Love Or Just Celebrating It?

Here we are on Valentine’s Day 2019, a day on which many people celebrate love, but what exactly does that mean?  Is it a day where people truly step back and think about what love is, or is the focus on what they get or what kind of display of affection their significant others do for them?  I remember working for a company that announced over the loudspeaker the names of everyone who had received a delivery during the previous 30 minutes.  It went on all day long!  Over the years it began to feel almost like a contest of how many times your name would be announced, as if it was some indicator of how much you were loved by others.  What started as an easy way to organize deliveries for a people within a large company became a source of pain for so many people whose names weren’t called multiple times or maybe not called at all.  My point is, what should we celebrate when we think of love?  We should celebrate the traits of what it means to truly love others.  1 Corinthians 13 tell us the true nature of love:

img_6962“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We like to quote those verses or turn them into wall hangings, but so often they become exactly what they shouldn’t – decoration.  The more we look at things, the easier it is to stop seeing them.  It is easy to get caught up in the trap of saying the right things, but not living them.  It’s easy to get lost in our own desires or how others aren’t acting or reacting like we think they should.  Once we start down that road, it leads nowhere positive.  Look at the beginning of that same passage of scripture:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

 We like to jump to the section that so beautifully describes the nature of love, but skip over the first few verses that tell us we can be the most eloquent, gifted, generous person on the planet, but if we do not have love, then we are NOTHING!  Let that sink in for a moment.  (I’ll wait…)  It’s quite a statement of what happens when we get so focused on ourselves and start thinking everyone else is wrong or are doing things wrong.  We start expecting things and then get upset when we don’t get them.  It is one of the many reasons why Valentine’s Day has become such a commercialized day of supposed romance.  Society keeps trying to define for us what love looks like, and we just keep absorbing that view.  We need to stop.  We need to get back to truly loving each other, and we need to do it every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.

shutterstock_65540413In a time when we are more divided than ever in so many realms, it is good to remember what Jesus tells us in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.”  We should look different, act different and BE different.  That doesn’t seem so tough when you think about loving those who love you and treat you well, but when you consider loving the people who have mistreated you, judged or slandered you or a host of other things, it can be a daunting thing to undertake.  It isn’t easy to love the unlovable or those who mistreat us, but I just keep thinking about how much Jesus loved us – even while we were (or are) unlovable.  Philippians 2:5, it tells us, “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”  Yeah, there is a LOT that could be said about that, but when it comes to love, we are to view love the way He viewed love.  And yes, we are to love even those who mistreat us.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be mature and complete, as your heavenly Father is mature and complete. (Matthew 5:43-48)  Being mature or complete is a tall order, but if we are to follow in the steps of our Father, we have to be willing to set aside our pride and love genuinely.

shutterstock_114296290So on this day of love, I will leave you with this: Let us go out into this world with love and kindness.  Let us stop being so quick to judge each other and instead pray for each other and lift up those around us.  Don’t try to pull the weeds in someone else’s garden, but rather cultivate what you want to grow in yours.  Love in ways that far exceed your words, even if those around you do not do the same.  Love in spite of your expectations.  Love in the midst of pain.  Love when you are on top of the world, or when it is crashing down around you.  Love completely, not for what you get but for what you can give.  We did nothing to deserve God’s incredible love and He did not reserve it for only the “worthy.”  He loved every single one of us in spite of ourselves.  Love because you have been loved.  Bless because you have been blessed.  Forgive because you have been forgiven.  And remember just because God made it that simple; He never said it would be easy.

Blessings and love to you and yours!

