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About Valentine’s Day

Culture will try to tell us what to think and how to act. The media, in all its various venues, formulates ideas they want us to accept. If they say it often enough, we tend to believe it is true, especially if it is on the internet.

How does that relate to Valentine’s Day?

We are told the day is for lovers and sweethearts, couples and spouses.  We must buy things, like candy and cards.  Spend money on jewelry and flowers.  If you are not currently in a relationship, or your sweetie forgets you, or you don’t get something costly, well you just must not be loved.

Please, don’t believe that lie.

love-wordLove is from God.  It is His essence, who He is. Anything good in this world, any smidgen of kindness, any beauty, any joy comes from the Creator of good and perfect gifts who first initiated love.

His love is displayed in the warm sun, the air I breathe, the faces of my children and grandchildren.  His love is in my Sweet William’s embrace, in the smile of a friend, and in the strength to take care of another.

God’s love is shown by strangers who let me in the line of traffic, by the customer service person who helps me resolve a problem, by my neighbor telling me she is just a phone call away.

God shows His love for me by showering me with grace all day long, gifts like a good cup of coffee, a gorgeous sunrise, finding our Maisie who was lost, and a phone conversation that encourages.

But the very most extravagant love God ever demonstrated was the life of His Son to a world that did not recognize Him, did not welcome Him, did not love Him back.  The greatness of His love was manifest in this fact: He loved us when we were unlovable, unfaithful, unholy.  He loved first.

Any good in this world is because He gave love. He lavished it on the ones made in His likeness, the very ones who turn their back on Him and use His name to curse.  The ones who don’t believe.  The ones who choose their own determined way instead of running to His beckoning arms of forgiveness and mercy.

Stories and legends abound about the man named Valentine, how he was kind and loving, and so we celebrate him with a special day. We call him a saint. We are enticed to spend money in his honor.  Sorry, it’s just not about that.

Love is serving, giving of oneself, sacrificing our own wants for someone else.

Love forgives and doesn’t hold grudges. Love does not get offended easily.  Love is patient and kind, not jealous or prideful.  Love causes us to consider another first and act in loving ways, no matter what.  Love longs for truth and doing the right thing.  Love bears up under the hardest of circumstances, continues to believe God is good, and trusts Him for power to keep on going in the grace that strengthens.

Love does not end.  Not when divorce divides.  Not when loved ones die.  Not when words wound.  Not when distance or misunderstanding or unresolved conflict separates. Love keeps giving, keeps restoring, keeps healing, keeps seeking.

Because God is love.  And love comes from God.  And nothing, absolutely nothing can separate me from His love.

This love is worth remembering and celebrating on a day in February and every other day of the year.

Revised and reposted from February 2015

 

 

February begins

The origin of the word February is surprising to me. I’ve always simply thought of it as the month of love.

With the advent of Valentines Day, merchants discovered another way to entice us to spend money, reds and pinks showing up in stores early last month. Cards to honor the day of hearts and flowers flood the isles, and TV commercials encourage us to make diamonds the proof of undying affection.

But what if . . .  what if we really did practice a little more love during February? Not the gushy, mushy vaporous emotions or the once-a-year expensive gifts that last but a little while before they are forgotten and we move on to other “more important” endeavors.

What if we tried scattering a little more kindness this month, without it turning into a spending spree or a guilt trip? What if we gave out of the abundance of our hearts, out of the grace we have been given?

We take on the character of God when we become givers. God gave. God gives. God will give eternally.

“What if the truth is every tremor of kindness here erupts in a miracle elsewhere in the world?” — Ann Voskamp,  The Broken Way

Chapter 5 of Ann’s new book, a gift from a friend, ignites something this morning as I read about her and her children leaving unexpected gifts all over the city, creating smiles and joy in their wake.

One of the dots on my Bucket List is “Always be kind.” I wish that just writing that down and marking it a priority made it always be true in my every day. It isn’t. I need a reminder. Often.

