #hashtag. Becoming a #hashtag is a very real fear in my community.” 

Yesterday at the end of a long and good meeting, a few of of us began talking. The conversation was around race and privilege, power and perspective. It was rich and challenging. It was a Haitian friend who began the conversation by talking about being a hashtag.

She was referring to the common social media practice of writing or tweeting about shooting victims by using the # (hashtag) symbol. As a first generation Haitian immigrant, Maddie* falls under the ‘black’ category. She talks with her black friends about being a hashtag, a victim of the endemic problem of being black and being shot. They all worry about this.

“I think about this” she said. “I think about how I would be described and validated –‘she baby sat for kids down the street. She was a straight-A student. Her family was known in the community.'” We talked about the stress that she feels daily; the thought she has to put into decisions; the orientation she has to give to Haitians who are new to this country and don’t know what it is to be black in America.

I don’t know about you, but I never worry about becoming a random victim of a police shooting. I don’t worry about being stereotyped as someone who is dangerous. I don’t worry that my life would have to be validated by how “good” I was in order to justify that I shouldn’t have been shot. I don’t worry that I will become a hashtag on someone’s twitter feed.

My heart is heavy. For so many of my friends, none of this is theory. It is daily life.

I realize that I am privileged to know the people I do, to live and work in places where diversity is the norm, not the exception. Because you look at life differently when your friends come from all over the world. You experience life in new ways when you rub shoulders with a black woman who grew up in Roxbury, a Haitian woman who moved to this country as a child, a man from Malawi who sits in the cubicle next to you every day.

I’m convinced that the best way forward for individuals is through relationships. When black Americans are your friends, your conversations look different. While I can never know their reality, I can listen and learn about what is harmful and what is helpful. While I cannot walk in their shoes, I can learn what it is to walk beside them. While I will not experience their particular sorrows and pain, I can ask them questions and pursue cultural humility.

So I have no answers other than to challenge all of us on the value of having friends who look different than we do. If people all around me mirror my skin color, my hair color, my language, and my culture then it is difficult to see the world through the eyes of another.

My friend Jody writes from a perspective of living in a cross-cultural marriage and learning to navigate “a complicated world of race relations while living as the only interracial family in a small Midwestern town for eight years.” Jody is a bridge-builder and has written an excellent and practical book called Pondering Privilege -toward a deeper understanding of whiteness, race, and faith.

In her first chapter, Jody extends a call for cultural humility. She says this:

Instead of “Get over it”, cultural humility responds. “I don’t understand. Can you help me understand more deeply?”

Instead of replying with some variation of “quit whining” to someone who feels wronged, cultural humilty responds, “I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this? What do I need to learn?” 

Instead of saying “Why do you keep causing problems?”, cultural humility responds, I’m sorry I keep hurting you. It seems like I’m missing something big. How would you recommend I start to better understand your experience?” 

Instead of keeping quiet because of cultural ignorance, cultural humility responds, “I’m a little embarassed that I don’t know much about your background. I don’t even know how to ask you questions about it, but I would love to learn more.” 

 

In closing I too want to extend a call – a call to build bridges and tear down walls. Every day we see the results of a fractured world; a world of people unwilling to listen and at the ready to defend and construct barriers. I am utterly convinced that we are called to build bridges, to tear down walls, to mend fences, to move forward in relationships. Indeed, there is no other way forward. 

The Painful Realities of White Privilege by Jody Wiley Fernando

You can buy Pondering Privilege here. 

*Not her real name.

Love Goes the Extra Mile

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We’ve just come back from a family vacation where we spent seven nights near the Smoky Mountains in northern Tennessee. Every morning we woke up to far off frothy fogs rising up between the hills and ridges across the horizon. Every evening we watched the sun’s benediction settle over and under and behind the mountains. It was glorious. And in between the rising and setting of the sun we lazed and lounged around. Exploring the area, we found a lake to swim in and a nearby state park ropes course to climb. We played board games. We watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics on a large TV. We made a fire and roasted marshmallows. We slept at unusual times during the day. Everything that vacations are supposed to be, it was. Re-creation at work as we rested.

The plan was for us to leave on the morning of the seventh day and drive further east, over and beyond the mountains, across the dividing lines of states to Philadelphia to attend a nephew’s wedding. As the day came nearer I began to feel dread rise up like smoke around my own soul’s edges. I couldn’t bear to think about the long hours in the car. Driving east meant we were driving further away from home. The drive back to Kansas would be longer and harder. I was convinced our vacation would be erased. Our soul’s rest would be eroded.

The thought of it encroached on many of my Tennessee days. The idea of that future drive threatened to rob me of large parts of those glorious moments during those wonderful days. My inability to enjoy the moment made me mad at myself and increased my angst and my dread mounted on wings like crows. I finally asked Lowell if we shouldn’t think about maybe possibly skipping the wedding and head instead straight for home. The thing is I really was torn. I love this nephew of Lowell’s dearly. We really wanted to attend his wedding. And yet –It’s a long way to Tipperary. It’s a long way to go. Talking, praying, discussing it over with each other wasn’t necessarily bringing clarity.

