My parents (and grandparents, when my family lived with them between moves) said these words to me through and beyond my growing up years. No matter what happened during the day – good, bad, or indifferent – I had been sent out from and would return to a family that loved me. It’s the everyday miracle of offering and accepting love each morning, and the assurance that a warm welcome awaited at each day’s end. Did my parents realized how important it was for me to hear this daily benediction? Did I?
It’s such a powerful gift and a difficult revelation to say I love you, even to someone who already knows it and has said the same to us. The words don’t come easy. It’s even more difficult to say I love you while looking in the eyes of a beloved other. To be seen and loved, to see and love another – that’s nothing short of holy. To know that returning home at the end of the day brings the same blessing of seeing/being seen and loving/being loved – that’s a reminder that holiness embraces and infuses each day from beginning to end.
I love you! See you after school! Maybe life itself is God’s version of these words, spoken in air, light, flesh and blood. I love you! My love goes with you into this life and I will see you when your life’s adventures bring you back home to me.
Every chilly school day, it’s the same. Students leave their High street homes, turn a corner, and walk down my street. As soon as they are out of their parents’ sight, they whip off the hats, coats, jackets, and mittens their parents just made them put on. Girls swap sneakers and boots for strappy sandals with three inch heels, boys take off long-sleeved shirts to reveal the T shirts underneath. Tottering on icy streets, shivering and covered in goosebumps, they make their way the last quarter mile to Middle and High school. Just after 2pm, they will reverse the process, returning to home and parents re-dressed.
I can’t say why dressing for the weather is just too embarrassing for my young neighbors, or why making a fashion statement is worth frozen toes and wind-chapped arms. Image is everything, even at the cost of chattering teeth.
Most of these boys and girls will grow past this phase, eventually wearing weather appropriate clothing of their own free will. A decade or two down the road, they will be the parents insisting that their own children put on hats and coats. Age accounts for a good part of this change, but I think there’s another essential element to this transformation. A parent knows a truth that their children may not: deep, abiding love makes all of us capable of seeing the unique beauty of every person, and incapable of valuing something so inconsequential as off-season fashion.
Seeing with the eyes of love gives us just the barest glimpse of how God sees us. It’s a rare gift, but some even grow to see everyone with such eyes.
Dear God, give me eyes to see the beauty of everything, and the heart to love without limit. Amen.
Dinner on the go that became the Passover meal. The wedding at Cana. There are lots of dinners in scripture, but not near as many breakfasts. Even in our day, there are so many more special occasions celebrated over dinner than ever there were over the day’s first meal. We do lunch, have power lunches, meet for dinner, and go out on the town for an evening meal: save the once-a-year Mother’s Day Brunch, breakfast doesn’t factor into the big events on our calendars. Breakfast is skipped by many in a literal sense, and also in the gathering together sense. It’s a quick bite before everyone begins the day’s activities.
I love breakfast. I look forward to granola or a PBJ rice cake every morning. Eggs, potatoes, and a yogurt parfait make a weekend breakfast a delight – add some bacon and pancakes and it’s as enjoyable as any dinner I’ve had. Some of my family’s best conversations have been over these foods, nourishment for body and soul for every one of us.
Unless I’m eating breakfast with others late in the morning, it’s easy to forget giving thanks to God for the food on my plate and for the hands that worked to provide it. I’m not ungrateful so much as unmindful. It’s taken writing this piece for me to notice this. Have some breakfast will now mean more than getting out the cereal bowls and coffee press: it will be taking time at the very beginning of the day to remember that I cannot live on granola alone. I come to the day by the grace of God, shown in the beauty of the world and the simple bounty of the breakfast table. Perhaps that’s why the risen Jesus shared breakfast by the sea with the disciples he loved so well.
Can any day begun this way be anything but a grace?