Scatter Kindness 8x10 Canvas Quote[purchase the canvas at this Etsy shop]

So I am challenging myself to Scatter Kindness in February, to find unusual and unexpected ways of giving to others out of my own abundance. Thoughts, ideas already drift in my head. I would gladly bring a few more smiles to the faces I encounter regularly and those who just happen along my pathway.

This month, February, I will make it my goal to Scatter Kindness, to Sweet William first for his is the face I see most often and the one I can so easily take for granted. I will endeavor to Scatter Kindness to those I know and to those I don’t, to the ones in my circle of  influence and to those I may pass only once in this life.

It will be challenging because I am too often self-centered. Perhaps the focus on others will alleviate my struggle for a while. At least for the next 28 days.

And like the dandelion fluff I’ve scattered with my breath on scores of summer days, perhaps one seed will take root in another heart. Perhaps Scattering Kindness will grow and flourish in someone else.

This morning’s radiance splashes pinks and oranges in the sky from my eastern window. The Spirit whispers, “I love you. This is for you.”

The world is chaotic and dysfunctional. I cannot fix it or make people happy. But I can show them they are loved by simple, kind deeds. And “no matter what anyone’s saying, everyone is just asking if they can be loved.”*

February could turn into a bountiful opportunity to show God’s love through small acts of kindness. There is the chance it could change me and my little corner of the world.

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* Quote from The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

The wedding

The couple is young, but there is a depth in them not often seen in their age group.

I met her through a mutual grief. Death often draws people together. I shared my own devastation at my mother’s death when I was in my thirties. She was in her twenties when it happened to her.

We had breakfasts and lunches and did lots of talking, as women do, in between bites of food and tear drops. We came to call each other friend.

I had the privilege of being part of her wedding through my gift of music.

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I’ve sat on many a piano and organ bench during my musical life, watching from the sidelines as a couple promises with all their hearts to keep the vows spoken. I believe they mean those words at the moment. Too often I have seen those words fall and shatter into tiny pieces as troubles and trials and all manner of life situations bombard the two who were meant to be one.

It happens and I cast no stones, because I live in a delicate glass house that at one time almost fragmented into a million pieces.

My young friend’s wedding was a sacred event. From the songs chosen to the intentional sharing of a new family Bible, the service was planned with care and with the desires of a husband and wife who want to be all God has planned for them.

I look forward to watching this young couple grow in love and acceptance of each other. And I anticipate seeing them be vessels of God as He points them in His direction and fills them with Himself.

Their lives at this moment are a beautiful thing to behold.

But lest we see things with only rose-colored glasses, there will be challenges. They will feel like they have hit a wall sometimes. They will not always experience the euphoria of “being madly in love” as they did on that special wedding day.

Such is the way of a man and a woman joined together in holy matrimony. What draws one to the other is a mystery of sorts, but what keeps them together is grace. God’s tender mercies and everlasting love do what is not humanly possible.

He designs for iron to sharpen iron and never were there so many sparks as in a marriage. We learn to be patient with one another’s idiosyncrasies and personality bents. We adjust our standards of orderliness and punctuality, of being the life of the party and the need for alone time.

We learn to speak the truth in love, to ask to be forgiven and to forgive in return. We decide to pick our battles and then fight the good fight, not tearing at the heart of the one we are called to love but attacking the problem.

And we are called to love. Love is that action word that keeps demanding much of us when the cozy, fuzzy sensations wane and the “I just don’t love him anymore”  non-affection surfaces.

That is not the time to give up and give in. No.  NO.  NO!  Do. Not. Give. Up. 

Studies show if couples will stick it out when the marriage looks lost, the feelings can and often do return. Ask those who have celebrated those 30, 40, 50 plus years of marriage if they are glad they didn’t throw in the towel when the towel was dirty and smelly and full of holes.

I for one will say, “Yes, I’m glad we did not give up.”

God uses a spouse to make us better in so many ways. I could list them, but let your own ideas develop in your mind. The rough edges of who we are rub like sandpaper until those places begin to smooth out little by little. It’s irritating to say the least and often painful in the truest sense.

I’ve not really liked the process, but I am thankful for the results.

