I’m a Christian who believes that members of the LGBTQ+ community should have the same rights, freedoms and security as the rest of us. Because Jesus said so.

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I have to start this post by admitting that the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community have never been a high priority of mine. I don’t have many gay friends, and the ones I’ve got seem to be living happy lives. Here in Ottawa, openly gay people go around being openly gay – and, as far as I can tell, no one gives them a second glance. People in Canada can marry anyone they want, as long as the person is neither related to them nor married already – and they can start a family, too. My home town in rural Newfoundland was pretty redneck, and I know a handful of people who hid their sexual orientation until leaving there for fear of being rejected by their family and bullied by their peers. But I’ve reached the point where I’ve been away from Robert’s Arm for as long as I lived there – the social mores of that town don’t cast as long a shadow over my thoughts as they used to.

Then came the terrible incident at Pulse in Orlando. 49 people dead, over fifty injured, after a gunman sprayed the crowd with two guns. He claimed allegiance to ISIL, the troublesome terrorists responsible for a number of awful deeds around the world. He did it because the club is known to be a queer favourite, and he hated gay people. For millions of people, myself included, this was unfathomable. He disagreed so strongly with LGBTQ+ lifestyles that he hated anyone involved. He hated them so much that he took their lives. Unimaginable. Optimistically, I thought this guy had to be rare – maybe even a one-off. Then I watched this video of people reading aloud some of the hate mail received by Pride Toronto. It’s filled with disturbing statements and nasty language. Apparently, Omar Mateen wasn’t alone in thinking that gay people are dirty animals who should make the world a better place by dying. Some people are blaming the massacre at Pulse on the people who were targeted, saying that they brought the violence on themselves by associating with the LGBTQ+ community. Sadly, many of these people who claim to despise gay people also try to lay claim to something else: that they are Christians.

I am a Christian – that is to say, a Christ-follower. The knowledge that fellow Christians are so hateful toward a group of people simply based on who they love is painful. In the Christian community, we are living by faith in the grace of God. The whole premise of Christianity is the notion that we are members of a fallen race who needed the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as our salvation and example and daily strength. “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)  We celebrate this at Christmas and Easter – and every time we pray. Unless, apparently, we’re talking about gay people. Then, we take the Old Testament law that we are supposedly no longer subject to, and use it to beat down those who identify as something other than straight. The New Testament (the new code of living that the advent of Jesus Christ introduced) says very little about homosexuality. Depending on your translation or interpretation, it says nothing at all. The real umbrage against homosexuality in the Bible is actually in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is also home to a number of other rules and prejudices we no longer bother with. Perhaps we should bring them all back, for consistency’s sake. Know anyone who’s cheated on their spouse? Get out the rocks and start lobbing! Get rid of your blended clothing (which, these days, is – oh, everything we wear). When your slave gets all clingy and refuses to leave you, you have a choice – you can pierce his ear with a modern tool like the guns they use at Claire’s, or you can stick with tradition and use an awl. The menstrual tent on the outskirts of town needs better signage – none of us ladies want to pollute the community with our blood! The smoke from the sacrificial fire is breaking air pollution by-laws, and I’m running out of goats to burn.

Someone once asked Jesus the following question: out of all the laws in the Torah, which is the most important? (Matthew 22:36). Jesus quoted two laws from the Old Testament: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love God. Love each other. Just love.

A few facts from around the world ….

Being gay will lead to the death penalty in Sudan, Mauritania and much of the Middle East. Gay people can spend anywhere from 14 years to life in prison in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Zambia, India and Guyana. In wide swaths of Africa, as well as pockets of the Middle East, Asia and South America, it’s a slightly kinder penalty. Just 14 years! In the rest of Africa (with a nod to South Africa which seems to grant full rights), Asia and Russia, Eastern Europe and parts of South America, they’ll put up with you being gay as long as you keep it on the down-low.

And in Orlando, one year ago today, being gay – or even just being friends with gay people – meant being executed in cold blood by a madman who hated people because they didn’t live exactly as he did. Many are remembering the horrifying events, and mourning the beautiful souls taken too soon. As Christians, we should be standing side-by-side with the grieving and the defenders of human rights. We should be welcoming and celebrating love wherever we find it. We should not downgrade the tragedy of human lives destroyed because of some Old Testament drivel from which we have been freed by our saviour.

