A Word about Kindness

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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

In Defense of Married Love

We wondered if we should post this piece today after yesterday’s excellent essay from the perspective of a single woman. But this piece is a tribute to commitment in an age where it is often mocked. So yesterday was to celebrate being single and today we will defend marriage.

In Defense of Married Love by Robynn

These are the days of relational erosion. Marriage is mocked. Intimacy is insecure and therefore superficial. Few risk authentic openness. Vulnerability is protected against. Sex is cheap and misunderstood.

Sensitivity to the lonely and the wounded has kept us largely silent on the subject of marriage.  Recent controversies surrounding the definition of the terms have meant that we are almost embarrassed of marriage. If you openly admit you love your husband you can almost hear eyebrows rise. If you talk about marriages that endure, marriages that have meaning, you can feel the collective eyes begin to roll. If your married sex is not only satisfying but sizzling everyone just assumes you are making stuff up!

I want to stand up in defense of marriage….good marriage.

Marriage is intended to bring stability. It brings equilibrium. There is a particular reassurance in the predictability of marriage. I know this man. He knows me. The rhythms of life are steadied by a relationship that remains.

Marriage is holy. It involves vows and promises. It also includes mystery and meaning. We have now essentially entered into a monastic community of two. We take vows of chastity, occasionally of poverty, and charity. It is a sacred institution that we have formed and entered into together.

There is comfort in a good marriage. Marriage is comfortable… Like yoga pants after a long day of zipped up denim! There is exhale, and the space to sigh. There is a place to relax. To be yourself. To learn who that even is.

A healthy marriage frames up a safe space for ongoing relational discoveries –like mining for ever-interesting treasures. Spouses change. People grow, evolve, discover themselves along the way. Being married means a constant story of discovery. There is never a dull moment when two individuals with diverse and varying interests openly engage one another and invite each other into those new places.

Married love has the capacity to redeem the sore spots of loves lost. Married love metaphors grace and undeserved kindness. Married love communicates deep acceptance. The virtues of love have a stage to act on in marriage. We can try on patience, and kindness. We can learn what it means to keep no record of wrongs. We can learn forgiveness as a second language as we are immersed in the language of marriage.

A good marriage provides a safe place for personal transformation, as two people connect honestly with one another in community. I have converted so many times to Lowell’s convictions. He has converted to mine. We’ve adjusted. We’ve adapted. And we’ve given each other the space to do the same.

It takes work and energetic ambition to make a working marriage. We are hard wired for community…. But everything in us wants to pull away when we are tired or terrified. We are tempted to isolation. We shut down. When marriage hurts us we shy away. Attempts to control the other are hurtful and damaging. Marriage requires selfless commitment to think of the other. It mandates a pledge that promises to resist the dark call to pull away and instead a promise to intentionally turn to one another even in the midst of great sorrow or shame or pain.

We depend on our Holy Helper. We have plenty of sex! We try to get good sleep. We eat healthy meals. We tell each other we love each other often—several times a day. We try to be kind to each other. We talk a lot. For us, this has resulted in a sure and successful union.

The media has done its best, in connection with jewelry stores, chocolate factories, greeting card makers and florists to convince us that Valentine’s Day is all about one time romances! The truth of the matter is that St. Valentine died in defense of marriage. Perhaps it’s time again to stand up and defend marriage. You can look at me strange.

You can shake your head at my naiveté… but I am taking a stand in defense of my marriage and married love.

Twenty years ago this month Lowell asked me to marry him! Happy St. Valentine’s Day sweet Lowell! Marrying you was the most interesting, joyful, consoling, principled and passionate thing I have ever done! It’s true, I love being married to you.Robyn Lowell & kids

Every Friday Robynn writes for Communicating Across Boundaries. You can find all her posts here.Enhanced by Zemanta

Guest Post – A Single Perspective

On this day before Valentine’s Day I am so excited to have my beautiful niece Amy write for Communicating Across Boundaries. Amy is single – which you may have picked up from the title! And I purposely bring our attention to this single perspective on this day before Valentine’s Day, when suddenly rational people think that they need a partner to be complete. Amy has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before in a fabulous post called “So Many Proposals”, a post that I highly recommend you read if you missed it. But for now she brings you: 

A Single Perspective by Amy

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I have reached a point in my life where I cannot seem to get away from engagement announcements. They seem to follow me wherever I go. Provided, I am a 20-something living in the day and age when social media has taken over the world. One would point out that I am of “prime” marrying age, so I shouldn’t be surprised that the number of rings adorning my friends’ fingers is rising exponentially.

Until recently, I have felt particularly annoyed and frustrated about the topic of “marriage” or “dating” or “relationships”. Why? Because my 25.5 years of existence have been spent as single as a “single person” could be. (And I expect this Valentines’ day to be spent in the same way that the last 25 have been: lacking a “plus-one”)

What has frustrated me the most is the societal connotation that marriage (i.e. finding your life partner, your other half, your soul mate) is the ultimate fulfillment of life. Thus, single people are incomplete, unfulfilled, or severely lacking in a serious way.

