love

Love With No Conditions

mother teresaWe are so quick to judge and keep our prejudice views without ever hearing the story behind the eyes. We see their actions, hear their words, but keep our distance. We never ask how they truly are. We never ask to share their story. We insulate ourselves from the “world.” I think Christian’s take the phrase “in the world, not of the world” too literal. It becomes something of a righteous thing to say.

Oh, that person has AIDS, I shouldn’t go near them. What would people think? But I’ll pray for them (on the rare occasion they cross my mind).

That person is a lesbian/gay…I shouldn’t interact with them. What if their tendencies rub off on me? What if people call me a lesbian/gay because I befriend them? That would tarnish my “Christian” image…but I’ll mail them a tract and find a self-help group for them.

Her husband is divorcing her…it must be her fault. She must have done something horrible. I won’t call her because someone might get mad at me and think I’m taking sides. She probably already has support. But I’ll put her on the prayer chain and then gossip about her with my “friends.”

Their child has a rotten attitude and no manners. They are so disrespectful and disruptive. They shouldn’t have them in church. They cause a ruckus. I would never let my child act that way. They must be horrible parents. And I’ll tell them so.

and on and on and on and on….

It never ends. Christians shoot the wounded, the hurting, the lost. Instead of loving and helping them, they condemn, judge, ridicule, withdraw, gossip, etc. about them. Why is that? Why has love become so conditional among God’s followers? I’m always lost as to how people can justify the kind of conditional, demanding love that they have and claim they are Christian and acting like Jesus. The Jesus I know loved everyone…regardless of race, status, past, problems, sexual orientation, married, single, widowed, separated, poor, wealthy, in-between, dirty, clean, prostitute, diseased, drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, lost, and more. He never distinguished between the people that he loved. And no one had to do anything to earn his love. He gave it freely. It doesn’t mean that Jesus condoned or liked what the person was a part of or involved in or where they were at in life…but instead of judging, he loved.

What would happen if more of us chose to love freely instead of beating them up? Instead of wounding those who are already hurting? They don’t need someone telling them their life is screwed up. Nine chances out of ten, that person is already quite well aware of where they are in life. They don’t need to be reminded of it every time they turn around. Instead, they need to be loved, wanted, needed…believed that they are loved in spite of their messy, screwed up lives. People who will love them in the middle of everything…who will be their friend, their confidant, their helper. People who won’t tell them how to fix things, how to change, what to do, how they screwed up, preaching and teaching.

Listen to their silence. Sit with them in their quiet, in their pain, in their joys and heartaches. Hold them in their tears. Rage when they rage. Cry when they cry. Laugh when they laugh. Be quiet when they are quiet. Don’t fill the silence with meaningless words. You can’t fix it. You can’t change it. And don’t try. You aren’t their savior and you aren’t their God. And the relationships aren’t about trying to make yourself feel better, look like a better Christian, earn a ‘notch’ in your belt, be a witness. Instead, you are to love. Read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s the defining chapter of love in the Bible.

Love is meant to be freely given, without conditions. it is a gift that was given to us to give to others. How dare we pick and choose the benefactors as though they must earn it. 

Love, Authenticity, and Truth

Been a long time…I thought I would give up blogging forever as I moved on to other things, but I have a pull to always write, to dialogue, to share my thoughts and hear the thoughts of others. I’m reading a book right now, “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller. It’s provoking some interesting thoughts, touching on some things that I’ve always pondered. So much so that I feel compelled to write Donald Miller about my thoughts, something I don’t normally do. Yet, sadly, I’ve not found a way to connect or contact him. His blog, Storyline, and Facebook page seem to be completely devoid of his personal touch. Instead, it appears he has become more “corporate” and “untouchable,” marketing his new Storyline brand. How sad for me. Therefore, I’m sharing my thoughts publicly instead of privately…to hear your thoughts.

I struggled picking up this book. I thought it would be another holier-than-thou, beat me over the head Christian book that would make me feel guilty for my shortcomings and failings as a “Christian.” But I’m finding that my mind is stirred, my spirituality is simmering, my desire to converse is spilling out of me into this blog post. A good thing, I suppose, when you really look at it.