It finally came down to this: What would Love do? The answer was immediate! Love goes the extra mile. Love celebrates. Love shows up for family and friends. Love attends monumental moments. Love sacrifices and enters into the joys of another. It’s what love does. Love makes the effort.

My friend Julie is one of the most lovingly loyal people I know. She once told me that her and her husband have come to realize how important it is to be present for life’s big moments: funerals, weddings, baby showers. They recognize how much these things matter to relationships and to community living and they choose to attend. Scott and Julie show up every time. I love that about them.

And so it went that we packed up the car on the morning of our departure and we turned toward the east. We crossed through Tennessee, drove up the length of Virginia, and scooted across bits of West Virginia and Maryland before entering Pennsylvania. Stopping for ice cream and to change clothes we arrived in plenty of time for a Sunday afternoon wedding. The sky was blue and pillow pocked with the fluffiest of clouds. The church was simply set and ready to host happiness. We joined those on the groom’s side with pride and deep affection. What a fabulous celebration it was! The profundity of the wedding promises were matched with a true reception party. We ate good food and goofed our way through hilarious dance moves.

When it was over and the car was once again turned to the west like a homing pigeon returning to the familiar, we felt deep satisfaction. There wasn’t room for regret in the lingering joys of the wedding. Being present to the union of the dearly beloved groom and his bride was enough. We love this new Mr and Mrs very much. At the end of the day, Love really does go the extra mile.

On Belonging


Recently I watched a group of younger colleagues. They seemed so at home with each other, so comfortable.  Like pieces in a puzzle, they all fit. There was without doubt some diversity among them, but they spoke the same language, had the same Masters of Public Health (MPH) after their names, had gone to similar colleges, and knew the same vernacular.

I sat in the background, observing.  I found myself in the place I’ve been so many times — not belonging. From my education to my background to my age, I was different. I was other. 

If we are honest, we have all experienced this — though some substantially more than others. That sense of being other, of yearning to belong.

It is this that has led me to really think about how I would live if I truly believed in my heart that I am loved by God as much as my intellect and faith tell me I am loved. How do we live when we are fully loved? How would I live if I truly felt I belonged?

And I know the answer. Because there are times when I feel a sense of belonging that is sto strong it drowns out any other feelings. I know what it is to belong. 

This weekend I will be at a reunion. It’s sort of like a family reunion, but only a few are blood relatives or relatives by marriage. It’s sort of like a school reunion, though many parents are also invited. It’s a reunion of place and people. It’s a reunion where, in a myriad of ways, I belong. 

I don’t have to explain early separation from parents or boarding school. I’m never asked at this reunion if boarding school was difficult – because we all get it. We all knew that it was difficult — and it was wonderful. I don’t have to defend a country that is always in the watchful eye of a military drone and on a terrorist watch list, because I’m with people that have a three dimensional view of the country of Pakistan. 

I get into conversations on how faith is hard and a long journey, and my words are met with nods and tears of understanding. I am with people that love curry and chapatis as much as I do, and we reminisce with our tongues burning just with the thought of it. 

We come from a line of people that shared text books, clothes, dolls, and teachers. We speak the same language, we know the same stories. 

For a short time, like pieces in a puzzle, we will fit. We will belong, and it will be glorious. 

And I will remember what it is to live like I really belong. 

A Challenge to Christians During Ramadan

Roxbury Mosque

I am on the mailing list of a large mosque in the Roxbury area of Boston. While Egypt’s minarets give us a journey through history and Turkey boasts Ottoman style mosques, the mosque in Roxbury is modern. It sits across from Roxbury Community College, its dome and minaret smaller than those in the Muslim world. I’ve been told that there were protests when the mosque opened.

Being able to express and live out our truth claims in freedom is a gift. A gift that I’d love everybody to have.

And because of this I’m glad that there is a mosque in Boston. I’m glad that my Muslim friends and acquaintances have a place to worship. When I lived in both Pakistan and Cairo I was grateful for a space where I could worship; grateful for the presence of churches in a Muslim country. These churches formed a good part of our community.  And controversial as this may seem to some, I want this for my Muslim friends. In a country that claims freedom of religion, they should have a place to worship.

Yesterday began the month of Ramadan for Muslims. I’ve written in the past about Ramadan – about loving neighbors more than sheep, about my outsider perspective. Once again, I find it a good time to bring attention to the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, who in one way or another will be celebrating the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a month long period of fasting. It is intended to be a time of spiritual discipline, praying, and generosity. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, liquids, sex, and cigarette from the from sun up to sun down. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and the month of Ramadan is considered the holiest month of the year.

There are some good articles that you can read to help understand more about the month of Ramadan, and I have linked them at the end of this article, but today I want to issue a challenge to fellow Christians, those who hold to my faith tradition.

How many of us feel frustration when our faith is misunderstood, when myths abound, when others reject us because they disagree with what we believe?

