Valentine’s Day

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Even as a single female I really like Valentine’s day. 

I don’t deny that it is commercialized and that is feeds America’s need for romance. It is definitely a holiday that tells men they need to do x, y, and z because they’ve left a huge, gigantic, gaping love-shaped hole in their partner and they need to scramble to fill it. It is a holiday of obligation, cards, and cliches. 

Yet I find Valentine’s day to be useful and awakening. It is a day that allows me to reflect on how I’ve been loving people all year round. Have I been doing a good job? Have I told people I love them, shown them that I care all throughout the year? Have I been a loving sister, daughter, aunt, and friend? Valentine’s day reminds me that love is an action, a reminder that I appreciate. 

Valentine’s day also gives me the chance to see hurting people come out of the woodwork. It is a day that provokes a lot of emotion and draws out people who have been hurt all year and finally have an appropriate day to voice their hurt. Maybe this reason isn’t great because it means people are feeling lonely because of a holiday, but it gives me a chance to see who needs more love. Who needs someone to get them coffee? Who needs to hear some encouraging words? 

Ideally I would be doing that sort of thing all year and I really do try to, but Valentine’s day reminds me to be on the lookout for people who need someone.

I also enjoy the fact that friends and family often love on me on Valentine’s day. I don’t need a romantic partner, I just need relationships. For a long while my best friend and I, when we were in the same state, would go out to a nice dinner and buy each other gifts because we chose to not let our singleness get us down. 

Tonight, I’ll spend my Valentine’s day with my niece (who turns two tomorrow – oh man) so that her parents can go and enjoy a night out unhindered by a baby and I am going to enjoy it. I get to show my niece love and in the process give my sister and her husband a break. 

Valentine’s day, as with any holiday, is all about what you make it out to be and I make it out to be about a love that serves. 

Happy Valentine’s day my dears! ❤

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Go and do

There are days when I’m very critical. I get mad at the world, angry at political commentators, frustrated with the general state of our country and other countries. I sit around and fuss about the government and about people and I come up with a list a mile long of all the things everyone is doing incorrectly.

The government shouldn’t have to be the one we turn to in order to help the poor, people should.

Controversial words slapped on pictures hold way too much sway on the current generation.

No one fact checks.

Everyone hyperbolizes.

The rich don’t give enough.

The poor don’t do enough.

See? I could go at this all day, pointing out everything that other people are doing poorly. I could probably create an entire game plan on how to fix everything and submit it to the President if I wanted to. There’s a problem though: sitting on my rear end being critical doesn’t do a single thing. Nothing is going to change because I sit around complaining all day.

It comes down to a phrase that the Christian writer, activist, and hugger Bob Goff uses and I always come back to:

Love does.

The love I have for this world isn’t going to be expressed through a detailed critique of everything other people are doing incorrectly. The love I have for people isn’t going to come through the more I sit around yelling at the government or yelling at the wealthy to help people. My love isn’t even truly expressed through writing these words and posting them on a blog. The love I have for this world and all of the people in it can only be expressed in doing.

Maybe I write well, maybe I’m good at pushing through logical fallacies and calling people out on their bull, maybe I’m really clever and smart and can humiliate those who disagree with me. Ultimately none of these things matter because I’m not actually doing what I’m called to do. See, I’m not doing and that is the key.

So instead of lobbying for a certain political position or piece of legislation, maybe I should put that money and time toward helping families. Instead of complaining about the failing education system in this country, I could jump into it and reach into the lives of kids who are struggling. Maybe instead of condemning young women who have had sex and are pregnant and looking for an escape, I can come alongside them and walk them through the process and whatever process they choose let them know that they are loved through it all.

Why do all of this? Because Jesus has walked with me through my hardest times, through my darkest patches, and continues to pick me up when I fall.  He does. His love manifests itself through the people that step into my life with encouraging words, who come alongside me and tell me that it is okay to not have a job and that God has a plan, who tell me I will kill it in graduate school, and who insist that I can be a powerful force in the world if I just let myself be.  

I don’t think my life has ever been genuinely impacted by anything less than the people around me doing something. Actions speak louder than words and I believe actions carry the message a lot further. 

A Man Named Chris

As I was walking out of church and toward my car I saw a ragged looking fellow sitting on a bus bench surrounded by all of his belongings. I had seen him there before, in the parking lot behind the bus stop, but hadn’t ever paid attention. I noticed him, would think to myself ‘maybe one day I’ll offer to help him out,’ but nothing more than that.

Tonight though, as I walked to my car I realized I wanted to go talk to him. I put my purse in my car, took out my wallet, and stood by my car for a few minutes wrestling with myself. He seems to have food, maybe he is taken care of. After all, there was a food bag near him. I know I have been praying that I would reach out to people, but maybe there will be another chance. Then I looked up, took a deep breath, asked God for strength and the next thing I knew my car was locked and I was walking over to this strange man.

It took a moment to get his attention and I asked him a simple question: Do you need anything?

Little did I know those four words would lead to an hour of me listening and learning about this amazing individual.

He told me that he did not need anything. He had his little stove, he had a new coat he had picked up for $1.44 somewhere, and he had coffee. His name was Chris, and for an hour he shared a lot about his life and what it is like to live on the street day in and day out. He told me that he was forced out onto the street because housing was too expensive, but said that he did not blame anyone.

He gave me advice, too. He told me that sometimes people have to make the hard decision even if it means giving up achievement and success. People get stuck going in one direction and they never stop to look around or see if it is really worth pursuing. They pursue success, but sometimes success is not all it is cut out to be. He said even animals know to not head in the same direction all their lives and that even though he had chosen a difficult direction he would figure out a way to get back to a good place.

Chris mentioned that he did not like Starbucks coffee; he was a Folgers guy, but that the lemon loaf was delicious. He then offered to give me money to go buy one for myself to try. I said if he wanted to buy one for me, then he should come with me and we’ll go enjoy some together. He then told me about life on the street, about how he could not just leave all of his stuff because people would come and steal it. He said rarely gets a good night’s rest because he always has to be half awake in order to protect his few possessions.

The most amazing thing, though (really everything that came out of this man’s mouth was amazing) was his willingness to forgive those who stole things from him. He told me that he tried not to dwell on it, that he often hoped whoever stole something of his really needed it, and that one day he will save up money to replace the things that were stolen so he would have no reason to ever hold a grudge. It was just stuff.

Did I mention that this man told me he was over 80 years old? He was born and raised in Texas, moved to Santa Ana where he lived and worked for 42 years. He did not explicitly mention that he was a veteran, but he kept mentioning his various visits to the VA hospital so I suspect he was. He told me his brother was the most decorated black man in the Army during the Korean War and that he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Chris also told me about the restaurants that turn him away when he asks for a cup of ice or even when he has money to spend and tries to buy food.

I spent an hour at that bus stop talking with him and by the time I was ready to walk away, I could not believe the encounter. He told me that there is a church in downtown Orange where he gets dinner a lot of nights and he would be happy to have a sandwich and another conversation with me. I told him where my church was and invited him to try it out one Sunday night. I figure if nothing else, he could sit in the warm lobby and maybe have a nap before he had to face the evening.

In the end I do not really have anything to share except this encounter as it stands. I did not approach this man by my own means, but through God’s strength I overcame my fear, I overcame the pressures of conformity, I overcame everything I was ever taught about not talking to strangers and learned more than I had ever anticipated.

We ended the night with a fist bump and a promise to say hi to each other if we see one another again.