We have enough clanging symbols and noisy gongs in this world. Anyone can be that. If we want to be salt and light, we have to rise above that – to be more than that. Real love, now, for everyone – with no strings or judgements attached. Because Jesus said so.

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You can’t buy what I want for Christmas.

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Every November, as soon as Remembrance Day has ended, I start getting ready for Christmas. People tease me about Christmassing too early, but it works out well in the end. By mid-December, with decorations up, cards posted, gifts purchased and baking baked, I can sit on my duff with a cup of peppermint tea and an unbearably smug smirk because I am ready for Christmas and all the people who made fun of me back in November are not. In fact, in recent years, I’ve extended my gloating to a trip to the mall to eat lunch in the food court and watch people lose their marbles in a last-minute dash for presents. I did that just last Saturday, along with my family.

Located next to the food court is Justice (this is probably not random). Everything in Justice is covered in glitter and smells like cotton candy, which means that Fiona and Bridget love the place. The three female members of our crew wandered into the store to check it out, while Ryan wisely stayed at least twenty-five feet away and immersed himself in his phone. There was a Christmas tree at the entrance to the store, and stacks of post-its in six different colours. Customers were encouraged to write their first name and a Christmas wish on the post-it, and stick it on the tree. Most of the post-its were predictable: iPods, puppies, ponies, cool clothes and accessories (presumably from Justice). There were also wishes that couldn’t be granted using money. A happy Christmas. No more cruelty to animals. World peace. One clever little wag had written a wish for “JUSTICE for girls everywhere”. Out of the forest of pastel slips of paper, one caught my eye and squeezed my heart: a girl named Makayla wishing for a friend. A friend. Not a whole lot of them, just one.

Facebook is a fount of …. well, everything everybody is thinking at any given time, whether it’s fit for sharing or not. Some posts are solid, some posts are more like solid waste. One that I’ve seen a couple of times recently, though, resonates with me:

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What do I want for Christmas? I have been grateful for (nearly) every present I’ve ever received. I do remember a pair of mustard-coloured cords and a matching sweater that I might have worn once before “losing” them …. Even when the item hasn’t particularly tickled my fancy, I’ve appreciated the thought. I’ve no doubt what I unwrap this year will also be lovely. But, really, what I want for Christmas isn’t available in stores. (And, no, Canadian Tire, it’s not available online, either. If I hear one more stupid list of all the many varieties of the many things you can order from Canadian Tire I might just hit them up for one of seventeen different lighters and set the radio on fire.)

I want peace – in my mind, in my home, and on earth. I want hope. I want desperate people to look up and believe – and I want something for them to believe in. I want time. Time to sit and ponder. Time to organize my clutter, both literal and figurative. Time to have a conversation without glancing at the clock every few minutes. Breathe in, breathe out – soak in. I want health, both in body and mind. I want gratitude to replace comparisons and anxiety. I want kindness for others, and for myself. I want forgiveness. I want to let things go. Just let them go, and not look back. I want to be a refuge for the people I love. I want no judgement. Only love today, and every day. I want more hugs.

And I want a friend for Makayla. May this be the year ….

The thing is, most of these things start with me. I can’t control what everyone else does (even though sometimes I wish I could because I know what is best for everyone) – but I can fix myself and my reactions and my priorities. Do I want them badly enough to break them down, make a to-do list, and work towards them? As life races forward, spins me around, and slips away from my outstretched hands, I feel less and less tolerant of anything less. Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

When words fail ….

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So, this week, for the first time ever, I wanted to burn my computer. I wanted to set it on fire, throw it through a window and pour myself a glass of champagne to celebrate its demise. I don’t feel this way during DST, when people whine about how they can no longer function because their clock changed by one lousy hour. I don’t feel this way on May 4, when an army of nerds wishes me the company of the Force. I don’t feel this way every November 12, when people start carping about keeping Christ in Christmas. I didn’t even feel this way when the Minion craze was in full swing – even though I severely dislike (and, worse, don’t really get) Minions and they were all over my Facebook newsfeed. No, what brought me to an all-time low in my experience of the digital world is the overwhelming wave of anti-Muslim memes and rants that I’ve seen over the past week. Horrible things have been posted. Things I wouldn’t say in a sound-proofed closet in an empty house, yet they were proclaimed for all to read. I won’t repeat them, because I can’t bring myself to give them voice. I will say, however, that it is not an exaggeration to observe that my Facebook newsfeed was oozing, dripping, spewing, hemorrhaging hate. So I did what I always do when I don’t like something – I said something. I said alot of somethings. At times, I was buoyed by the positive responses of like-minded people. Most of the time, though, I felt like I was standing alone against a swarm of ignoramuses, bullies, xenophobes, racists. Haters.