You may read this and think, “She’s ridiculous. Of course single people are valuable and fulfilled.” But in all seriousness, look at the culture in which we live. Movies. TV. Music. Books. Commercials. The majority of stories in any form of media today have some form of love interest. Even if it is a broken relationship or even just a side story. Particularly, in the Church and Christian communities, there is an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) expectation for 20-somethings to be married (or actively seeking).

As I mentioned, it has only been until recently that I have overcome my frustration in this topic. For a very long time, I did believe myself to be unfulfilled, incomplete, or somehow inadequate as a result of my singleness and the fact that no one (as of yet) has had any desire to marry me.

This year, my family celebrated Christmas together at my parents’ house in Wisconsin. I had the realization that the Marrieds currently outnumber the Singles in my family (4 to 3). We had a discussion one day about how Marrieds and Singles each face a unique set of challenges when it comes to navigating social landscapes and finding genuine love and support in a community. (Each group does, however, enjoy a unique set of perks as well) It was at that point that we realized that neither group truly appreciates the struggles of the other.

What we need to do is debunk the idea that having one relational status is any better or worse than having any other relational status. It’s just different.

Individually and collectively, we put far too much weight on our marital status as a defining factor of our identities.

I will take a moment to note that I do not at all intend on discounting the immense value and blessing of marriage. I do have a deep desire to be married and to raise a family someday. We need to be able to find a balance between glorifying marriage and the alternative: glorifying singleness—and I dare say the answer is simply to glorify God. He is, in fact, the creator of us all and facilitator of all relationship s.

God created humans to be in relationship with Him first and each other second.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and the second is like it, to love one another. First and foremost, as Singles and Marrieds, pursuit of relationship with God and finding one’s identity in Christ should always come first.

1 Corinthians 7 is where Paul addresses this topic by saying is oft quoted declaration that “I wish you were all as I am…” i.e. single. But if you have to, as a result of your lacking self-control and in order to avoid burning passion, you should get married. I, personally, have found there to be a lot of tension in this passage. The Single in me, says “That’s right! Power to the Single people!”. But the cultural expectation and inner desire for marriage say “What about us?”.

Let’s break it down for a sec. At the time that this passage was written, particularly for women, your economic and social status (and general livelihood) were intimately tied to your marital status. Marriage was synonymous with security on a great number of levels. Ultimately, marital status WAS your identity. Essentially, Paul is taking a cultural norm, a cultural expectation, and blowing it out of the water.

What Paul is saying is that it’s better to be single because it’s easier to devote yourself to serving God and seeking after his will (I mean, seriously, nuns and monks!). It’s harder to do that when you devote yourself to another person in marriage. What he’s not saying is that celibacy and remaining single is the end all be all of human existence. He’s also not saying that marriage is either. The end all be all of human existence is to please God. Relational or marital status does not define your value or how “fulfilled” you are. Only God can do that.

If I have learned anything in my 25 years on this planet, it’s that God calls us each to different seasons of life at different times for specific purposes. I fully intend on embracing this season of singleness to live it to its fullest potential, in the hopes that when I do get married, I will be able to live that season to its fullest.

What about you? If you’re single, how do you deal with a world of couples? If you’re married, how do you include your single friends? 

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Amy brown

Amy is a twenty-something woman living in Washington DC. She spends her time with Autistic children, baking things, and taking pictures of the aforementioned (and other things). She has traveled the world leaving pieces of herself, even as she gathers pieces of the world to take along with her. Enhanced by Zemanta

A Thousand Hearts

They met back to back at an Indian restaurant in Chicago. He had come from an Anti-Reagan demonstration that was to have ended with Thai food, but at the last-minute it became Indian. She, having arrived unexpectedly from Pakistan just two weeks earlier, had come from signing the lease of a new apartment north of the city. Between saag and naan, ignoring their respective dinner company, they began to talk and realized they had met earlier in the year.

He: A cute grad student at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, majoring in Applied Linguistics with a heart for the world. She: A young nurse, new to the field of nursing and trying to forge her way in a strange country with strange customs. In a week they were old friends. In a month they could not stop thinking about each other. In a year they were in Pakistan for an engagement ceremony that included Muslims – Sunnis, Shias, Ahmadiyyas, and Ismaili; Hindus, and Christians from ethnic groups and areas throughout Pakistan. 200 cups of tea were served along with sweets and savouries amidst the sweet scent of rose garlands and the sentiment of a thousand hearts.

Marriage, Five children, limited cash flow, sleep deprivation, hard work, hard lessons, airline trips, visas, more airline trips, crises, more crises, many moves, even more houses, grace, and humor seemed to follow them wherever they went. As did a thousand hearts.

They celebrated Valentine’s day with Iranian food because ethnic restaurants seem to always have plenty of space and far better service on this day. And because they love Iranian food. It was food fit for a king and queen – kebabs and rice, mast-o-khiar (cucumber yogurt salad) and special tea . Roses came earlier in the day along with the card “At one glance I love you with a thousand hearts”. Later in the evening came her gift to him: “Awkward Family Photos” – it was more than appropriate.

And one thing they knew and continually hold to is this: That every step, every breath, and every heart is a result of God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s grace. They can love with a thousand hearts only because He loves with a million.