But being rejected for our faith and truth claims is not fun. It’s lonely. It’s defeating. It’s discouraging. We want to scream when we hear misconceptions about Christianity and shout “No – that’s not the way it is! If we could just have a conversation….”. We long to engage with people about our faith because it’s important, because it’s foundational to who we are and how we live. Engaging with people over their beliefs does not mean we are watering down our own. How do so many come to believe that relationships, friendships and listening to others, means that we will fall down some slippery slope of forsaking our truth claims; of being false to that which we believe?

So as the month of Ramadan comes around, we have an opportunity to engage with Muslims.  We have a chance to live out what we want others to live at Christmas and Pascha or Easter.

With this in mind, I would challenge you to engage with Muslims. Get to know someone who is a Muslim.  Ask them about Ramadan and what it means to them. Ask them about the traditions that surround Ramadan. Just as Christians are not monolithic, so it is with Muslims, and traditions change according to country and family. Wish Muslims at your work place “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.” Or better still, ask them – ask them what to say. We have the choice to engage with others and learn about what they believe. Are you willing to engage people during Ramadan?

We live in a world that quickly rejects based on appearance, religion, actions and more. How do we learn to live in truth to what we believe – which means that at some point we will disagree – and yet not be afraid to engage?  How can we remember the importance of friendships and relationships in living out our faith?  

I ask myself this question all the time – how about you? 

Aticles on Ramadan:

*An earlier edition of the post omitted the important detail of Muslims fasting only during the daylight hours. The piece has been corrected to reflect that fact. 

 

The Laws of Smartphone Use

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It is painful to admit, but there are times when my smartphone has controlled my life. In an effort to be transparent about this, I am writing my own laws of cell phone use. Call them commandments, call them laws, call them guidelines, call them what you will — they are designed to remind me that life is short, and the idea of people eulogizing me as one who is always on their smartphone is terrifying.

So here goes: 

  • I will not check my phone in the morning until I have had coffee and prayers. (Possibly in that order.)
  • When I am at dinner, whether said dinner be at a restaurant or at home, I will put my phone away. I will recognize that everyone I need right then is present.
  • I will turn my phone off when I am in church. Always.
  • I will turn my phone off when I am at a workshop. Always.
  • I will leave my phone at my desk when I am going to a meeting, because I don’t trust myself to use it properly at the meeting.
  • If I have to message someone in front of you, I will tell you exactly why I have to message them at that moment. I will explain why it can’t wait.
  • I will not text while walking. Ever.
  • I will not text while driving. Ever. Ever
  • I will recognize that the moment is always more important than posting a Facebook picture of the moment. I repeat: Always.
  • I will seek to understand that the person who is present is generally a priority over the one who is on the phone. (Except when it’s my mom and my kids.)
  • I will realize that the chance of the phone call or text message I receive being an actual emergency is 1 to 100 or 1 to 1000 (or perhaps less) and I will relax.
  • I will not be rigid and annoying with these rules (except the ones about driving) with other people, because who am I to judge?

Please be gentle with me as I attempt to abide by them. Remember, Rome was not built in a day, and sanctification is a process.

What are your laws of cell phone use?

Short Sunday Thoughts: On Politics and Facebook

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Dialogue is best done in relationship, over breaking bread, over coffee.” From On Sharing Bedrooms and Dialogue

As I think about the next year in the United States, I look back on something I wrote in the past, and I pray I will stay true to that conviction.

“We all have strong convictions that could lead to ugly. Human reactions, emotions and interactions are complex. And there are some things that I won’t discuss online, not because I lack conviction but because the potential for misinterpretation is too high…”

And this from my friend Tara:

“…I don’t need to battle over politics because I have a massive fight on my hands as it is. 

The battle to walk closely with Him day-by-day. 
The battle to be salt, to be light. 
The battle against my own sin and depravity. 
The battle to love my neighbor well. 
The battle to act justly; to love mercy. 

The Kingdom isn’t so much about how I vote (or promote my vote on-line) – the Kingdom is more about the way I love and live and act toward the lost and hurting around me.”

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3

Hearts Made Larger

We returned from Iraq yesterday, touching down at Logan Airport’s international terminal late afternoon.

It is difficult to find words in English to describe our trip. Amazing, interesting, challenging, joy-filled …..those adjectives are not strong enough so I’ll stick with this: The trip was extraordinary.

This was my first time to Iraq. We arrived in early morning and left a week later in early morning. I walked off the plane to the heat of the desert and my heart felt immediately at home and alive. This is a place of the heart.

The people of Iraq have experienced sanctions, war, and now displacement for years. Sanctions began in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait under the regime of Saddam Hussein. This means that the population aged 12 to 25, which was the primary group that we worked with, survived sanctions that deprived the country of critical resources. Those sanctions caused diseases from water that was not clean, widespread malnutrition, lack of proper medical care and supplies, and so much more I will devote an entire post to it. It is important to note that the sanctions did nothing to rid the country of Saddam, it merely hurt the people of Iraq.

A week is a short time to take in the enormity of the situation, but the conversations and time we were able to have made our hearts larger. The spirit and resilience of the people of Iraq are commendable, and I am humbled to have met so many and to hear just a few of the millions of stories from this area.