I have wanted to blog about this for days now, because this is BethBlog and I’m Beth and I blog. But I’ve been having trouble finding words. Usually, I use my own words. I love to write, and words come easy to me most of the time. Today, though, I can find no better words than those of Jesus Christ in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

Today, I’m extrapolating on perfection when I add “For I was a refugee, without home, comfort, possessions, food, clothing or health …. and you opened your arms to me.” 

Serendipity

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I adore the Saturday paper …. It’s thick and wordy, filled with all sorts of things that could not be fully enjoyed squeezed into a Monday or Thursday – things that need to be savoured under a blanket on the couch, with a fresh cup of coffee and an unfrazzled mind. A weekend mind. Yesterday, there was an article about staged proposals, complete with hired photographer who tails the couple from a discreet distance and takes a picture of the event. The fellow featured in the article not only hired the photographer, he also hired a dog. A celebrity dog named Jiff, to be exact. For $600, Jiff made a custom video for the lady, walking on hind legs while wearing a tiny shirt that read “Lauren, Jiff thinks you should marry Jeff!” For $400 more, the photographer snapped the perfect shot – the now-fiancé on one knee, bling sparkling, Lauren reaching for the box. Their engagement cost more than the clothes worn by our entire wedding party, my dress and Ryan’s rented tux included.

It seems appropriate that this article appeared in the paper this weekend, as today marks twelve years since Ryan popped the question and I said yes. Ryan had been toying with asking me to marry him, though he hadn’t decided how or when. We went skiing. He had never been skiing before, and I tried to teach him how. I did it in my usual bossy, impatient manner. He took his first run having learned very little, but possibly having decided that he’d rather go hurtling at breakneck speed down a hill than listen to my well-intentioned harangue any longer. As I watched him go, it occurred to me that he was not going from side-to-side – he was going straight. He just might kill himself. I sped up to catch him, and we met at the bottom of the hill. We almost fell over, and we righted each other as other skiers whizzed past us. He babbled for a few seconds about how his first ski run was an amazing experience and he loved it – “and I want to marry you, will you marry me”. There may or may not have been a breath between sentences. Tears of surprise and delight freezing on my face, I said yes. We went back to the lodge to call our families. Because we hatched an idea of Ryan calling my mother and me calling his parents, their first thought was that he broke something (or, perhaps, his whole self) and that’s why it was the ski lodge’s number on their display and my voice on their phone …. Brilliant. Later, we went ring-shopping, and settled on a date about seven months down the road. There was alot of work to do in a short time, but we didn’t want to put off our big day any more than we had to. A waitress at Dunn’s took a picture of us at brunch the following Sunday, which was used in our engagement announcement in the Hamilton Spectator. A photo from a previous trip to Montréal was chosen for the one that went in the Nor’Wester. We framed the Camp Fortune ski passes.

It was the opposite of staged. And I’m glad it was …. Because if any great amount of thought had been put into it, it probably would have been scotched. For one thing, we were the first of our friends on either side to even consider marriage. Ryan was 24, and I was 22. The average age of marriage of people in our generation is somewhere in the late twenties, with children following in the early thirties. We had only been together a year and two months. That’s about the length of your average engagement these days. Ryan proposed during the second half of January, widely agreed to be the most depressing part of the year. Debt. Weight. Bad weather. The holidays too far in the rear-view mirror to cheer us up any longer. Weeks and weeks of winter still to go. Every year, somewhere between January and February, I turn into my own version of Mr. Hyde. He didn’t know that then, thankfully. Then, there are personal factors …. My father had died months earlier, and I had gone home to Newfoundland for Christmas. It was the worst Christmas before or since. The only way it could have been worse would have been if someone else had died during it. I returned heartbroken, bruised, bleeding – and ready to fight with a lamp post if it had looked at me the wrong way. We argued more than once in the days leading up to his proposal. If he had taken that information as any kind of indicator, he would have run in the opposite direction. He certainly would not have asked me to be his other half. But he did, and everything since then has been the rich harvest of that hopeful, ridiculous seed. Our road trips. All those laughs. All the times we’ve leaned on each other. Fiona and Bridget. This house. This life.

