Heavenly Heart
Love, Love and Relationships
13

Love, Love, Love

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I grew up in a house where we said “I love you” a lot. It was a statement of appreciation (“Thanks, Mom! Love you!”), a farewell (“Love you! Bye”), a part of the bedtime routine from childhood through adulthood, (“Goodnight! I love you!”), as well as an expression of sentiment (“Happy Birthday! I love you!”).

I frequently tell my husband, kids, siblings, parents, and friends “I love you!” And I mean it sincerely.

There is a bright shade of lime-green—also known as Julie-green—which I love. I love red wine and dark chocolate. I love cheese. I love my Vita-Mix, my iPhone, and the way my washer and dryer beep me a song when they’re finished a cycle (instead of buzzing). I love Austin.

I recently had the privilege of helping to create a quilt filled with messages of love and support for a dear friend who (after four years in remission and a full mastectomy) is facing a second bout of breast cancer.

A few days ago, my 3 ½ year old got sick in the middle of the night. He came to my bedside and in the saddest, most heartbreaking voice said, “Mommy, I had an accident and it got all over.” Without hesitation I jumped up and consoled him. Within a split second of surveying the scene, I called my husband in to tend to Max while I cleaned up the mess. The whole thing was quite unpleasant, but handled with tremendous love.

So what is love?

With all the different ways we use the word love, it’s a good idea to take a moment to reflect upon what exactly we mean. I am the first to admit my laziness when it comes to distinguishing between like and love. My love of places and things is really about enjoyment. And when it comes to wine, chocolate, technology, and Austin, that enjoyment is pretty intense.

In English, we have one all-inclusive word for love. In Greek, there are four distinct words. I appreciate the insight that C.S. Lewis gives in The Four Loves as he defines and describes each one and their relation to one another.

  1. Storge – (pronounced with two syllables, and a hard “g” ~ STORE-GAY) A love rooted in a natural fondness or affection. This is often the love we find within families, between parents and children or siblings. The expression “blood is thicker than water” reflects storge love.
  2. Philia – (the root word in Philadelphia; pronounced PHILLY-AH) true friendship love, involving loyalty, equality, respect, and the bonds of shared interests and activities.
  3. Eros – (the root word of erotic ~ ERR-OS) refers to a passionate love. This is certainly the intimate love of romance, but it is not necessarily sexual. Eros refers to the passionate love which touches the depths of one’s soul with excitement, energy, and beauty.
  4. Agape (pronounced both as AH-GAH-PAY and AH-GAH-PEE) is the unconditional giving of oneself—selflessly—for the good of another.

C.S. Lewis wisely points out that as we come to understand the different kinds of love, we shouldn’t feel the need to categorize a relationship or even a given experience as exclusively one of the four kinds of love. There is often quite a bit of overlap.

I find myself quite fortunate to have all four kinds of love for my husband. I have always had a fondness for geeks, so he started off with quite a bit of storge. Our friendship grew as we discovered our mutual appreciation of live music and outdoor fun (in Austin). The mutual respect that followed offered us a great foundation for philia, which we continually cultivate with quality time. Over time, we developed eros, with a passionate and energetic connection that feeds my spirit. And we undoubtedly practice agape with each other, with our children, and with the world around us.

I like that CS Lewis affirms that all love is good; we needn’t rate the four loves as superior and inferior. What we should do, however, is pay attention to the differences. Why? Just as we can get ourselves into trouble when we confuse love with like, things can also go awry when we confuse philia with agape (thinking we have to be friends with everybody).

In faith, we are called to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). But Jesus was not calling us to practice eros, storge, or philia. Jesus loves us with agape and calls us to practice agape—unconditional care and concern for the well-being of another—with those we encounter. Agape is the theological virtue of which St. Paul speaks in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Recognizing it as a virtue means that agape is the kind of love we can choose to practice, and become better at practicing.

As you think about who you love, consider also how you love. Which of the four loves do you find abundantly in your life? Which do you find yourself being nudged to cultivate more of and why?


