Tag Archive: encouragement


When Love Isn’t Pretty

Valentine’s Day. Cupid’s arrow. Hearts. Cards. Balloons. Flowers. Chocolate. And maybe some bling. It’s a day we specifically set aside to show our love in tangible ways. A special dinner or concert, maybe a romantic getaway, or an evening out to see the latest romantic comedy at the theater. February 14th is a day to celebrate and express some of the deepest feelings of the heart.

It’s a beautiful day painted with reds, pinks, whites, and even purples in every possible combination. And isn’t it easy to love when love is easy? When it feels good, when it warms the soul, when it brings uncontainable joy?

But what happens when love isn’t pretty?

I must confess I’m a hopeless romantic at heart. I love romantic novels (real love stories, not the sleazy ones), romantic movies (Somewhere in Time, The Notebook, Sleepless in Seattle) and romantic music (no one does it better than Rachmaninoff and Barry White). But I’ve been reflecting these last few weeks about love. Real love. Enduring love. Love that goes the distance. It’s a very different thing from what we see portrayed on TV commercials and in magazines.

My maternal grandparents were a powerful example of real love. Oh my, how Memaw and PaPa loved each other! My grandmother could walk into the room and PaPa’s face would light up like Christmas morning. Memaw always spoke my grandfather’s name, Charles, with uncontested pride and respect. She genuinely adored being his wife. My PaPa was a preacher for 57 years and Memaw was a faithful preacher’s wife, pianist, Sunday School teacher, mother to five, and elementary school teacher right along beside him. Any time my grandfather expressed his concern about not being a seminary graduate, my grandmother would pat his arm sand say, “Now Charles, you’re a good preacher. And you love your people. Don’t you let anyone make you feel badly about not having a piece of paper on the wall at your office.”  Memaw and PaPa loved their children, their extended family, their neighbors, and their church. But they loved no one the way they loved each other. PaPa kept his good looks all throughout his life and Memaw was careful to keep hers, looking mighty fine for him as well. She still has the prettiest legs of any woman I’ve ever known – and she’s 96!

When my PaPa’s cancer returned aggressively in early 1991, he endured extensive radiation treatments that can only be described as horrific. My grandmother never left his side. When it was time to make arrangements for hospice, she found a nurse to come live with them. But Memaw made it very clear she was his caretaker; the nurse was there only to help her manage his pain. After he passed, through deep sobbing cries she said, “I miss him so much. But I wouldn’t bring him back for anything. He’s whole now and I wouldn’t want to take that away from him.”

That, my friends, is real love.

My paternal grandparents were a beautiful example of love that goes the distance. My Grammie and PawPaw were kind, gracious, respectful of each other and those around them, and hospitable. They loved their family and especially their grandchildren. PawPaw always planted an amazing garden in their enormous backyard and Grammie would surely have hosted a cooking show if The Food Network had been around in her day.  I don’t remember them being openly affectionate with each other but their love and commitment was undeniable. And I do remember upon my first trip home from college, PawPaw actually returned my hug when I threw my arms around his neck.

When doctors confirmed my Grammie’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, we knew it would be difficult. We had no idea how agonizing it would be. My beautiful grandmother, an elegant, strong Southern lady who never had a hair out of place, who taught me to peel peaches and cook fried chicken, who gave me my love for rocking chairs, lost herself in a place too far away for us to reach. I’ll never forget the first time I went to their house and she didn’t recognize me. It was crushing. My PawPaw gently, lovingly, stubbornly cared for her in their home 24/7/365 until it nearly killed him. By the time he finally relented and moved her to a nursing facility, he had not slept more than an hour or two at a time for months.

PawPaw spent every day with her, holding her hand, talking to her, bringing her things that might touch some place deep in the recesses of her mind. When she yelled at him and called him names, he loved her. When she tried to run away in her nightgown, he loved her. When she accused him of holding her hostage and keeping her from her parents (long since passed), he loved her. And when she could no longer communicate at all, he loved her still. He grieved the loss of his beloved Anna Mae for years before death finally released her.

That, my friends, is love that goes the distance.

When I received my cancer diagnosis in 2001, I was shocked to learn that many of our ‘friends’ told my husband that our marriage would never survive such a traumatic event. “Hang in there as long as you can, Richard,” they told him. “And when it’s finally over, just know you did your best.” That’s not enduring love. Enduring love doesn’t bail when love gets hard. Enduring love digs its heels in and finds a way to stay. And stay he did. Richard was by my side through every surgery, every doctor’s visit, every chemo treatment, every perinatal checkup, every lab appointment, every radiation treatment, every day, every week, every month.