I don’t have an axe to grind, or even a point to prove – which makes this different from alot of other BethBlog posts. I just want to enjoy a moment of deep gratitude for the fact that heart was driving the bus on January 18, 2003, and head took a night off. For leaps of faith. For serendipity, whispering “do it – you won’t be sorry”. Here’s to taking chances!

Lessons from “The Little Prince”

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A couple of years ago, I received a gift from my brother-in-law’s fiancé. (Back in May, Di shortened her title to my sister-in-law by having a wedding.) The gift was a beautifully illustrated copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince”. Somehow, I had never read this lovely little allegory about the travels of a prince from another planet. I made up for that all in one evening. I thought it would be a light read, an imaginative romp. I was wrong. It made me cry. It occupied my thoughts for days. There is so much to learn in this book.The lessons are jumbled, and don’t really follow a theme, but they’re so clear and sweet and true that I want to share them with you.

“Because where I live, everything is very small ….” When we meet the little prince, he’s imploring the narrator (a man whose plane has crashed in a desert) to draw him a sheep. The narrator offers an elephant, but the prince says an elephant would get in the way. It has to be a sheep, and the sheep has to be small, because his planet is small. It’s so small that he wonders if there’s enough grass for the sheep to eat. He laughs at the notion that the narrator would draw him a tether for his sheep – there’s nowhere the sheep can go anyway. Everything he has can be surveyed in one sweep of the eyes. I thought about the similarity of my situation: my world is very small. My home, my circle of friends, my concerns are like a drop of water in an ocean. At least the little prince is wise enough to know that. I keep forgetting.

“But, of course, those of us who understand life couldn’t care less about numbers!” We are told that the little prince’s planet is called Asteroid B-612, which was discovered in 1909 and presented to the astronomical community in 1920. The author tells us these cold, dry facts so that we’ll believe his story. To him, the proof that the prince was real is “that he was delightful, that he laughed and that he wanted a sheep”. But he knows that most people focus on how old something is, how much it cost, how many others there are like it – not the intrinsic value of its beauty and dearness.

“…. if it’s the seed of a bad plant, you must pull the plant up right away, as soon as you can recognise it.” The little prince details how he spends his time on his planet. A good deal of it is devoted to tending his garden, including ridding it of baobab trees. They are, apparently, as tall as churches and would destroy the prince’s tiny planet if they were allowed to grow to their full size. So, the prince pulls the baobab seedlings up as soon as he knows what they are; they start out looking like all the other plants, “charming, harmless” sprouts “reaching toward the sun”. Would our tendencies, criticisms, regrets and troubles grow so large and overwhelming if we spent more time inside ourselves? Maybe a few minutes every day of reflection over the state of our life would help us cope with it …. “When you’re finished washing and dressing each morning, you must tend your planet.”

“You know, when you’re feeling very sad, sunsets are wonderful ….” Little things give the prince great joy – even when he’s feeling down. We, too, can find contentment in the little things – but we need to actually notice them, and make an effort to focus on them.

“I should have realized the tenderness underlying her silly pretensions …. but I was too young to know how to love her.” In the eighth chapter, we are introduced to the flower …. On the prince’s tiny planet, there were only plain flowers – until a rose grew. She’s vain, unfurling slowly, “selecting her colours with the greatest care” and “adjusting her petals one by one”. She has only four thorns, but thinks herself “ready for tigers”. She needs a screen to protect her from drafts, and glass over her at night. She coughs occasionally to make him mindful of her delicacy and guilty about his lack of concern for her. The prince grew tired of her neediness. She was too complicated for him. So, he left the bell jar over her, and flew off to explore other planets. It is only when he is away from her that he realizes what she did for him every day. “She perfumed my planet and lit up my life …. I should have judged her according to her actions, not her words.” We all have people who love us in clumsy, complicated ways – ways that are not always easily recognizable. We’ve all, at some point, thrown kindness aside because it comes with obligations and mixed feelings. Sometimes, it takes a long time – and great deal of examination – to truly appreciate what we have received from the people around us.