I Still Believe…

Every year I get out my Christmas decorations and put them up the weekend after Thanksgiving.  In the midst of my decorations each year sits a framed letter I wrote to Santa when I was only nine years old.  I don’t always stop to re-read it but this year I took a few extra moments to do so and decided to share it with all of you.

photo 2As cute as I find that letter, it strikes me how much I can see my adult self in that little girl’s note.   I loved Christmas…and still do.  Even though I was starting to get older, I still chose to hold to the truth there was a Santa Claus out there who spread love and joy around the world.  I had a wonderful childhood and it wasn’t that I was trying to live in some fantasy world, but I just loved Santa and what he represented. I’ve often said I was not a normal kid and it’s so true!  I remember writing that letter and truly believing everything I said.  First of all, I knew that I could always be a better person.  I didn’t care about material gifts but gifts of the heart.  To me, love was the greatest gift you could give or receive.  Love also meant you were honest, which is why I couldn’t even get through my letter to Santa without correcting my opening statement that I had been “good.”   I felt like I didn’t deserve anything not because I was so terrible, but because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help others.  I wanted “stuff” for other people (or animals)! Yeah…I was a sappy child.  All I wanted was for Santa to know that he was important to me and that I loved him.  And if there was something he could bring me, I didn’t want stuff because it didn’t matter to me at all.  More than anything, I just wanted him to know that I was grateful and that I cared about him and loved him with all my heart.  It’s interesting to me that what I said or asked for in my letter is still reflective of the way I think today.   Material things still don’t matter to me.  Sure, they are nice to have, but what really matters is the connections and relationships we have with the people around us.  What matters is love.  THAT is the true magic of Christmas.

So in this season of overspending and over-committing to activities, let us remember to stop and show our love to the people in our lives…not with gifts we can buy but with the gift of ourselves and our time.  In a season where the world tries to distract us from the true reason why there IS a Christmas, let us be thankful to our Father who IS love.

And may my grown up Christmas letter always be filled with the same sentiment it had when I was nine. Blessings!

Shelter the Innocent

child_abuse_symSome of you may be aware that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  I was very fortunate and blessed to have had a childhood where I was loved and safe but many people I know personally were not as fortunate.  They endured terrible abuses of every kind and yet most of them have become some of the strongest people I have ever known.  It is a difficult thing to watch the people we know and love endure these scars in their lives but I have been inspired to see them come to places where they realize just how beautiful they are and have always been.  It is such a process but it is one that is well worth going through.  Healing never comes easily but it IS possible for it to come.

About a week ago, a song came to me in a matter of minutes as a result of reflecting on situations that some of the people I love have had to endure.  Since this is Child Abuse Prevention Month, I thought it fitting to share the lyrics with you so I have added them to the end of this post.  The song is titled, “The Mirror” and it speaks to what is seen when we gaze at our reflection.

shutterstock_92486212Children really are so innocent and need protecting.  We all hope they are raised in loving and caring homes, by good and loving parents but we also know that is not always the case.  It is our responsibility to step forward not only when we become aware of severe abuse but we should also pay closer attention to the children in our lives no matter where we encounter them.   They are a treasure and we should strive to be good examples to them in every way.  We need to love and encourage them whether they are “ours” or not.  We need to talk with them and listen to them and when there are concerns, we need to voice them!  We need to always remember what it felt like to be a child and how real our fears were to us, regardless of what any adult may have thought.  We need to be the ones who genuinely care and help lift them up to be all they can be.  It doesn’t matter where they come from or where they are.  Even if they come from seemingly wonderful homes, they can never have too many supporters and encouragers in this life.  Life can be hard no matter how old we are and I still have people in my life today who listened to me as a child.  I still go to them sometimes.  I still feel warmth and love from them to this very day and it strengthens me continually.

shutterstock_76099252So reach out to the children around you.  Be available.  It doesn’t take much for us to provide a rock to hold onto when their little worlds are crumbling.  It simply takes a willing heart and a few moments of time to make all the difference in the world.  Give them the greatest gift of life they could ever have.  Give them you.

Blessings!

The Mirror

Just a little child broken and abused.  Treated like a rag doll – utterly confused.  Focusing on nothing, she stumbles through the door and looks into the mirror as she hides there on the floor.

And she says, “Mirror mirror on the wall, why can’t I see someone pretty looking back smiling at me?  Will there ever be a time when the ugly finally fades and all the pain I’m living now turns into yesterday?”

