Archive

Tag Archives: love

 

Jesus asks his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That sounds really nice. Everyone likes to love and be loved. But what does it look like in practice?

When my husband and I first got married, we moved into a large apartment complex in southeast Portland. We soon met our next-door neighbors, an 18-year-old girl and her 26-year-old boyfriend. My first encounter with the girl was when she asked me if she could borrow my bicycle to ride one block to 7-11. Caught off guard by her request, I offered to drive her the one block instead.

Of course, this set up a precedent wherein she would often knock on our door asking for a ride or to borrow money or use our phone. Usually I, being a love-your-neighbor Christian, would grant her requests. Except for the times that I would pull the blinds shut and pretend not to be home.

This girl had a baby from a different daddy than her current boyfriend. Her baby was in foster care and his father was in jail. She was still in high school. She wanted her baby back. She would get him back soon, she often told me.

Her world was new to me. None of my high school friends had had babies or 26-year-old boyfriends or exes who were in jail.

Her circumstances were new to me, but the dynamics of our relationship were not. She was a Needy Person. I’d had other friends who were needy too, friends who made bad choices about drugs and promiscuous sex again and again. Friends who complained about their lives and asked for my advice and then would not listen to it. Friends who took and took and did not give back. Friends whose lives were black holes into which I tried to shine the light of Jesus.

Throughout the year, our neighbors’ problems seemed to get worse. They got jobs and lost jobs. Their car was towed due to lack of insurance. They borrowed our vacuum cleaner and gave us fleas. When they asked us for money to buy a flea bomb, we said we didn’t have cash. They asked if we could go to the bank and withdraw money. We said no.

We moved out as soon as our lease was up, quickly and quietly, without saying goodbye to them. Sadly and predictably, in the following years, I’ve been hesitant to get to know my neighbors.

What did I learn from this? I learned that loving your neighbor can be inconvenient. Sometimes you may get fleas, even though you don’t have pets. I also learned that it’s important for me to set boundaries with people. For example, I do not need to give someone a ride to a place that is within easy walking distance. I do not need to give money to someone who recently quit his or her job.

I do need to seek God’s will in my day-to-day encounters. God’s quiet voice may ask me to buy a sandwich for this panhandler or go to coffee with that friend. Or it may ask me to spend a quiet morning recharging my spirit through prayer.

In the words of theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In order to love those around us, we first need God to fill us up with His deep gladness. The world may have an endless need for love, but thankfully God’s love is endless.

 

How do you find a balance between showing kindness to others and having boundaries?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I originally wrote this as a guest post for the blog of my friend A.J. Swoboda (ajswoboda.com), pastor, theology professor and author of Messy: God Likes it That Way.

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

Throughout my life I’ve often felt like an outsider, as if I could never be part of the in-crowd. Maybe you can relate to that, and then again maybe you can’t. Since we’ve just moved to a new town, we’re outsiders now because we don’t know many people. At our last church, even though we’d been a part of it for years, I felt like an outsider after my daughter was born because the church was mostly made up of younger people without children. In grad school, I was one of the few married people. In college, I didn’t feel like I quite fit in with the Christians because I was too liberal, and I didn’t quite fit in with anyone else because I was too Christian. Likewise, when I worked at Christian schools, I always felt I had to keep my liberal political leanings under wraps, so I couldn’t really be myself. As a kid, I didn’t know how to make friends, had uneven bangs and snaggle teeth, and was occasionally ostracized by the popular girls.

I assume that everyone feels like this at one time or another, that the sense of not quite fitting in is part of the human condition. Though maybe there are some attractive, outgoing, charismatic people who truly have never felt this way. There have been times in my life when I have fit in and it felt pretty great. In fourth grade, I attended a spring break sports camp where I somehow managed to be extremely popular — everyone wanted to be my friend. (I guess because I used to be good at sports? Or maybe I dressed well that week?). In high school, although not part of the “popular” clique, I did have a big group of nice and fun friends. And most shockingly in college my future husband (who when I’d met, I’d immediately dismissed as too good-looking and popular for me), wanted to date me. Thanks, but I don’t want to be a part of any club that would accept me as a member….(ha!)

The good news for those of us who don’t quite fit in is that Jesus didn’t fit in either. Jesus hung out with social outcasts and as a result was ostracized by the religious leaders of his day. Basically, if Jesus had gone to your high school, he would have been a friend to all those kids who didn’t have friends. He wouldn’t have worn the cool clothes or listened to the cool music. The popular kids would have teased him mercilessly and never invited him to their parties. And yet, Jesus forgives again and again.