“Heavenly heart © Depositphotos.com/christas”

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Toy airplane on map of China
Human Dignity
5

Actually, no – it’s YOU!

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My Dad’s work with Dell has offered my parents the opportunity to live abroad for two brief stints.  Their first experience as expatriates landed them in Xiamen, China for 3 ½ years.  Presently, they are in the final weeks of a summer in Limerick, Ireland.

If you ask my Mom about their travels, you are likely to hear some of her adventures filled with self-depricating humor.  (Anyone who has ever met my Mom has undoubtedly heard her “My Trip to the Chinese Spa” story, which she recently submitted to Ellen.)  Mom will often humbly speak with awe and wonder at how she—a kid from Upper Darby—has had this amazing opportunity to travel.

What really gives you insight into her daily experiences, however, is her photographs.  It’s not the pictures of the sights that strike me.  It’s the pictures she takes of people.  Strangers.  Ordinary people doing ordinary things in their own cultural context.  My Mom might tell you that she’s inspired by the National Geographic images, or that she’s just capturing part of the experience of the country.  But I’m certain it’s about something more.

About a year into my parents’stay in China, Mom had mastered many of the challenges expats face, but still struggled with just getting things done some days.  She explained that she had a ton of errands to take care of…or rather it wasn’t actually that many…it was just that every errand literally took 12 times longer than it needed to because everyone wanted to talk with her.  Picking up tickets from Apple, the travel agent took an hour.  Shopping for jewelry meant another hour or two with Lenna, “the Pearl Lady.”  And of course on her way to Lenna’s she had to stop by to see Yogi—whether she needed anything from his shop of handpainted knicknacks or not.

CHINA_2005.07.21_0381 IMG_0122 CHINA_2005.07.14_0069
CHINA_2005.07.20_0369

And it wasn’t just shopkeepers. The tiny young woman who Mom frequented for facials and massages—Sha-Sha—wanted to talk with her throughout the entire session. Same went for Mrs. Lee, her acupuncturist.  Talking is a huge no-no in Mom’s book of relaxation, which I completely understand.

Mom couldn’t understand why all of the Chinese people she interacted with wanted to befriend her and talk.  Maybe they want to work on their English, she surmised.  Maybe they have just never seen a “big mamoo” like me.

Actually, no, Mom.

People are drawn to you because you see past their function and engage them as a human person.  You greet the cashier at the airport parking booth with the same genuine care and concern that one would use for friends and family.  People are drawn to you because of how you are with them.

The first time I began using the Catholic vocabulary word human dignity—the specialness, value, and worth each person has simply because we were created in the image and likeness of God—was when I started teaching a Peace and Justice class in the late 90’s.  It may have been a new phrase to me, but it was by no means a foreign concept.

Respect for human dignity is one of the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching.  It is a foundational principle of who we are and how we practice our faith; respecting human dignity leads us to both moral behavior and acting with justice (which is precisely why I use it as a central concept when teaching).

Jewish theologian Martin Buber (d. 1965) contributes great insight to the ways in which we do (or do not) respect human dignity in his classic philosophical work I and Thou.  Buber identifies and describes the two fundamental ways we relate to our fellow human beings:

I—It                   and                  I—You


I—It  objectifies people, treating them as a means to an end.  I—It uses people as things.

I—You exemplifies genuine care and concern for people as human beings.  There is a real, personal presence in I-You encounters.

When we interact with other people, we either I—It them or we I—You them.

We immediately know it when we are on the receiving end of an I—It encounter.  For me, the epitome of this is represented by the retail sales clerk who puts out her hand to receive payment and the customer absent-mindedly tosses money in her general direction.

The quality connection which occurs in the I—You encounter brings life and love to the participants.  True human presence in an I—You exchange could be as simple as a non-verbal, eye-contact and head nod.  Or it could be the conversation true friends share over a glass of wine.  One thing is for sure, in that true human presence, we encounter the Divine: “in every You we address the eternal You” (Martin Buber, I and Thou.  Translated by Walter Kaufman. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970, 57 emphasis added).