Richard took care of the kids, managed my care, maintained the schedule of meals and house cleanings, and stayed on top of Alex’s homework. He knew when to let me do a little and he knew when to make me stop. He was my bodyguard when people wanted to hug me too soon after a surgery, my protector when strangers turned away from my bald-headed, pregnant, one-breasted self, and my personal comedian when we needed to add a little salt to our very full plate. There were many things we were afraid to confess to each other during that time; things maybe the other one of us hadn’t thought about yet. But leaving was never one of them. Richard is loyal to the core. And he would take on the devil himself for his family.

That, my friends, is enduring love.

All these examples point me to a greater love – undoubtedly the best example ever provided to humanity. His wasn’t pretty either. Subjected to cruel mocking and bitter hatred, an inhumane beating and a torturous crucifixion, Jesus showed us what love looks like when it isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. His was a real love which valued obedience to his Father over his own comfort and convenience; an enduring love that bore the shameful, humiliating penalty of our sin on his own sinless body. Love that felt no bitterness, hatred, or judgment towards the one who betrayed him, only deep sorrow. Love willing to go the distance, even unto death on a cross, willing to do whatever it took to defeat Love’s enemy which he triumphantly accomplished on that glorious third day.

For your sake. For my sake. For eternity’s sake.

As we exchange cards, flowers, gifts, and our affection on Valentine’s Day, let us remember the greatest love of all, expressed in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world [real love] that He gave His only son [enduring love], that whosoever believes in him should have everlasting life [love that goes the distance].”

Love that loves when it isn’t pretty.

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Scrabble With God

After my cancer diagnosis years ago I had a small window of time between my last surgery and the first of four chemotherapy treatments. My ‘chemo cocktail’, Adriamycin and Cytoxan (known affectionately to us cancer insiders as A/C), would cost me my hair, my energy, and very possibly the child I was carrying. At the time, some precious friends of ours owned a cabin nestled deep in the mountains of north Georgia. They generously offered to let me have a mini-retreat there, providing a much-needed opportunity to clear my head and focus on what we were about to undertake. I tend to be rather introspective and, unlike my husband who would have chosen this time to be immersed in family and friends 24/7, I really wanted and needed some time alone.

Richard was concerned about me going so far away by myself, especially where cell phone coverage would be minimal, so we invited my ‘chocolate chip cookie’ friend, Alison, to join me.

A little back-story: The day I received my diagnosis (over the phone) was one of the longest, most bizarre days of my life. Time stood still in a way but also seemed to suddenly spin wildly out of control. A friend of mine recently described it as “frozen, but moving.” I became a cancer survivor, patient, victim, and fighter in a matter of seconds. By evening we were all completely exhausted. I had just finished giving Rachel her bath – she was 2 ½ at the time – and had walked into the kitchen to make chocolate chip cookies for Richard and our older son Alex. They had seen a commercial on TV while I was bathing Rachel and a nice plate of comfort food with a glass of cold milk sounded pretty good to all of us.

As our little Rachel was helping me find the cookie dough in the refrigerator, we heard a knock at the front door. Honestly, I wondered who on earth would be coming over at this late hour and headed through the family room to see who had come for a visit. When I opened the door, the unmistakable delicious aroma of chocolate hit my nose. There stood my friend, Alison, with a basket of homemade fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Flashing that celebrity smile of hers, she stepped inside and said, “I didn’t know what to do except pray and bring chocolate!” We laughed. We hugged. We cried. We ate every one of those cookies.

Now back to my mini-retreat: Alison and I agreed that this was not going to be a trip for shopping and gallivanting. We have similar personalities and she was one of the few people in my life who truly understood my need for solitude. Heading out early one Wednesday morning we enjoyed some specifically chosen CDs on our beautiful drive into the trees. We found the cabin after only one wrong turn and it took just a few minutes for us to unpack and become acquainted with our surroundings. The cabin was gorgeous – beautifully decorated and perfectly inviting. Smiling photographs of family and friends were everywhere and I instantly felt a sense of peace and calm about my time there. The sun was warm and high in the sky so Alison and I ventured out for a walk.

We walked quietly together, winding our way through the trees and embracing the chill in the air. As much as I was enjoying the simple therapy of being surrounded by all things natural, Alison could sense that I was running out of steam. “Hey, why don’t we head back? I’m about ready for a bite to eat. How about you?” I agreed and we soon found ourselves back inside, deciding on popcorn and an apple for our snack. We were thrilled to find an enormous deck on the back side of the cabin complete with oversized rocking chairs and a breathtaking view of those rolling north Georgia mountains.