My heart is made larger from the people I met.

In 1923, Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher raised in Austria wrote a book called Ich und Du, which translates as I and Thou. Buber’s premise is that we find meaning in life through relationships, and we interact or engage the world in two primary ways: Through I-it or I-thou.

The I-it relationship looks at the relationship of subject to object. I-thou looks at relationship of subject to subject. How this works out practically is that if we see others through the lens of I-it, they become separate and we can detach ourselves from them. The I-it relationship focuses on a single story, reduces people to objects instead of living beings that reflect the image of God. I-it fails to see the complexity of human interaction. By contrast, I-thou enlarges the relationship. I-thou sees the whole person, encounters that person, not in relation to what the person can do for them, but as a person made in the image of God.  I-thou is a way to engage the world with a sense of honor and responsibility, with humility and desire to learn.*

My encounters with people who have been internally displaced in Iraq, who fled with the clothes on their backs, and if they were lucky, a suitcase, were I-thou encounters. My heart was deeply enlarged as I saw resilience, joy, willingness to tell their story, to accept me as an outsider, to acknowledge their own strength and hope. My heart, and I know the heart of my husband, was made larger. I can only give glory to God for this time.

In the coming week, I hope to recount several stories that I have permission to share. I will share stories of fear and hope, of prayer and resilience. I have returned, and my heart is larger.

I’ve included a couple of pictures today with actual quotes from people. Thank you for reading, for being willing to see people through the I-thou lens.

*I do great disservice to Buber’s work in this small explanation, but it is what best describes our time in Iraq so I chose to use it.

“What hope do you have for us in Iraq?” ” We have hope that you can return and live out your faith in peace and joy” “Al hamdulilah”

“You are so strong!” “We ARE strong! We surprised even ourselves!”

 

“The road may be long and full of our blood but we will go back waving olive branches. Love is stronger than hate”

The Heart Demands Conversation

“The heart does not want coffee or cafe,
The heart demands conversation with friends,
Coffee is the excuse in this case”*

I smiled as I read this quote. It comes from a sign in a coffee shop in Antalya, Turkey and I intend to track it down at some point.

The heart may not want coffee, the heart may demand conversation, but on this Thursday morning, the body wants coffee!

After I caffeinate I will demand conversation, I will want stories and interactions, I will tire quickly of computer screens.

But now? I want coffee! 

And you?! 

 *Sign from a coffee shop in Antalya, Turkey http://stainsbyte.com/coffee-and-conversation/

To Carol on her Birthday

Yesterday my sister-in-law Carol celebrated her birthday in the beautiful city of Istanbul. I wasn’t there to celebrate with her, and so I wrote this instead. 

Dear Carol,

It’s hard to accept that I can’t be with you today on your birthday. Because you know I would make you a cake and we would laugh and talk and cry. Best of all, we would solve the world’s problems.

When I met you so many years ago in the Taj Mahal of Shikarpur I had no idea you would become such an enormous part of my life. I remember showing you the engagement ring I had just received, and you in true “Carol” fashion “oohed and aahed” like we had known each other forever. Because one of the things you do so well is rejoice with people.

A couple of days later you would watch me in my mom’s kitchen, desperately trying to impress my then fiancée (now my husband of 30 plus years) by trying to make divinity. I think I burned through an electric beater and you watched my frustration, trying to make it better.

I had you picked out as a sister-in-law way before you and Dan began dating. I wrote to my parents that I thought you would make a great couple and they, wisely, did not respond. But I like to think I had something to do with the fact that you married my brother. As I think back on it, maybe it was just because I wanted you in my life that I wanted him to marry you. Regardless, it has benefitted both my brother and me in unimaginable ways!

You are my velvet and steel. You never shy away from speaking truth to me, but you speak it with such love and kindness that I have no choice but to listen. We have laughed together so hard that tears form in our eyes. We have fought over who gets the prettiest scarves. We have bargained for bangles and souvenirs. We have cried with refugees. We have wept and prayed over those who are dear to us. We have consulted with each other on medical matters. We have stabilized a man with a cardiac condition on a 14-hour flight across oceans and continents. We have shared fears and joys together. We have prayed for the impossible. 

You have almost admitted that I am the queen of bargaining. 

You are the first person I go to when I am hurting or mad, you have seen me at my lowest and worst, but you’ve still chosen to be my friend.

You know how to laugh with abandon and you love so many, so well. I am beyond blessed to call you my friend.

I will end with the best thing ever said to me on my birthday:

On the day you were born, God saw what he had made — And he called it “Good!”

I love you. Happy Birthday!

Blogger’s note: Two years ago my son Micah said to me “Mom I think blogging and writing has become the way you express love for people.” I was initially surprised, but quickly realized it’s true — this is indeed one of the ways I use to show people I love them.

A Love Story Begins At Box 25, Willow River, BC

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A Love Story Begins……by Robynn

Lowell and I are getting ready to celebrate our 21st  anniversary on May 7th. Our twentieth was lost in the shuffle of death and memorials and details last year but we are redeeming our 21st! Lowell has already booked us into a bed and breakfast for a weekend getaway in the romantic Atchison, Kansas. This little story seems appropriate….

