To Give is To Love

We can learn much from watching how others express love, who they chose to love and the motives behind their love.

The world tosses around the word “Love” to fit all kinds of scenarios. I love my dog. I love peppermint chocolate chip ice cream. I love a drive through Colorado mountains on a sunny day. I love the sound of a rushing river. I love my old fuzzy slippers and a fire in winter. I love my job. I love my kids. I love my family. I love Jesus. The possibilities are endless. But only a few of those represent opportunities for real love. And of those few, all are a choice that I make. Or not.

Love is a decision followed by action. 

In studying Old Testament words for love, I discovered, “AHAVA” which translates “I give”.

When we love, we give. When we give, we love. Simple. But not always easy.

We love by giving what others need, not what we want to give. It’s easy for me to give hugs because I enjoy getting hugs in return. But what if the person I’m hugging really needs space and an encouraging word? Am I willing to take the time to learn what makes others feel loved and then give them what they need?

So much of what passes as love is based in selfish desires to get something in return. Only when we give, expecting nothing in return do we truly love.

John 3:16 begins, “For God so LOVED the world, He GAVE…” (New Testament) Herein is the epitome of Love. Sacrificial giving, Selfless. No strings attached.

Giving doesn’t have to be extravagant but it will cost you something. Time. Emotion. Energy. Sleep. Tears. Sweat. We give when we take time to play catch with a son, when we wait up in wee hours of the night for a daughter to return home, when we listen to the heart of a friend, when we walk hand-in-hand with a sweetheart. We give when we pray for another or sit beside a hurting friend in silence. We give when we affirm and encourage someone. We give when we demonstrate respect even to those who don’t deserve it. We give by showing up and digging in. We give by serving even in personal exhaustion. And in all this giving, we are loving.

What will you give today? Or in essence, How will you choose to Love today? On my birthday I wanted to give you this gift, this reminder that to give is to love. I hope you’ll share this with someone you love and ask them, “How may I love you better?” Ask. And be prepared to give...

 

The Grey Fray

Are you as sick of hearing about 50 Shades of Grey as I am? Plenty of people much more influential than I have articulated the damage this movie inflicts on society in general and women in particular. I swore I wouldn’t contribute to the publicity, albeit minimally, by writing about the objectionable story-line.

But two things altered my decision not to jump into the Grey fray, both related to a slightly different perspective.

  • My experiences in nearly a decade of volunteering at Women’s Crisis Centers.
  • My concern for the potential of an almost predictable spike in sex crimes involving unwanted male domination as a direct result of the movie.

As a Crisis Intervention Counselor, I repeatedly witnessed firsthand devastation of women’s lives when “NO” is ignored and the sanctity of her most private space is violated. Many survivors consider the experience worse than if they had been murdered. Her body lives but her soul feels dead.

Now, after 50 Shades of Tinseltown tripe masquerading as entertainment, I’m envisioning a surge in headlines implicating men who didn’t believe a woman’s “NO” or who trampled her regardless.  

Personal discomfort aside, these two things compel me to speak up.

Someone please help me understand how millions of women sat in a movie theatre sighing and cheering as actors smeared lines of decency, not to mention laws outlining criminality, in the name of romance and passion.  What happened to the mass media indignation aimed at a Hollywood star a few short weeks ago? Women who screamed loudest over allegations of rape against an African-American television and comedic legend are the same women swooning over non-consensual sex and violence perpetrated by a wealthy white guy against an innocent young woman on the big screen. What’s wrong with this picture?

Why the double standard? Has Mr. Grey’s helicopter scene stolen the oxygen from our brains?

 Movie scripts exalting sadomasochism are not harmless fantasies. Graphic images of violence and perversion don’t vacate our minds when empty boxes of popcorn hit the waste basket at the theatre exit.

The message of 50 Shades of Grey, that women desire domination even if they cry otherwise, reeks of disrespect, danger and denigration of women everywhere. Such filth cheapens legitimate desires of a woman’s heart and positions her as nothing more than a man’s disposable toy.

Sadly, the madness doesn’t stop there.  The negative impact to men escalates in direct proportion to what women tolerate, even embrace as romantic. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES, men are accountable for their actions. But they take their cues from women. In light of millions of female viewers supporting this glorification of sexploitation, should we really be shocked when men claim confusion while passing around a defenseless, intoxicated sorority girl like a bong in the 60’s?

Let me break down a few elements of 50 Shades’ “plot”…and I use the term looser than Madonna’s morals or P Diddy’s drawers:

Man stalks woman at her place of employment

Woman has innocent chats with male friend; man threatens to hurt her if she doesn’t stop

Man steals woman’s car and sells it

Woman tells man she is a virgin; man ravages her purity

Man breaks into woman’s apartment; Woman gets tied up to her bed and violently assaulted

Woman repeatedly utters the word “NO”; man takes that as a “come on” and perpetrates sexual deviancy including beating her with a leather whip to the point of crying out in agony.

What am I missing? What about this is swoon-worthy? Where exactly is the romance?

How does this qualify as a “love story”?  Two words: It doesn’t.

Consider the above but take away the leading man’s money, power and prestige. You’d have another episode of Law & Order S.V.U. where police officers vigorously track down this sick, twisted animal. As in any good cop show, the pervert would be captured. Someone would demonstrate the proper use of handcuffs to him. And he would trade in his suit pinstripes for prison stripes.  THEN sane women everywhere would have something to cheer about.