I have always considered myself a Christian, but the meaning of that has changed as I’ve grown and stretched as a person. It is more about Christian spirituality now. I wince whenever I say that I’m a “Christian,” because I don’t associate myself and my beliefs with the larger, negative view of Christianity. As a matter of fact, I try to distance myself from it, embarrassed and shamed by the vitriol, ugliness, and judgment that radiates from the outspoken right-wing groups. Not to mention the cruelty of things done “in the name of Christ.” My heart aches because of it. I want to scream and shout, “That’s not Jesus! That’s not me! That’s not what it’s all about!”

I’ll be the first to admit my spirituality is messy, unruly, and uncouth. I was raised in the conservative church and chewed up and spit out by the same conservative church. I know all the “rules,” the should’s and should nots. The feeling of not belonging because I’m different, authentic, and have a tendency to question authority. Why would I want to love something that doesn’t love me and who I am now, at this very moment?

I haven’t been back to an organized church since I was vomited out of the church 10 years ago, like a putrid sickness that was contagious. I was beaten and battered, disgraced and shamed, unloved and unwanted because I was me, my authentic self. But isn’t the church supposed to love the unlovable, the different, the cynics, the skeptics, the gay, the drug addicts, the artists, the rebels, the outspoken, the homeless, and still others? That’s what I thought. Apparently, the church did not agree with me. I’m afraid to go back.

Now keep this in mind…I’m not bashing churches as a whole at all. I’m commenting on the ones that I’ve had personal experience with through the years. Yet still, I love God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in His all-consuming, graceful love for me and humanity. At times, I doubt it. How can He love someone like me? Is He even real? Is what I believe in even possible? Or is it all some odd fantasy cooked up by someone and we’ve all been fooled? I worry that I won’t live forever with Him. I’m scared that when I turn to dust, it’s just that….dust. Nothing. Finite. But Jesus says that with Him, we are everlasting, infinite.

I keep coming back to the same two questions…Does He really exist, and if so, Does He really love someone like me?

I Found Christmas at Red Robin

prime chophouse burger

Last night we ate at Red Robin, a favorite place of ours to grab a burger. Don’t bash me for eating at a chain. They make pretty damn good burgers. Normally, I get the Banzai burger which has teriyaki sauce and pineapple on it. I never change my mind. When it comes to eating out, I know what I like and I stick with it, including eating at the same restaurants.  Call me boring. Go ahead. I’ll still get the same food every time because I know it’s good. (which is odd considering I am willing and adventurous to try any food at least once…who knows how my mind works. If you figure it out, let me know.) But something got into me last night. I decided to branch out into the unknown. Drum roll please…..da dum, da dum, da dum, da dum….I was going to try a new burger! I know…it’s the little things that excite me.

I went for the Prime Chophouse burger instead of the Banzai. Be still my beating heart! (maybe literally because the calories in these things are ginormous, but who’s counting?) And guess what? It was delicious! I loved it! Okay, maybe you’re not that surprised that I liked it. I mean, who doesn’t like a good steak burger with onion straws, steak sauce, horseradish, mushrooms, and melting cheese?

As enjoyable as the burger was, it became unimportant as I bore witness to the love and joy of sharing at Christmas time. At a restaurant, you say? Believe it or not, yep. Our waitress, Kim M., was a bit frazzled from a rush of customers. Running hither and yon, she breezed by our table and took our order quickly, apologized for the wait, and hurried to another table. A lot of people would get upset at not being waited on hand and foot, or coddled as though they are a “celebrity” who chose to grace the restaurant with their presence. Don’t deny it…you’ve seen the attitude, too (or been a culprit). I’ll admit, in the past, that would have been me.

Over time, though, I have learned that there is usually a story behind how someone is behaving or treating me negatively, in my eyes. It’s not about me…and it’s not about you. It’s about them and how crappy things are in their life at that moment. As much as we admonish people to leave their personal lives at home when coming in to work, it doesn’t always happen. It’s not always possible. And at times, it’s appreciated because it helps us realize that we are all human and struggling in our own way.

Now, we’ve had Kim as a waitress before. She is a delight and joy to be around and as a waitress, she makes you feel as though you are her only guests. She has a special knack for touching your heart just by serving you. Tonight, she looked drawn and weary. Her eyes didn’t have their normal sparkling light. Our food took longer than normal to get to our table. She kept apologizing profusely every time she rushed by. We didn’t mind. We were enjoying conversing and people watching (a favorite pastime of mine). Finally, she brought us our food and paused for a moment’s breath at our table. She remembered us from times past and asked if we needed anything else, apologizing, asking what she could do to make sure we come back for another visit. We assured her that we would always come back. It’s not her fault that it was so busy. What point was there in getting upset? It wouldn’t help anyone.