Through all the years of moving around western Canada and then across the globe to Pakistan and back again, one thing stayed the same: Grandma and Grandpa’s address and phone number.

Theirs was the address (Box 25, Willow River, BC) and phone number we used for our permanent address on the countless forms and applications we filled out.  It was our pivot point. A place we always returned to. A fixed spot that didn’t move or change.

This meant a great deal growing up in South Asia. There was comfort in knowing we had such a place in the universe.

But it mattered even more, after I had left Pakistan, graduated from high school, and felt a particular type of vulnerability. I was untethered, unmoored. I wasn’t from anywhere any more. It was unsettling. In the midst of that though, I still had an address I could use, a phone number I could call to mind.

College applications, and later, job applications had Grandma’s address and phone number written on them. I used that number in filling out visa applications when I went home to Pakistan to visit. I used that number in my attempts to apply for a credit card. I used it for drawing entries in a silly quest to win round the world airline tickets, or free laundry detergent for a year.

Years later it was the address and phone number I gave out to a particular Lowell Bliss, a man I met at a training program in New York City. He was on his way to India to study. He suggested we keep in touch. I gave him Grandma’s address. I was on my way there, to my fixed spot, my permanent place. I would eventually catch up with whatever Lowell might send me.

On the way I stopped to visit my dearest Auntie Carol, in Kelowna, when I got a call from my Grandma. A letter had arrived from the mysterious Lowell Bliss. Auntie Carol and I were squealing on one end of the line. Wouldn’t Grandma please open it and read it to me over the phone? Mary Doerkson was in the middle of giving Grandma a permanent. We could nearly smell the intense chemicals all the way in Kelowna. Grandma opened the letter painfully slowly. She put her glasses on and began to read. The only thing is Lowell’s writing was difficult on first glance to read. Grandma struggled through, “Mary…what does this say?” Mary would stop rolling hair into curlers long enough to peer over Grandma’s shoulder. They sounded words out, they squinted, they guessed. Each passing line successfully read was met with screams and sighs and squeals and silliness from Auntie Carol and me.

I had intended to linger in Kelowna a day or two with my aunt and uncle….but it seemed of utmost urgency that I press on quickly for Willow River to retrieve the letter and Lowell’s affections. We threw my things, strewn around my temporary room, into my suitcases and rushed to the Greyhound bus depot. Auntie waved me off with tears in her eyes and excitement for me in her heart. Grandma, hair freshly (and tightly) curled, met me at the bus stop in Prince George with Lowell’s letter in her hand.  I hugged grandma tight, and dove into the letter first thing. I understood why she had struggled to read it right. His handwriting was impossibly tiny and at odds with the paper. But I read his heart and his intentions and so the love story began–

There at Box 25, Willow River, BC.

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/mailbox-letter-postbox-post-357668/

Hospitality – A Humble Primer Part 2

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Friends – today we continue with the Hospitality series by Robynn. If you missed the first part click here. We would love to hear from you in the comments. What would you add? 