After bidding adieu to his flower, the prince visits several planets before falling to Earth. He meets a king who “insists that his authority be universally respected”, but has no real authority. So he will only command what can be performed, when conditions are favourable, convincing himself that he is in charge because his demands are always for the obvious and inevitable. A vain man, alone on his planet, demands and happily accepts admiration – which is easy to give him, because he’s the only man around (a fact he conveniently ignores). There is a businessman who believes he owns the stars, because he’s the first person who’s ever thought of owning them. Owning the stars makes him rich, because he can use them to buy other stars. It doesn’t make him happy, though, because now he is obsessed with the need to take inventory – and he just can’t count all the stars. The prince meets a geographer who demands information about the Asteroid B-612. The first thing the prince mentions is the flower, but the geographer explains that he doesn’t want to hear about ephemeral things – things that are “threatened by imminent disappearance”. Hearing this, the little prince regrets leaving his flower.

He then visits Earth, where he encounters the narrator and coaxes him to draw a sheep with a crate and a muzzle. He also meets a yellow snake who pities him, “being so weak on this granite earth”. The snake offers to send him back to his planet, but the prince isn’t ready to leave yet. He has more exploring to do. He comes across a blossoming rose bush, and weeps. He thought his flower was the only one of her kind; now that he knows there are thousands like her, he is disappointed. “I thought I was rich because I had just one flower, and all I own is an ordinary rose.” He was happier when he focused on what he has, rather than everything he doesn’t have. Sound familiar? He isn’t crying over the rose, but the loss of his innocence – the feeling of being special just isn’t there anymore, because greed has eaten it up.

“It was then that the fox appeared.” The little prince’s encounter with the fox is the loveliest part of the story, in my opinion. The fox greets the weeping prince, and asks to be loved. The fox explains to the prince what it means to love and be loved (or, as the fox calls it, to tame and be tamed). “For me you’re only a little boy just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. For you I’m only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, we’ll need each other. You’ll be the only boy in the world for me. I’ll be the only fox in the world for you.” He explains that if they love each other, the prince’s footsteps will become precious to him – he won’t notice other footsteps, but the prince’s footsteps will call him out of his burrow “like music”. Wheat means nothing to the fox, because he doesn’t eat bread – but the wheat would become dear to the fox, because it’s the same colour as the prince’s hair.

“I’ll discover what it costs to be happy!” In the same conversation, the fox tells the prince about the sad side of being loved – that now he will have something to be anxious over, something to lose. In time, the prince and the fox tame each other – coming together and sitting side by side, every day. Edging closer together. Not speaking, because “language is the source of misunderstandings”.

“You’re lovely, but you’re empty …. my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass. Since she’s the one I sheltered behind a screen …. Since she’s my rose.” When it is time for the prince to return to his planet, the fox says “I shall weep”. The prince points out that the fox asked to be tamed, and expresses sorrow that the fox will “get nothing out of it”. The fox answers that he does get something, “because of the colour of the wheat”. The wheat is the colour of the prince’s hair, and now the fox will think of the prince every time he sees a field of wheat. He urges the prince to go back to the roses before they say goodbye. Upon returning to the roses, the prince – having had his eyes opened to the beautiful and terrible world of love – sees that the roses are nothing special, because none of them is his rose. When he comes back to the fox, the fox reveals a secret:

“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes …. It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important …. People have forgotten this truth, but you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.”

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After leaving the fox, the little prince meets the narrator again, and they go in search of water. They find a well, and they agree that the water is sweet, because they are so thirsty. That the desert is lovely because “it hides a well”. That the stars are beautiful because, somewhere in the midst of them, the prince’s flower waits for him. The surface of anything is only that: the surface. Trappings. “What’s most important is invisible.”

At the end of the story, there’s one last lesson – that of death. The narrator is heartbroken because he knows his little friend is about to leave him. The prince pleads with him to understand that he cannot fly away unless he leaves the shell of himself behind. “It’s too far. I can’t take this body with me. It’s too heavy.” He needs to return to his planet, to the core of himself – to his rose. Holding onto the solid is keeping him away from all that. Sometimes, we have to let go of what we can see, touch and quantify – to fly free and find what’s essential. And, though we grieve, we must give those we love the same chance.