I asked her if she had any special plans for Christmas. The light dimmed in her eyes even further. Kim quietly told us that her husband passed away suddenly in September. She’s doing her best to make things as ordinary as possible for her three kids – a 22-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old twin sons. She’s working as much as she can to provide for them, but her manager was kind enough to make sure she had off on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and so forth so she could spend the time with her family. She was calm, but I could see the flickers of pain and sorrow.

I mentioned that my spouse’s mom had passed away suddenly in May so we could understand her difficulty with the Christmas holidays this year. And then Kim being Kim, with all her love and compassion, hugged my spouse tightly, told her I’m so sorry, and they commiserated on their shared pain with tears in their eyes. She gave me a hug, too, and wished us both a Merry Christmas, again asking if we are sure we would come back to the restaurant. How could we not after witnessing such a warm, deep heart? Of course, we would be back. We left her a 50% tip, which still wasn’t much as our own finances are tight, but we give where we can.

We left Red Robin in awe, humbled by the experience. I’ve become more patient with people in the service industry. You don’t know their history, their background, or where they are at in life. Maybe they treat you badly one day, but have you ever thought that maybe something in their life is causing it? Don’t take it personally. Remember that they are human just like you and me, and since we can’t always push aside our struggles while at work, neither can they. Have patience. Kindness goes a lot further than anger and you may be surprised at the result.

You can find Christmas everywhere if you’re just willing to look for it.

 

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A Legacy of Love, Compassion, and Grace

My mother-in-law passed away on 5/12/12 at the age of 86. Her death was sudden and quite unexpected as we all used to always joke that she would outlive us all. But life has a way of showing you not to ever take anything for granted.

Her memorial service was this past Saturday and what a memorial service it was! Instead of a funeral, it was a celebration of an extraordinary life. I was in awe of how many lives she had touched personally and how many she had touched beyond her. It is a testament to her character.

As I wrote in a previous post, I regret not spending more time with her and asking questions about her German history. My intention was to write the story of her life during WWII and the Nazi regime. But apparently, there is more to the story than I realized at the time.

A native German from Bavaria, she lived through WWII and the Nazi regime in Germany. She was bombed out of her home three times and left homeless, with only the clothes on her back. She and her family scraped for food and stood in the long lines at the food banks, only to receive a ration of bread and potatoes. Often, their only meal of the day consisted of a boiled potato in water to make “soup.” She was accosted by United States soldiers in Germany who had rape on their minds but was “saved” by a General who happened to be driving by. She and her mother traveled secretively into Russia to visit their Uncle who was wounded in battle.  She swam over four miles in a lake on the dare of her friends for a case of champagne. She was engaged twice to men in Germany, both who died during the War, before she met the U.S. Airforce pilot who became her husband. She was a translator and researcher for the United States military for over 12 years. This was how she met her husband.

After she married, her first son died as an infant in Germany. She then immigrated with her husband to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 1959. She proceeded to have three more children who are still living on the East Coast. She fought cancer, bravely trooped through the deaths of her husband, and many of her German friends, and so much more.

The events go on and on…yet never did you hear her complain, lament her past, say “woe is me,” or allow pity for her circumstances. There was a consistent theme during her memorial service – forgiveness, grace, compassion, and love. It didn’t matter who you were or what your circumstances were, she loved you and would give you a warm meal and the clothes off her back if that was what you needed. She had a gentle touch, a pure heart, and a giving spirit. I often think of 1 Corinthians 13, which is a Biblical passage usually read at weddings, when I think of her.

1 Corinthians 13 (The Message)

The Way of Love

1 If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3-7If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.   Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

 But keeps going to the end.

8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

11When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. 12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

Powerful words. This was her legacy. Person after person could describe the ways in which she loved them and was a light in their lives. This is not to say she was perfect. No one is perfect, as we all well know. But she lived her life with grace and bore truth to that grace.

Her story has become something larger than I ever imagined or knew. It is not only a story of her survival during WWII and the Nazi regime…it is a story of love. I may have missed my chance to tell only the German part of her story, but what I’ve gained is far beyond measure. I can now tell her full story of love, compassion, and grace. God held the story until it was complete. Until I could understand the entire scope of her life and what it means for those of us who are still here in this earthly world.

This is the story that I’m meant to write about her.