  • Many of us learnt hospitality from the gracious reception we were given as expatriates living in a “foreign” land. Pakistani’s are pretty much the definition of hospitality…In what other country do you meet someone on the street, have a small gupshup (visit) with them and then get invited back to their house for food- which is of course always the best they have to offer and never what they have for themselves. (They demonstrate generous) selfless giving (FB: Emma)!
  • When you’re hosting a regular event—a meeting that meets each week, a Bible Study, a “Life Group” –don’t feel the need to always serve something to eat. In fact don’t make anything the first time. The first time people show up they are looking for patterns. If you serve a sweet treat that first time they expect it each time.  Make one the second time and they’ll be surprised and pleased. After that you can randomly make something if and when you have the inclination or the time.
  • Be honest. If you’ve had a rough day…don’t try to fake it. People see through it anyway…and honesty and transparency pave the way for others to admit they’ve had a rough day too. Vulnerability attracts people. It gives permission for others to be their true selves.
  • Intimidation muddies your anticipation with anxiety. Remember the people who are coming are regular people! They brush their teeth and spit in their sinks too. They shout at their children. They probably snore or grind their teeth. I hate to be the one to break it down for you but intimidation is really pride at its root. Humbly welcome others into your heart and into your home.
  • If you’ve already welcomed pets into your home be sure to be considerate of non-pet loving people. Do your friends have allergies? Did they grow up in cultures where domestic beasts like dogs and cats and hamsters and rats were considered unclean? Do they have secret residual childhood fears? Lock the critters in their kennels or in a basement bedroom.
  • If you’re having friends over for a meal keep it simple. Make a one pot something: soup or stew are perfect choices. A side of bread and it’s a meal! One pot meals are easy to make. They are easy to dish up. They make your guests feel relaxed and nourished. There’s a feeling of home surrounding a savoury bowl of soup. Just share what you have & enjoy each other (FB: Mae). Hospitality is more about fellowship than feasting. Bread and cheese (and chutney) can make a lovely lunch (FB: Alison). Just welcome people into your everyday life. Don’t put on a show on any front, including the food front. Be yourself. Give your guests space for themselves (FB: Angus).
  • I love what my cousin Lauralea wrote on Facebook: If you’re a nervous beginner, start by inviting those with a known gift of hospitality; not only do these gracious people have the ability to make you feel comfortable and at ease in their home, but they’ll bring it to your home as well, so that your first forays into the uncharted waters of offering hospitality will be grace-filled affairs and build your confidence and joy. Start simply. Tea and cake, soup and crackers- and it doesn’t have to be gourmet or home baked; it’s not a competition. It’s about sharing Jesus with each other. When you can relax into it, those who come to share Jesus with you will be able to relax and will meet Jesus in your home (FB: Lauralea).
  • The Arabs have it right. The guest brings light to the house. Guests are treated with honor because the fact that they want to visit you is high praise in itself (FB: Tim).
  • Hospitality can be a gift of service not necessarily offered in one’s home. It can be welcoming a new person at church (or) preparing coffee for an event (behind the scenes) to set a comfortable atmosphere (FB: Cynthia).
  • If possible, when preparing for a dinner or party, do all or most of the work ahead of time; this allows you to leave the kitchen and be involved and enjoy your visitors (FB: Anita). However, if you’re running behind, set the table so that when the guests arrive, they know they were expected and that there is the promise of food to come (FB: Mary).
  • Turn up the heat or turn down the AC depending on the time of year. When your guest are freezing or sweating, they don’t want to hang around. Turn the thermostat back to what you are used to after they leave (FB: Anita).
  • Be mindful of guests from different cultural backgrounds. Offer Pakistani and Indian guests something three or four times. Their culture demands they refuse the first several times. They don’t want to be rude. They don’t want to trouble you. Persistence in asking is important for the conscientious host. There are several cultures where leave taking is a kin to a tv mini series! It’s dramatic and stretched out, involving asking permission to take their leave and a long belabored goodbye at the door. Apparently in Ghana the host walks the guest half way back to their home before saying goodbye. South Asians walk each other out to the gate.
  • There are sweet nugget verses in the Bible that speak to hospitality. My favourite is 1 Peter 4:9, “Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” Or Romans 12:3 “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice” Or Hebrews 13:2, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Notice the happy adverbs, ‘cheerfully’, eagerly! You never know who might show up!
  • A friend, that interestingly we met through hospitality, posted this excellent article! Laura was in and out of our home in India. She saw our messes—physical and emotional. Read this and see what you think: http://www.knoxpriest.com/scruffy-hospitality-creates-space-friendship/
  • When you do the work of preparing to host expected guests: making the beds, cleaning the toilets, dusting the shelves, pray for those that are on their way. Pray for their journey. Pray for their time in your home. Pray for their deep blessing. Pray for the energy to serve and the affection to love well. Ask God to use your whole family to be a source of blessing and healing and joy to your guests. Pray also for yourself and your family. If you’re tired, if you lack the vigor, if your household is out of sorts—ask for grace, ask for The Ever Present Helper to show up, to offer His own hospitality to those who are on their way, and to those who already live in your home. Not all situations turn out the way you want, but it’s always an opportunity for God to stretch us and teach us something about ourselves or about Him. (FB quote: Leslie; FB inspired: Leslie and Shannon). And then later if it’s appropriate, pray again, together with your guests before they leave. From our own experience, taking time to pray with guests before they leave is the most meaningful part of the evening for us. When we forget, it’s the first thing I regret (FB: Mary).
  • I was reminded by my friend Nancy of Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out includes an entire section entitled From Hostility to Hospitality. I highly commend it to you as another resource to transform the heart in the area of hospitality.
  • In response to my post entitled, Hospitality–A recovered gift, a reader’s friend offered to send me her book, Table Life-Savoring the Hospitality of Jesus in your Home. While I haven’t yet read it I do offer it to you as another resource.

The world gets more and more complicated it seems. Time is zipping past at faster and faster speeds. We need friendships of depth. We need community to sustain us all. Hospitality creates a place for that. Try it. Take a risk. Invite a friend over for coffee. Invite someone over for a simple meal. You’ll be glad you did!

I want to close with a true to life story of dear friends AJ and Alex, who moved a year or two ago from our vibrant community here in Manhattan (Kansas) to a more small town/rural area in also Kansas. The people didn’t necessarily rush out to welcome them. Hospitality wasn’t proffered. Here’s what AJ wrote: We have been faced with re-defining (hospitality) since moving to a place where it’s not practiced or sought after. When we moved here, you never would have known, except for the small town gossip train chuggin’ by. We have just recently started to be more “hospitable” thinking that if they don’t offer it to us, then we’ll offer it to them.

Hospitality is a state-of-mind, a practice of transparency in living and an act of constant availability. It doesn’t have to be someone sleeping on your couch (although it could be), it can be a great conversation on the street that leaves someone feeling reassured about life and welcomed by humanity.