I grabbed a blanket to wrap around my legs and was rocking gently, watching the sun change the sky as it began to settle. Alison broke the silence by asking, “Have you ever played Scrabble with God?” My raised eyebrows answered for me. She explained that this was a game she had been playing for years by simply laying out a Scrabble board, choosing random tiles, building random words, and when no more tiles could be used, looking at the board as a whole and reflecting on what was there. I decided to give it a go. At first we joked and laughed a bit about some of the funny, crazy combinations we could design and how the words played off each other. But the more I pulled those random tiles from the table, the more focused I became. This game was drawing me in. It was truly as if God was allowing me to see words in my tiles before they were even a conscious thought.

When the board was full and I couldn’t build anything more with the remaining tiles, Alison and I began to read the words aloud. I don’t remember all of them, but I do specifically recall words like faith, joy, courage, family, spirit, and hope. I’m sure my frame of mind made me more attune to such words but still, the tiles didn’t lie. I hadn’t exchanged any, hadn’t turned in my slate for a do-over, or manipulated any of the letters. It was a simple yet profound way of God reminding me that He was very aware…and He was there. Alison and I sat quietly and watched a beautiful sunset paint its way into darkness before going inside. The rest of our time together was exactly what my doctor – the Master Healer – had ordered: I read, I wrote, I prayed, I laughed, I slept, I cried a little.

We arrive back home a few days later and I felt refreshed, focused, even energized.

Scrabble with God. Just one more beautiful way in which He reminds us that we are never far from His heart. Or His hand.

“Be careful – you’re gonna’ reap what you sow.” Remember hearing these words spoken from someone older (and probably wiser)?

I certainly do. I found myself on the receiving end of this admonishment from grandmothers, parents, teachers, my parents’ friends, neighbors, you name it. Having been born and raised in the South, this little nugget of truth wedged itself in my brain right alongside the more classic, “you ain’t got no dog in that fight” (translation, mind your own business) and “bless her heart, every dog has to have a few fleas” (translation, no one is perfect).

Of course, I also learned at a very early age that we could say anything about anybody as long as it was preceded by “bless her heart”.

Ahhh, how I love the South! But, that’s another blog for another day…

Karma; consequences; GIGO, the iconic ‘garbage in, garbage out’ which originated with the IRS during its shift to computer science in the early 60s.  Whatever terminology you use, it boils down to the same thing: if you do good stuff, you’ll get good stuff back; if you don’t, you won’t.  Now, try this on for size:

Hosea 8:7, “they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”

This tiny little verse in the tiny little book of Hosea takes the concept to a whole new level. These words introduce the principle that we actually reap exponentially MORE than what we sow; ‘they sow the wind and reap the whirlwind’. I like the idea of reaping more than what I sow when it’s in the positive; but wow, not so much the negative. As I reminisce through the years, I can think of very specific examples where both these principles have played out in my own life and the lives of those around me. What about you? Are you able to temporarily see through the glasses of your past and examine where you have reaped – for the better or worse – what you have sown?

Our children begin to experience this at an early age: if they play nicely and use their manners, the reward is praise and encouragement – and sometimes an ice cream cone! Conversely, when children lie or act out inappropriately towards another, the consequence takes on varying forms of discipline. Discipline is a tricky thing these days, ranging in severity from the Time Out chair (or corner) to having the Hand of Knowledge applied to the Seat of Understanding (my dad preferred the latter but hey, I’m old school). Hopefully, these life lessons are engrained in our psyche very early on. But all too often as adults, I think we challenge this truth and try to beat the system. Minor offenses, ‘little white lies’, nothing significant or alarming to those around us. Until the whirlwind hits.

We behave based on the mindset that we are above negative or unpleasant consequences. We are not.

There are laws in nature: survival of the fittest; predator versus prey; gravity; the cycle of the tides. There are laws in life as well and this one is a classic. I’m taking this new month in this new year to re-examine some of the actions I take for granted and my mindset behind them. There’s some sowing I need to do and some sowing I need to stop. As my best friend shared with me recently, “if you don’t like the dance, change the steps.”

If you’re currently reaping an unpleasant whirlwind, may I encourage you to take a closer look at what you’re sowing?  And if you’re in that wonderful place where you are reaping a bounty and experiencing a refreshing whirlwind of blessing, be thankful…and do a happy dance!

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