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On love and loving ….

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And now for the post I meant to write on Valentine’s Day …. Not long ago, a friend of mine tossed one of those questions that makes for a fascinating discussion at me, and some of our mutual friends. “What is love?” People have been trying to define and describe love time out of mind. While I had to admit that I really don’t know what love is, attempting to answer her question gave me a better idea of what I think it is. Two quotations immediately came to mind.

“Love is not a feeling; it’s an act of your will.” For a while, I had forgotten the source of this line – but it came back to me just yesterday. It’s from a song by Christian folk singer Don Francisco. In the eighties, my parents had a tape by him – may even have had more than one – and this song stood out to me, even as a child. Here’s the song, with lyrics …. If you can get beyond the cheesy line about Jesus not dying for you because it was fun, you will find that the song has a deep meaning. As Christians (that is, Christ-followers), we are called to love as Jesus loved. Jesus didn’t just say “I love you”, he lived and died it. He bled it. He wrote it in the invisible but powerful ink of excruciating, dehumanizing pain, large and loud enough that we still hear the echoes more than two thousand years later. (Whether you believe that Jesus Christ was real and did what the Bible says he did, or you think it’s a myth, the beauty of the story is undeniable.)

Jesus’ version of love is doing, whether you feel it or not. This is a concept that helps me daily. No, I don’t always feel love. Sometimes, I feel nearly its opposite – even for the three people I believe I love dearly, and for whom I would take any number of bullets. Love, in hard times, becomes my choice. My choosing to respond with kindness when someone is being a jerk. My choosing to show patience when someone is leaning on my last nerve. My choosing to give hour number two of listening when I maxed out during hour number one and I’ve heard it before anyway. My choosing to sacrifice what I desire in order to help someone else, when what I’d really like to do is tell that person to go play in traffic, and sit on my ass with a glass of wine and a good book …. That, to me, is my love in action. Yes, I say all the right words, because I feel them and because I believe my family needs to hear them – but anyone can do that. It is in those rubber-meets-the-road moments, those times when the feeling of love is losing its glow – that’s when love ceases to be feelings and words, and solidifies.

The other quotation is this one: “You have had too much therapy. Or not enough. God knows how to love, Kiddo. The rest of us are only good actors.” This comes from a wonderful book I have read about a dozen times, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” by Rebecca Wells. When we say we love someone, and we do all the things we believe love requires, and we commit to that person for a lifetime …. We are still incapable of the perfect mercy, kindness, empathy – and endless forgiveness – of God. Because we are only human. We will say and do the wrong things – and sometimes we won’t even know what the right things are. Sometimes, our resolve to choose love will falter, and we will act in ways that are unkind, ungenerous and even cruel. If we understand that about ourselves and others, we will be more gentle with ourselves and others. We will offer forgiveness instead of resentment. And, in the absence of the bitterness that hardens us, love will be able to grow and mature.

So, I love Ryan, Fiona and Bridget – and many others – by choice. It is an act of my will to give these people the gift of my imperfect attention and service and care – and I have the best of intentions, I really do. But I will fail them again and again, because I’m so far from being God, the perfect lover. My friends and family, though they know this, return their imperfect love to me. And, somehow, it keeps the wheels turning in the vast and beautiful mill that is life ….

And then there’s the picture at the top of this post …. I went searching for images of love, and Google came up with this one (along with hundreds of others, of course).Two snowmen, so small that they would go unnoticed by most larger creatures, lumpy-headed and cock-eyed and wobbly-grinned, reaching out to each other with the gift of love …. They know, deep in their frozen little hearts, that they’re not getting out of this alive – because none of their kind does. They know that someday they’ll be nothing but a damp spot on the ground, and the little paper heart will be trampled or blown away or both. But they’re doing it anyway. And so are we.

Amazings!