Just another woman haunted by the past.  Survival left her empty ‘cause she had to grow so fast.  Afraid to trust another – afraid to ever tell that all she sees is ugly when she tries to see herself.

And she says, “Mirror mirror on the wall, why can’t I see someone worthy looking back smiling at me?  Will there ever be a time when the shame will fade away and all the pain I’m feeling now is lost in yesterday?

Down through the years, now when I look, I see I’m not defined by what they took.  And though there are scars, they’re beginning to fade.because I can see I am wonderfully made.

Now in the mirror on the wall, I can finally see someone beautiful and strong smiling back at me.  And should there ever come a time when the doubt begins to rage, I’ll let it go and turn my eyes away from yesterday.

The winds of change have carried me on the wings of love and grace to where I’m free to live beyond my world of yesterdays.”

© Deanna Kay O’Leary 2013

For more information on Child Abuse Prevention Month, please visit:

https://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/preventionmonth/

http://www.brightfutures4kids.org/blue-ribbon-society/

A Literal Gift of the Heart

In keeping with my theme of love in February, I wanted to share something with you that happened 15 years ago this month.  My mom and I appeared on the Montel Williams Show to be united with the family of my mom’s heart donor (Kim).  The video clip of our segment on the show is at the bottom of this post.  Let me back up for a few moments and share the basic details of this story with you.  I’ll share the full details at another time.

Heart donorIn the mid 1990s, my mom began having serious heart troubles.  She had surgery to repair a valve in 1995 that was unsuccessful and in February of 1996 she was told her only hope was to have a heart transplant.  Nothing will wake up a family like an illness that brings death to your doorstep.  After much consideration, my mom and dad moved (temporarily) up to San Francisco to be near Stanford Hospital in case a heart became available.  She was supposed to be a “quick transplant” but ended up having some complications that almost caused her to not be a candidate at all.  In September of 1996, mom and dad got “the call” and she received her new heart on September 20, 1996.

I thank God constantly for the genuine love that a family of strangers showed to my own.  They were losing their daughter and sister but even in their grief they reached out in love to people they had never met.  Recognition did not matter to them.  This family looked at their own great loss and decided they would share a literal gift of life with someone else.  It was a selfless act in spite of how deeply they were hurting at the time.  The resulting effect in our world was an ecstatic sadness…a bittersweet sensation embracing life and death, joy and pain.  It is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Love in its true state prefers others.  It is not a feeling, but a decision…a commitment.  Love gives us the strength to do things we could not (or would not) do on our own.  It can take our weakest moments and turn them into our most triumphant.  It causes us to look outside ourselves even when our world is crumbling.  It allows us to give even when we feel as if we’ve lost everything.  Love does not demand gratitude but if you have been touched by a sincere and selfless love, it is impossible to not feel gratitude that runs deeper than any earthly expression.

Me and Mom in Maui lightKim’s family demonstrated a selfless love for others in their decision to donate her organs so that others may live.  As a result, our family has been blessed with over 16 additional years of my mother’s presence and she is still doing well.  Because of their gift, Mom not only got to be present for my wedding, but also the wedding of my sister and eventually the wedding of her granddaughter.  She has watched both of her grandchildren grow up.  She has seen the birth of her first great-grandchild!  She has been here to hold our hands and our hearts.  She has been an inspiration and example to everyone who knows her and has changed lives as a result.  I know it was my mom who actually received the heart but it’s the rest of us that feel like we got the greatest gift.

Love for others, even total strangers (sometimes especially total strangers), can have effects you would have never imagined.  You may not ever be recognized for it but love does not seek to elevate itself.  It does not want to be put on a stage.  It is enough to be content in knowing you HAVE loved, genuinely and with all you are.  To love fully and without condition means to do so without expectation of anything in return.  Loving is the one thing we can all do that allows us to change the world by changing our little corner of it!  And sometimes, just sometimes, we find ourselves blessed enough to come full circle and see it face to face.

Blessings!