I am so very fortunate to have had such an amazing example of respect for human dignity, and such a wonderful experience of I—You encounters with my Mom.  Wishing her a Happy Birthday in Ireland.  Cheers!


“Travel to china © Depositphotos.com/fiftycents”

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Skipping Rocks
Action, Joy, Projects
0

Just Do One Thing

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 On any given to-do list, there are the pressing errands and whatnot that need urgent attention and then there are the projects – small and large – that tend to get back-burnered due to time constraints.

A little while ago, my group of Mom-friends decided they were going to do Project 365, taking a photo every day for a year.  Most of them planned on scrapbooking (digitally or on paper), and documenting a year of daily life in their families.  While I loved the idea, my project list was waaaaay too long, and I was pretty happy with the ease of sharing photos and posts on Facebook for all of my long distance family.

Instead, I proposed my own version: doing a project a day for a year.  I figured if I could just do one thing from my project list every day, it’d really help me out.

I had no idea the profound impact that this practice would have on my life.

I started listing out all those back-burnered things – in no particular order.  At the time I was struggling with depression and an intense set of work deadlines.  Both motivation and time were lacking in major ways.  But moreover, I started to feel mocked by my to-do list.  And there was no way I was going to let a list win.  So I began my 365 Projects.

Just. Do. One. Thing

Some days I would just have 5 or 10 minutes in between work, house, and motherhood responsibilities.  Other times, like on weekends, I’d take a little longer.  I found that if a task required multiple steps – like first acquiring the supplies and then actually patching the holes in the knees of my boys’ jeans – I’d count that as two things, especially since I’d have to do each step on a different day.

Within a remarkably short period of time (maybe six weeks), I had accomplished all of the nagging tasks on my list.  By just doing one thing each day, I eliminated the feeling of being overwhelmed.  I became proactive.  I was, once again, making a difference the organization and function of my home; I was making a difference in my life.

But that wasn’t even the best part.  The BEST part was what happened in my attitude.

Completing each of these projects brought me a little joy.  Every time I would use a space or a “thing” that had been part of one of my 365 Projects, I’d smile.  Embracing that joy transformed my attitude.  Now, when I encounter something that frustrates me, instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-growing to-do list tasks (which will always be there), I get excited about the possibilities and begin brainstorming a solution.

My friend and mentor, Tom Groome offers a reflection on John the Baptist which resonates deeply with people in ministry (and for what it’s worth, I consider motherhood a ministry).  Tom praises John’s wisdom for knowing that he is not the Messiah.  I remember Tom inviting us to speak those words aloud: I am not the MessiahI am not the MessiahI am not the Messiah.

So often – in both our personal and professional lives – we feel like we have to do it all, so overwhelmed by everything before us that we can’t figure out where to begin.

Whether it’s your home, your relationships, your kids, your friends, your work, or the social injustices plaguing our world, it’s a good idea to remind yourself:

I am not the Messiah.

We have one of those.  It’s not all up to you; that’s what God is for.

At the same time, that doesn’t mean that the answer is to do nothing.

When looking at the social injustices in the world, it’s not uncommon to hear people (mis)quote Jesus, “The Poor will always be with us” (Matthew 26:1).

Dorothy Day responds to this beautifully:  “Yes, the poor are always going to be with us—Our Lord told us that—and there will always be a need for our sharing…It will always be a lifetime job.  But I am sure that God did not intend that there be so many poor…we must do what we can to change it” (“Works of Mercy.” Dorothy Day Selected Writings. Ed Robert Ellsberg. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996, 111).

“What we would like to do is change the world…We can to a certain extent change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.  We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world….[T]here is nothing we can do but love, and dear God—please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend” (Ibid, 98).