Hospitality is complex because people are complex. It’s never the same from moment to moment and I think the ever -changing atmosphere is an incredible challenge given to us by our Great, Kind, WELCOMING and Loving God.

Reader’s we love that you have engaged with these pieces on hospitality – what stories, advice, or thoughts can you share? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/cheese-noodles-court-eat-delicious-609781/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Enjoy the Journey

Lighthouse PEI

Enjoy the Journey – by Robynn

I know it’s a horribly cliché title….but it came to mean something very significant the other day when I was on my way somewhere….!

Tuesday, September 23, I spent the entire day traveling. Departing from Manhattan, Kansas I made my way to Prince Edward Island on the far eastern side of Canada. This is a dream destination for me. Ever since I was little girl and was first introduced to Anne of Green Gables I have dreamed of going to Prince Edward Island. I never in a thousand years thought I would ever get the chance to go. But here I was on Tuesday traveling to a dream come true! I was so excited!

Early in the morning, while the house was still sleeping and the daylight still dosing, I crept downstairs to make coffee. I showered quickly and begged my hairdryer to whisper. I gently woke Lowell, my driver, slipped on my shoes, picked up my purse and headed out the door. I wanted the day to past. I wanted to be in Prince Edward Island. I wanted a glimpse of those childhood green gables!

I urged myself to sleep on that first leg to Chicago. Experience has taught me that sleeping through things makes them pass painlessly and quickly. I awoke as the plane kissed the tarmac. Jumping out of my seat I deplaned and set off determinedly for terminal 2. Let this day zip by…. I was a woman on a mission!

As I sat at my gate, sipping my coffee, I got a text. “Are you home?” I chuckled to myself as I casually texted back, dropping Prince Edward Island subtly into the short message with a smile on my face. The response that came flying through the cell phone waves hit me like ice water in the face. It was a death text. A dear mutual friend’s son had committed suicide. Tears leapt to my cheeks. I put a hand over my mouth to stifle the sobs. Suddenly life slowed. I saw people faces. I wanted my own children. I wanted to tell them a hundred things. Suddenly everything meant something and simultaneously everything meant nothing all at the same time. I called Lowell. We cried together. We prayed for the boy who is gone now. For his family. We prayed for ourselves. For our three. We sat quietly he in Kansas me in Chicago O’Hare.

And I wanted to live slowly. I wanted to slow the day, the coffee, the lay over. There was no longer any urgency to get there. I breathed out grief and breathed in grace.

Eventually. Gradually. Slowly. I arrived in Prince Edward Island. My friend Corinne mets me. It was a middle-aged reunion of old stories, old friends. Within the first several minutes Corinne told me the way she loves to vacation. She loves to take breaks. She loves to turn on little side roads and see what lingers there. If she sees a sudden light house or a splendid view she delights in the freedom to stop and see it, live in it, capture it on camera. She wanted to enjoy the journey. I looked at her. I knew what she meant. I wanted that too.

Suddenly I wanted life to quickly slow down. I longed to live present to the moment.

Enjoying the journey changed significantly in meaning from the dawn of that day –bursting with joy and expectation—through the shadow of death to the dusk of my arrival. It certainly changed my island experience and I hope I’ve brought it back with me to land locked Kansas. I want so badly to live slower, to linger with my children, to love my Lowell more intentionally, to listen to my mother in law’s stories.

How about you? Do you long for life to slow down, to live in the present enjoying the moment? 

Buy your copy of Between Worlds today! Have it already? Pick up an extra copy for your friend, your child, your dentist (they for sure live between worlds – between the world of teeth and not teeth.)

Available here: 

Read reviews of Between Worlds here: 

On Marriage and the Mirror of Erised

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first book of the wildly successful Harry Potter series. Chapter 12 in the book is called “The Mirror of Erised.” The “Mirror of Erised” is an ornate, magnificent mirror hidden away in an unused classroom. It’s as tall as the ceiling and has claw feet. But this is more than a beautiful mirror — the person who looks in the mirror sees the “deepest, most desperate desire of [their] heart.” So when Harry, an orphan cared for by a dreadful aunt and uncle who hate him, looks in the mirror he sees his entire extended family waving at him, loving him, letting him know he belongs. His dead parents smile back at him from the mirror, large as life. And when his friend Ron, just one more boy in a huge family with nothing that stands out about him other than his flaming red hair, looks in the mirror he sees himself as head of the Quidditch team and head of the house.

You see that which you long for most of all.

And for most of us our wedding days are a bit like that. The Mirror or Erised is held in front of each couple and we look inside and we see untainted love that lasts through the ages. We see bodies that will never grow old and a love that will never die. We see joy and hope, we see plenty and laughter. While we may say the vows “for better, for worse, for rich, for poor, for sick, for health….” we don’t see those things in the Mirror of Erised. The Mirror shows us that which we want more than anything – eternal love and happiness.

And then the guests go home, the cake in the top of the freezer gets freezer burn, the money from the beautiful cards given on that wedding day runs out. We want to stand in front of the mirror again, just to get a glimpse of that beauty, that glory, that hope.