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Sweet William and I celebrate 45 years of marriage today. They have been hard-fought and grace-filled years. There have been joyous and gut-wrenching seasons. We’ve been healthy, strong, able to take on the world together. We’ve been sick, weak, desperate for relief. We have laughed together and cried together. We have questioned and wondered and grieved together. We have rejoiced at births and wept at gravesides together. We have attended church, Bible studies, and counseling together. We have built strong walls and torn down barriers together. We have climbed tall mountains that looked impossible and walked through valleys of lush green and still waters together.

We have prayed together.

The key word here is “together.” We are still together. Thanks be to God for His amazing grace and His gift of enduring love. I’m so glad He did not give up on us when we would have given up except for His mercies.

We are together until death shall part us.

Steven Curtis Chapman sings it for us and for you who are still together.

How big is love?

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Sometimes a book surprises, sometimes it delights. Sometimes a book disappoints and I wish I had not bothered to spend my time on it.

Once in a while a book gives me an “Ahh, this is precious,” experience.

How Big Is Love? is one of those delightful kind of books. Aimed at children and in a board-book format, it is perfect for little hands to handle. It features Little Hedgehog and his mother as he asks questions about love.

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“Mama, just how does love get so big?” Little Hedgehog is determined to understand just how love works. His curious questions will warm your heart, and his sweet story will remind you that love grows every time you give it away.

The book is the third in a serious based on 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”

Amy Parker combines her engaging words with Breezy Brookshire’s beautiful illustrations as Little Hedgehog wonders if love is “bigger than the mountains” and “brighter than the sun.”

Mama Hedgehog assures her little one that love is indeed bigger and brighter and stronger than anything. Her final description of love is both simple enough for a child and profound enough for a grown up to comprehend.

“Our love grows every time we give it away.”

How Big Is Love is the companion book from Parker’s series, How High is Hope? and How Far Is Faith?, and would be perfect in the hands of a new mom who wants to read to her baby without fear of the little one tearing pages. It is equally superb for any adult to read to children and begin to practice love in an active way.

The story line is even relative for someone like me. It is simple yet straightforward in its message.

I would have loved to read this book to my one and only son or my grandchildren when they were small.  I hope I can still convey its message to them though they are beyond the board-book stage.

As the holiday season approaches quickly, the gift of How Big Is Love could become someone’s favorite. It is simply a charming book.

NOTE:   I received a copy of How Big Is Love?, provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

B&H blogger icon

Pooh Bear wisdom

There is a lot of wisdom in the simple brain of a bear called Pooh.

A little bit of it says, “You comfort me as I do you. Aren’t you glad that we make two?

The wise man Solomon said, “Two are better than one,” and “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. . . . And if one falls down, the other helps.”

And I say, isn’t it the truth?

When I am sad and someone shares my burden, it lightens it somehow. And when I am happy and someone is there to celebrate with me, it doubles the blessing.  Isn’t that rather incredible?

Friendships are more of a blessing than houses and lands, better than bank accounts and retirement benefits. They require time to cultivate, like a garden of flowers, but the reaping brings fragrance and beauty and delight.

Friends deserve grace for they grace us with a kind of commitment not found in contracts. They give themselves. They offer who they are. And are we not blessed by their giving?

I treasure my friends. I wonder if they know that? They are the ones with whom I can talk openly, be very honest and real and know they will love me anyway. They listen with their hearts when my words come out jumbled.

When they say they will pray for me, they mean it. They are OK if I cry. They are often the ones throwing out the lifeline that keeps me afloat when the troubled sea threatens to overwhelm me.

I am grateful for them. They are comforting like a cozy blanket on a chilled evening.

Let me be a good friend in return. Let me love lavishly. Let me not be offended easily. Let me forgive quickly and ask for forgiveness even quicker. Let me listen more and talk less. Let me see through the words to the soul. Let me pray when I promise I will.

Let me be as good a friend as you are to me.

pooh and piglet

 

For the love of music and people

It’s recital time, one of my favorite activities.