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I was planning to write about love today. Because, you know, Valentine’s Day and all. But there’s something going on that’s caught my attention, and I’m going to write about it instead. Guess I’ll save my love-themed post for some other day …. In our house, we listen to the Jewel 98.5 alot. Yes, Ryan and I are in our thirties, not our fifties – and we listen to lots of other stations, too. But we love us some Air Supply and Bread and Dan Fogelberg and Jim Croce and Gilbert O’Sullivan and America …. and the Jewel gives us copious amounts of all of them, plus alot of other beautiful music that you won’t hear on stations with a classic rock, new rock, top 40 or country format. Or on stations called Jack, Bob, Frank or any other monosyllabic male name. Anyway …. One of the Jewel’s sponsors, for years, was Eve’s Laser Clinic. The commercials were, without exception, horrible.

In one, a couple of guys are at the beach, and one guy reacts to a beautiful woman, and asks his buddy if he thinks he has a chance with her. His buddy says “that’s my wife”. The one who was about to unknowingly hit on his buddy’s wife expresses astonishment that she looks so good, and it is explained that she went to Eve’s Laser Clinic to get rid of her cellulite. Because your face is unremarkable; it’s your ass and thighs that confirm your identity for others.

In another, also featuring two guys, one guy remarks that his friend seems happier than he’s been in a long time. The happy guy explains that his sex life has heated up, and his friend assumes he’s got a new girlfriend. But no – Mr. Happy and his girlfriend went to Eve’s Laser Clinic, and his girlfriend’s “needle legs” and “the jungle” on his back are now a thing of the past. Because, you know, people with no body hair have way better sex – and more of it – than the rest of us.

A third commercial features one guy telling another that his wife now does “that thing she used to do before they were married”. Whatever she has resumed doing for him isn’t stated, but there is a line in the commercial about “a job well done”. That’s right: if you havn’t done any manscaping, don’t expect sexual favours, not even from someone who loves you.

There’s one in which a little girl is terrified by a creepy plastic woman following her. She is reassured by the creamy voice of her mother that it’s just Aunt Margaret, who “wouldn’t look so plastic if she’d gone to Eve’s Laser Clinic for her Botox”. No hugs for you, Botched Botox Barbie.

The most recent one was a couple talking about friends of theirs. The woman says she ran into them, and she can’t believe how good they look – they both look twenty years younger! All their “wrinkles, baggy eyes and saggy, leathery skin” have disappeared. When I run into friends, I don’t notice these things. I’m just happy to have a chance to catch up with people who are special to me. Their faces – every line, dimple and freckle – are dear to me because they are dear to me. And I’m fairly certain they feel the same way about me.

Every time I heard one of those commercials, I felt rage well up inside. If our daughters were with me, we would have yet another discussion about who we are mattering more than what we look like. I would explain to them that Eve’s Laser Clinic is just trying to make people feel like they’re not good enough so they’ll come to the clinic and lay down a chunk of cash for a few sips from the fountain of youth. We would talk about how hurtful these commercials are to people who are already self-conscious about their wrinkles, cellulite, scars, and hairy bodies – that is, most of us.

Lately, though, the commercials have been airing less frequently. This is likely connected to the fact that Eve’s Laser Clinic is being investigated by Ottawa Public Health. Apparently, Eve has been offering clients Botox and thread lifts without the presence of a doctor. Even more alarming, she has admitted to performing rhinoplasty and invasive “vaginal beautification” surgeries on clients (because women should worry about what body parts look like even if they never look at them).

Eve may be facing jail time and a fine of up to $25,000 – and I’m glad. Not because she’s broken the law and put her clients’ health at risk, although those two acts are, indeed, worthy of punishment. No, my reason for cheering on the downfall of Eve’s Laser Clinic is more personal: I’m glad the clinic is being investigated and might be shut down, with punitive measures against the owner and operator, because money made from making people feel shitty about themselves is dirty money. More than $25,000, it should all be taken away from her, the way her business’s commercials stole from people’s contentment. Those commercials held a mirror up to alot of people’s deepest insecurities, and threw on the harshest possible light.

The human body is amazing. We were all given the gift of amazing, the day we were conceived. We spend our whole lives inside this amazingness, and it bears the marks of our experience. We are who we are because of how we got where we are – why stretch smooth, burn bald, and slice away pieces of ourselves? Why not say thank you for the gift of amazing by loving ourselves, just as we are – and by recognising others as fellow pieces of God’s beautiful living artwork?

Sometimes, when I start writing, I have no idea where the piece will lead – and this one has surprised me by being about love after all. Happy Valentine’s Day, amazings!