I entered my local library twice yesterday, and each time met a mother. The first was crowding up against her preschool daughter, trying to get her to walk faster. Come on! she said, her words full of exasperation as she physically pushed her daughter. The second was standing a few feet from the library door, keeping an eye on a sleeping toddler in her car just a few feet away while observing her two sons as they checked out books for school projects. Come on! she said, her face lighting up with a smile and her words full of encouragement. The same words, different actions, and a whole different experience for the children.
As I left the library, it crossed my mind that every single sentence in this Every school day series can be turned from a positive to a negative meaning – it’s all in how it’s said.
The power to wound and the power to strengthen are held by everyone who uses words to connect with others. Which will I wrap my words around today? Which will you?
I’ve never heard it used in a positive sense. It’s often said by someone who wants to reinforce the feeling of guilt or failure already haunting the person it’s aimed at – an additional prick for someone hemmed in by thorns.
I’m not opposed to someone accepting the consequences of bad, destructive, or unwise actions. Sometimes the best thing friends and family can do is to refuse to fix things. Mistakes faced and damage repaired require taking responsibility, and that is a necessary step in growing up. But it’s hard enough to take that step into maturity without adding an extra little bit of weight to the burden. Is it really worth a moment’s satisfaction to make such a remark? Best to keep silent.
But make your bed isn’t the same thing, is it? Make your bed means leave the place in good shape.Make your bedmeans take the time to create a place that welcomes you when you return. Value yourself highly enough to put in the time and effort to create a hospitable resting place, just as you would for an honored guest. When you flatten out the sheets, as you straighten out the blankets and fluff the pillows, you are doing more than making a bed: you are loving yourself as you would a neighbor.
Dear God, help me to love you this day. In acts big and small, help me love myself as my neighbor. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I’m not doing this today. I’m staying in pajamas, doing my best to get over a nasty cold that started sometime yesterday afternoon. With luck and rest, it will be on its way out tomorrow.
Getting dressed signals my move from solitary or family only time to time spent in the larger world. I am ready to invite people in, and I’m ready to walk out the door into the world of friends, neighbors, and strangers alike. It changes, depending on what will fill my hours – sweats or old jeans for yard and garden work, skirts or blazer for board meetings, black jeans and a colorful top for dinner with my husband. Getting dressed is an outward sign of what’s happening in my life; how my body is clothed is affected by my actions in this world. I think that’s true for most other people as well.
I wonder: if I had to choose an outfit to reflect the inner workings of my soul, the inner agenda of my spiritual life, what would it be? Sitting here in my pj’s, soothing a scratchy throat and headache with herbal tea, in no shape or mood to go out or invite others in, perhaps it’s a good time to take a peek in that inner closet…
When I was a baby, my parents did them for me. When I was able, they taught me to do them for myself. When I had my two sons, I repeated the pattern. They are signs of the love others have for us, and they are signs of our self-regard. They require touch and glance, time and effort. When done with intention, they wake us up with a loving touch and give us a joyful start to the coming day. Such simple tasks, such monumental acts.
My niece and her husband will welcome their first child into the world this October. They will do these things for him, offering their love in these practical tasks. It’s a legacy worth more than any trust fund: a welcome to the day, the world, and the family.
When you rise tomorrow to wash your face, brush your hair and teeth, remember how much you are loved.
A few years back, I attended a writers’ conference at Princeton Seminary; Rachel Held Evans was one of the seminar leaders, and I had the privilege of hearing her speak about her experience as a blogger and published writer. After speaking about how she approached the writing process, she answered questions from the group. At the very end, she had one bit of advice: don’t mistake followers of a blog or readers of your books for a yardstick of personal worth or happiness. At the end of the day, it’s the people you love and the ones who love you that matter (and the God who made everyone, of course). Good advice from someone in her early thirties.
Yesterday, at age 37, Rachel Held Evans died. She leaves behind family and friends who loved her and a whole bunch of people who admired her work. It’s an unexpected loss, and she will be missed. In a world sorely in need of thoughtful and compassionate writing, she blessed us with both.
Jimmy Buffett, Wondering Where the Lions Are, Hoot soundtrack, April, 2006, Mailboat Records