The moments in my life when I do fit in and feel well loved are small glimpses of heaven. When my daughter wants to “nuggle,” when my husband asks me about my day, when we share dinner and laughs with friends we’ve known for years. In my mind, heaven is like a huge dinner party with all our best friends, and everyone is invited. And that’s good news.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

What about you? Can you relate to being an outsider? And what’s your idea of heaven?

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. I can tell I’m getting older because I have to dye my hair more frequently. Tragically I have been going gray since high school. Also I’m not as skinny as I used to be, though that is probably more to do with a combination of my husband’s amazing cooking and my being a mom.

My 6th birthday party.

My 6th birthday party.

Anyway I had a very nice birthday. I would have loved to have a big party for my 30th, but since we just moved back to my hometown we don’t know many people here. Spencer and I were able to go out to dinner Sunday night with my friend Giselle who I have known since freshman year of high school — which was half my lifetime ago (!). It was nice to spend some time with her as she’s been living in Chicago for the past seven years, during which I’ve only seen her a couple times. She tells me that for my 18th birthday all my friends decorated my locker with pictures of Ben Affleck, but I have no memory of this. I do remember that we ate dinner at the Olive Garden and that my friend Kevin “Prom Date” Bryan wrote me a rap.

On my birthday Marie and I joined my parents and grandmother for breakfast at The Glenwood, where Marie ate about 50 blueberries (also known as “bluebees”). In the afternoon my mom, Marie and I went shopping. Spence made dinner that evening and my parents joined us. We had grilled salmon, asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes, and salad with Chardonnay. Followed by an incredible Sweet Life tiramisu and some champagne. Tiramisu might be my favorite dessert ever. It was the top layer of our wedding cake — because, why not?

And so — goodbye to my 20s. I started dating my husband a few months after my 20th birthday, which means that we’ve almost been together for ten years. My 20th year was quite a life-changing year for me. I strongly reconnected with my faith, started dating my future husband, and spent 6 weeks interning at a newspaper in Ghana.

Have I accomplished the things I had hoped to accomplish by age 30? I had definitely expected to have more success in my career by this age — if you’ve been reading my blog you may have noticed this as a recurring theme. The recession has taken its toll on that aspect of my life, but that is what it is. I seem to be doing pretty well in my personal relationships. That’s really what matters.

I am very goal-oriented and I would use this opportunity to share my five year plan for my life now, but to be honest I don’t really have one anymore. At least, not in terms of my career. For my life, my plan for the next five years is to continue to be a good mother and wife. To build strong relationships with my family and friends. To continue to grow closer to God and to seek His direction and provision for my life. And to keep writing because writing is an important part of who I am. Beyond that — we’ll have to wait and see.

Last week I had the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the University of Oregon campus. I was thrilled to have this chance, and it was evident from the sold-out crowd packing the basketball arena that others felt the same. Although I am a devout Christian, I have been interested in the Dalai Lama since reading The Art of Happiness as a teenager. Maybe I’m weird — I recently told my pastor that I had been “very concerned about the meaning of life” as a middle school student, and he thought that was pretty funny. I’ve just always been more spiritually-inclined than your average person.

Sold-out crowd to hear Dalai Lama speak at UO.

Sold-out crowd to hear Dalai Lama speak at UO.

During his speech, the Dalai Lama spent a good amount of time emphasizing the oneness of humanity and said that “extreme selfishness closes our inner door and causes more loneliness and anxiety.”

He said that although he prays as part of his religious practice, he believes that “action is more important than prayer.” I certainly agree with this, although I also believe that prayer is more important than most people give it credit for. In my experience, prayer can lead to real changes. But what is prayer without action?

We must be willing to pray with our feet.

Most relevant to me, he emphasized the importance of mothers. He said, “the real source of compassion is our mother.” We learn to love by the love that our mothers give us as infants. He advised us to “provide the maximum compassion to your children and to spend more time with your children.” It felt so good to hear that. There have been times this past year when I felt like I was not contributing enough to the world by being a stay-at-home mom. But then — shazam — the Dalai Lama informs me that being a mom is the most important job of all.

I probably should have figured that out sooner.

did you know
your first birthday
marked my one year anniversary
as a superhero?
that’s right, i’m now a mother
and though i’d always wished
for a superpower like flight
shape-shifting
or better yet
the ability to move things with my mind
i’ll take the powers of pregnancy and birth
the ability to wipe away your tears
and hold you for hours
the power to love you
with all i am
was
am yet to be

IMG_0483