But more stuff happens – kids come along and with them nightmare tantrums and learning disabilities, weight is gained and lost, houses come and go, unemployment rears its ugly head, family and friends die. Love is tested morning and night.  Sometimes there is betrayal or wounds that are so deep you think you’ll never heal; other times it’s just life – and marriage has grown oh so old. All the while we remember that mirror in the unused classroom – but it just sits there.

In the Harry Potter book as Harry goes for the third night to see the mirror, he finds Dumbledore sitting off in the shadows. Dumbledore talks to Harry about the mirror and exposes it for what it is “….this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”  Harry is sobered as he heads back to his dormitory room.

Today is my 30th anniversary – 30 years sharing my life, my heart, my bed with my husband. 30 years of so much good and so much hard that it defies description. And on our wedding day, we like so many couples before us, looked into the Mirror of Erised. And we loved what we saw. We wanted to stay in front of that mirror forever — a cute, young couple with adventure on our hearts and fire in our souls. It would never end. It couldn’t as long as we had the Mirror with us.

But like all couples, the mirror was wisely hidden away. In its place was a real mirror – a mirror that reflected back a couple that would grow and age, that would sometimes hate what they saw looking back at them, but keep on going anyway, keep on loving, keep on living, never giving up.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that….” says Dumbledore. Some of our dreams were realized, others were lost, but we have learned to live, really live. While the Mirror of Erised reflected wishful thinking, our real mirror reflects a brave marriage forged on hope, faith, and grace that could only come from One far greater than us. 

And today I proclaim again the truth of a life of commitment. I proclaim the truth that marriage is really very little about love and very much about something bigger. Today I speak against our Hollywood Mirror of Erised notions of magic and romance; I stand against a culture of quick satisfaction and selfish sex. I speak up for an unpopular view that marriage is so much more than two people falling in love.

For in 30 years never have I embarked on anything so costly and so worthwhile as marriage. Never have I faced the awful in myself so closely and so viciously, never have I needed the grace of God more profoundly. We do not have a Mirror of Erised marriage – We have a marriage born on idealism and hope, weathered by storms, challenged by crisis, tempered by love, sealed by God above.

Today I wish a Happy Anniversary to the man I said “I do” to. I’d do it again this side of the mirror. 

If you were looking into the Mirror of Erised for your marriage or your life, what would it show? It’s a very personal question – but a good one to ask ourselves. 

 

A Forgotten Anniversary and a Tribute from a Granddaughter

“That’s where I first saw your dad.” says my mom. “I was looking out my dorm window and there he was!” 

We were beside the old campus of Gordon College, now Wheelock College in the Fenway area of Boston. We had stopped the car on the street and my mom and I got out so we could take a picture of her by her old dormitory window.

I love hearing these stories, picturing my parents as the college students or young adults they once were. They lend another dimension to the parents I know, help me to realize that I know only certain parts of their lives. They are a reminder that before I came along, before my brothers entered the world, it was the two of them. The two of them with all the hopes, dreams, idealism, and faith that those ending college and embarking on a life together should have.

Yesterday my parents celebrated 63 years of marriage. Beyond the guilt I feel for forgetting their anniversary (fully blaming the fact that I didn’t grow up with Hallmark to remind me to buy cards, a lame excuse for sure) is the hope and gratitude I feel for who they are and how they have lived.

Three years ago – on their 60th anniversary my daughter Stefanie wrote a tribute to them. I went back and read it this morning and want to share it here. They are the words of a granddaughter growing up in a different era than her grandparents, an era where marriage seems more like a commodity than a commitment. Her thankfulness to her heritage shines through and echoes my thoughts.

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“Sometimes, when conversing among friends or strangers, I get deep enough into the conversation where not just my immediate families history pours out, but the history of my parents’ parents pours out. I remark on the fact that two separate people, from two different families, joined together in marriage and by this, you changed generations and generations of individuals.

When you listened to God’s calling on your life, you changed all of us, even the little ones that can’t even speak yet. When you took that boat to Pakistan, you  set a fire in the souls of all your children, making them passionate about different cultures. You set a fire that dwells in me. The uniqueness of your story gives me great hope to know that two people, who listened to God’s call, affected their five kids, who, in turn, affected their kids (17 kids!) and now, some of us are affecting spouses and even grandkids!

You sparked inside all of us an appreciation for a good curry and a deep sense of belonging in airports. You may not see your commitment to Christ as such an inspiration, but your marriage truly is incredible and what you did, even through the difficult times, is a testimony to God’s amazing hand on each of our lives. You persisted and remained dedicated, allowing all of us to explore the possibilities on this earth, the possibilities of traveling and seeing different ways of life. Thank you for sparking an eternal flame in my heart, and the hearts of all my cousins. You changed generations of people.

Love you so very much and so glad to call you my very own. What a beautiful relationship you have and I hope one day I will celebrate my 60th with someone as amazing and funny as Grandpa!
Infinite love and Congrats!
Stefanie S. Gardner (#16)

Happy Anniversary Mom & Dad!