Skipping Rocks by Robb & Jessie Stankey licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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hands under door
Sabbath
2

Even Jesus Needed Downtime

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My childhood home was a 1000 square foot raised ranch; five people, one bathroom.  My mom’s favorite form of relaxation has always been taking nice, long, hot baths.  Thus, it was not unusual for my siblings and I to unabashedly enter the bathroom as needed while Mom was soaking in the tub.  I mean, isn’t that what the shower curtain is for?

House in McAfee
The thing is that we didn’t necessarily enter to use the facilities.  At any point in Mom’s bath, there may be one, two, or all three of us just talking with Mom: laying on the floor, sitting on the hamper, or lounging on the (closed-lidded) toilet seat with feet propped on the side of the tub as if in a Lazy Boy… just talking.

One day in my adolescence, Mom kind of got a little frustrated with the audience situation.  “Why do you all follow me in here when I take a bath?!”

Speaking from the heart, I responded, “Because it’s the one time we can talk to you without you going anywhere.”

Mom was a little taken aback, thought for a bit, and simply said, “Oh…”

From childhood through young adulthood, whenever I thought of this story, I recalled the honest yearning in my heart to have uninterrupted quality time with my Mom.

Now, as a mother myself, my whole understanding of this family story changed.  I cringe at my Mom’s lack of personal, private downtime.  In fact, now, when I read the story of Jesus healing the paralytic in Mark, I hear something that I never noticed before becoming a mother.

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home.  Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even around the door, and he preached the word to them.  They came bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  Unable to get near Jesus because of the crowd, they opened up the roof above him. After they had broken through, they let down the mat on which the paralytic was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:1-5)

I read this as a mother thinking – OMG, poor Jesus!  Not a moment to himself!  I mean seriously – there was no room in the house so they opened the roof above him!?!  SERIOUSLY?!

Mark, the shortest, most action-packed Gospel is the quickest, easiest read.  Go back to just before this scene into Chapter 1.  After Jesus finished his 40 days in the desert, he begins his ministry, calls his disciples and started teaching.

Verse 28: “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”  I mean, come on.  Isn’t Mom the most popular, called-upon person in the house?

So then Mark’s Gospel explains that Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to the house of Simon (aka Simon-Peter) and cures his MIL of sickness.  And word spread.  The next thing he knew, “The whole town was gathered at the door” (Mark 1:33).

The WHOLE town?  At this point, part of me is wondering what my Mom was complaining about with just three of us in the bathroom…  But only the sarcastic part.

So Jesus gets up very early the next morning before dawn, and goes off to a deserted place to pray (Mark 1:35).  Because he knew that this was his ONLY CHANCE to be alone, refresh, recharge, and reconnect with God through prayer.

And (for real, scripture says this): “those that were with him pursued him” (Mark 1:36).

The poor guy.  Giving everyone everything he has to give.  Selflessly, completely, without hesitation… and he can’t catch a break.  Wakes up early to recharge with some quiet prayer time, and those that were with him pursued him.

Sound familiar?

But wait, there’s more.

Upon finding him, his disciple Simon-Peter tells him “Everyone is looking for you” (Mark 1:37).

So not only are his plans for a moment of peace thwarted, but those closest to Jesus are actually giving him a guilt trip for not being MORE available.

I mean as a Mom, I can soooooooooooo relate to Jesus in this situation.

I can relate to the frustration of thwarted plans for alone time, but I can also learn from Jesus’ example.

No matter how many times his plans were thwarted, Jesus pursued time alone to pray.  Even Jesus needed downtime to quietly reflect, refresh, and recharge.   Those precious times alone with God gave him the strength, courage, and wisdom to be fully present and available to the children of God.  Because, as he told Simon-Peter, “For this purpose have I come” (Mark 1:38).

Jesus knew how important downtime—time to pray—was to being able to fulfill his purpose.

Especially as a Mom, I need to follow Christ’s example.  Girlfriend’s weekend / Mom’s Night Out / Alone Time, here I come!