Lest there be any lingering confusion: Stalking, threats of harm, intimidation, and non-consensual  sex are  criminal acts. Not seduction. Not passion. Not romance. Certainly not love. Not even desire out of control, as any Women’s Crisis Counselor or Law Enforcement Officer can tell you. Forced sex is called rape. And it’s against the law. Men who perpetrate such actions are not sexy. Not irresistible. Not confident lovers. They are cowards. And they are criminals. They deserve to be prosecuted and locked up as the feculent felons they are.  Not glorified as role models of romance.

Finally, I’ll echo what every other voice of reason emphasizes…Women, we were not created objects of male gratification. All women deserve respect and honor.  There are men in this world who know what that looks like and are eager to engage you with enlightened magnanimity. Real men want to hold doors for you and willingly offer their seat to a lady. Real men speak without raised voice, threats or intimidation. Real men will only put their hands on you with loving intent.  Real men will protect your heart, not violate your body.

One last thought. Real men do not deserve mixed messages or double standards. Respect is a two-way street.

Whether Hollywood ever gets that or not, I pray you do.   

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose. Or is it?

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Eager, I ripped open the long, thin box left moments earlier on my front porch, now laid out on my kitchen counter. Advertisement markings on the exterior offered a clear indication of the contents. Impatient to bury my nose in flowers, anticipation of aromatic bliss motivated swift fingers. I imagined vibrant colors bathed in rich, luscious fragrance.  Reaching into the bright green cardboard container I carefully removed twelve of the most stunning crimson long-stem roses I’d ever beheld.  I raised them to my beaming face expecting a glorious scent. I breathed deep. Breathed deep again. Nothing.

Not even a hint of the hoped-for nasal ambrosia. The only thing enveloping my olfactories? Disappointment.

I glanced back at the delivery box. ProFlowers. A thought raced across my mind and passed through my lips: What’s so ‘Pro’ about fragrance-free flowers?

In my mind I contrasted them with the bush growing just outside the back door of our family farm house. Once upon a time, a bare brown six-inch shoot poked out of the ground. For years I watched and marveled as Grandmother, then later Mother, tenderly cared for the burgeoning perennial. Each spring and summer, these devoted gardeners watered, weeded, fertilized, trimmed, and toiled over an emerging mini-shrub until blossoms and buds burst forth. Now the size of our riding lawn tractor, season after season this flowering cluster of roses floods Momma’s yard with the color of sacrifice and fragrance of heaven.

Thoughts and eyes returned to the elegant yet scentless roses in my grasp. I scurried to cut them as directed by a box insert, filled a vase, and arranged them in a captivating configuration to place on my table. At the time I didn’t understand why a tear leaked down my cheek.

Now I get it.

Florist-grown roses are indeed lovely to behold. By the time they arrive, they’re washed free of fertilizer and dirt. Roots stripped. Thorns removed. All in the name of delivering visual delight. The outcome—a skillful disguise of painstaking, messy, yet loving effort involved in growing something truly beautiful. Moreover, mass production robs roses of their fragrance. A considerable part of their intended purpose, stolen. They might as well be plastic. Except they die, never having accomplished what roses were meant for…filling a space with magnificent aroma.

As women, we face tremendous pressure to be the long stem rose rather than part of the bush. Society shrieks at us to not merely stand apart from the cluster but also to look good at all costs. Clean up the fertilizer {you know what I’m intimating here}. Shake off the dirt that soils our souls. Forget our roots, that which causes us to grow and venture deep. Throw away the prickly thorns that protect us from outside threats. Be pretty. And somewhere in the midst of mass-produced efforts to look pleasing to the outside world, we stifle our inner fragrance.

Why do we fight the struggle that makes us beautiful in the first place? What would happen if we exposed all parts of the rose to the world? Even the smelly, messy, prickly, painful parts? What splendid scent would be revealed in us if we acknowledged and embraced our gardening process, however labored or agonizing?

We are beautiful. Not because of something we drape on our body, dangle from our earlobes, smear across our face, or sweat off at the gym. We are beautiful because the Master Gardener devoted Himself to growing something of true loveliness in each of us. We are beautiful not in spite of the growing process but because of it. The ever vigilant Divine Caretaker comes alongside us to plant Truth in our hearts, Truth about our worth and significance. He saturates us with Living Water ever rising up, a spring of hope within us. He trims withered leaves and dark, crusty petals of unhealthy desires to expose radiant velvet, reflecting His Light.  He pulls ugly, smothering weeds, eliminating people and things that prevent us from thriving in His grand and gorgeous garden. He even allows us to be covered in “fertilizer” at times because He knows that without the elements of suffering, pain of loss, sadness of grieving, we bear limitations in how deep our roots stretch and how fragrant we ultimately grow.

The more willingly we cooperate with the Gardener’s tender toiling over us, the more regal the rose. True beauty results from embracing the thorns for the sake of the lavish, sumptuous scent God intended in us.

Will we settle for the scentless long-stem delivered in cardboard, destined to die without ever accomplishing its purpose? Or will we grow into a timeless, resplendent, redolent rose in the Garden of the Mater’s touch?