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Three years ago I was the director of an arts academy with almost 90 students. Instructors prepared their students for recital twice a year, in the fall and spring. It was the busiest, most stressful, and hardest weeks of the year as I planned and prepared details to showcase the students’ work.

And it was the most rewarding.

There is nothing quite like listening to young and older ones progressing on the instrument of choice, seeing them grow in stature and in artistic ability. It was a happy weekend.

I retired from that position and now only plan a recital for piano students who come to my home. While it is not nearly as large an event, it is still a busy time. This was the weekend.

I make lists and plan out my strategies. I purchase supplies ahead as much as possible. I delegate when I can, but the week of recital is always busy. I try to keep the designated day free of any other obligations so I can focus on this one thing. The day ends late and I am exhausted when it’s all over.

But the sweet return for my hard work is indescribable.

Years ago I held a corporate position, a demanding job with responsibility and staff to manage. It was one of those goals I had written down years before and it somehow came to fruition. And then one day it was over and gone. Budget cuts eliminated my position, and within a week I was out the door wondering what had happened and where this road was leading me now.

On that day I didn’t have a clue that I would find myself a new career, that of a piano teacher. My love for music led me to share it with others. My fledgling endeavor started slowly, grew by word of mouth, and I’ve had many people sit at my piano through the years. Some didn’t stay long, but some did, the ones who become musicians not just students.

I got a thank-you note this week from a young man to whom I had sent a graduation gift. He was my student for a number of years. His words were so kind, remembering the weekly session we shared at the piano in my living room.

“Sometimes I will sit down and play the piano and think of all that you taught me . . . I will always remember coming to your house on Wednesday afternoons to learn how to play the piano and read music.  Thank you for being patient with me and guiding me as a young man.”

Tears sprang to my eyes as I read. You mean I taught more than note reading and theory? You mean those thirty minutes each week were important to his growing up? I am stunned.

And I am thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to share the skill someone else patiently taught to me. Thankful for that job loss that gave me something completely new. Thankful that God took my meager efforts to make a difference to someone.

Recitals are musically beautiful to me, but they represent something more. There are children growing into teens heading toward adulthood who may remember the treble clef lines as “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” or the meaning of allegro and andante. They might be able to play a minuet or a sonata or a pop tune.

More importantly, will he remember that I cared about the person he was?  Will she know I encouraged the person she was becoming? I hope so.

Teaching music is a skill I learned through practice, just like playing the piano. Learning to love people is a life-long undertaking that requires patience, acceptance, forgiveness, understanding, genuine interest and concern.

I haven’t always done it well. I want to do it better.

Having been loved well by people God put in my life, I know how it works, how it continues to affect me. I will keep practicing until I get it right.

 

 

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Sunday grace

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Oh Lord, I want to love you better.

You love me with a complete and perfect love.  You always want what is ultimately best for me though it is sometimes uncomfortable and difficult to understand.

Your love never gives up on me.  You are always faithful to me even when I am faithless.

You give good gifts every day, all day long, breath by breath.  I need eyes to see those gifts more clearly.

Your greatest command is that I love You – with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

How do I do that?  My love is imperfect, flawed, fickle.  Sometimes my love seems more like mere emotion rather than an act of unselfish giving.

Oh Lord, I want to love you better.

What is the secret of loving You like You require?  Is it even humanly possible to love perfectly when I am so completely imperfect?

Perhaps I find my answer in a prayer.  And I make it my prayer to You, God of all Love.

I pray that Christ and His love will live in me as I open the door and invite Him in.

I pray that being rooted in that love, I will experience and breathe in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.

I pray that I will dive into its depths, clime to its heights, reach out to its extreme east and west, and live in the fullness of God.

What I ask of You, O Lord, is that You help me love like You ask.  I cannot do this on my own.  It is impossible.

But I know this one thing to be true.  You can do anything.  More than I can imagine or request in my wildest dreams.  Your Spirit working deeply and gently within me can accomplish more than I can ever fathom.

And then, when I learn to love You better, You will be glorified.

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{A prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21}