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Drip Painting
Hope, Joy, Projects, Sabbath, Transformation
4

Just Paint Over It

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For the longest time, I really didn’t have a discernable hobby.  I mean I’ve always enjoyed doing lots (and lots and lots) of different things, but I never felt like I had a concentrated focus on any activity or interest to consider it my answer to what I would do for pleasure or relaxation.

Many of my closest friends and family members (especially my husband) would readily agree that the lack of doing something purely for pleasure or relaxation has been kind of a problem for me.  I don’t know if anyone ever bluntly told me to “go find a hobby.” Maybe they should’ve.  Hmm… Actually, I probably would’ve responded with, “I don’t have time,” which is evidently exactly why I needed one.  But I digress.

Several years ago, I discovered paint-your-own-pottery.  I loved the creative process.  I loved that so long as I approached painting like I was a 9 year old coloring a picture, it turned out pretty cool looking.  AND, I loved that I could use it in my daily life.


Painted Mug 1
Painted Mug 4

Painted Mug 2
Painted Mug 4

Painted Mug 3
Painted Mug 6

After a while, however, I found that paint-your-own-pottery was getting pretty expensive.  And really, how many mugs, plates, bowls, and light-switch plates does a girl need?  Well, over the course of 10+ years, it amounts to quite a bit of both: cost and stuff.

While excitedly working on painting a replacement tea mug, I mentioned my creative joy and my stumbling blocks to my friend, Stacey.  I wanted to do “this kind of thing” more often, but didn’t want the excessive cost or stuff.  She suggested: “Try painting on paper, just for the fun of it.  No one even has to see it if you don’t want them to.”

So I did try.  Twice.  Instead of feeling excitement, relaxation, and pleasure, I was filled with anxiety, completely stressed out about what I was supposed to paint and why.  The process itself was tainted by the fact that I genuinely didn’t like what I painted.  Moreover, I really did want to do something with it.  There was something about the overall purpose of the creation that generated joy for me.

Shortly after these failed attempts at making painting itself a hobby, Stacey’s sister Sara offered her own version of “Pinot and Picasso,” where she taught my group of girlfriends how to paint our own copy of a work of art with step-by-step instructions.  In case you missed it in the class title, there was also a promise of wine, so I was in.

Intimidated even further by the thought of painting on canvas, I hesitated at every step.  Then Sara said something that changed my whole approach to painting:

If you don’t like something, just paint over it.

How freeing!

This insight allowed me to experiment without hesitation.  I had infinite do-over’s.  If something didn’t work, I could just try again, and again, and again until I liked it.  Sometimes that meant starting over.  Sometimes it meant painting over the one spot that wasn’t working.  It removed the pressure of feeling like I had to have the whole thing perfectly planned out before I even started.  Or feeling like it was ruined by one little (or big) mistake.

As a proactive person, I don’t ever want to feel stuck in a complaining rut.  I’d much rather feel empowered to do something about it.  With this just paint over it insight, instead of feeling bound by a choice my attitude became one of exploring the possibilities.

What a wonderful approach to all of life!  If you don’t like something, just paint over it.  As I looked around at my house, my relationships, my work, and inward at myself, this insight became one of transformation.  Don’t trash it; don’t brush it under the carpet and ignore it.  If I didn’t like something, I could transform it.

The very idea of transformation cultivates hope.

In faith, this is the transformation that is linked to forgiveness.  The Greek word for what happens in the transforming process of forgiveness is metanoia.  It is a change of heart, a conversion where the person turns away from what is destructive, hurtful, hateful, and instead turns towards God.

Turning towards God involves

  • forgiving oneself and transforming one’s own character
  • forgiving others, seeking forgiveness from others, and transforming relationships
  • seeking forgiveness from God and becoming transformed.

Put another way, metanoia is about

  • becoming more (and more and more) of a good person
  • doing what is right
  • acting with love
  • helping others
  • Looking around your own life, what would you like to just paint over and transform?

Drip painting by Justin Green licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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