A fantastic love scene

I’ve heard it said, “Love is a verb.” I like that better than the idea “Love is a feeling.” Passionate feelings come and go–they’re cyclical—but true love, per my definition, is constant, devoted commitment to the happiness and wellbeing of one’s chosen.  It is an emotional bond grown of shared experience, respect, and intimacy.  It is manifest in small, daily acts of caring.  It feels good, yes, but that is the fruit of living love.

One of my favorite love scenes is one I saw played out in my grandparents’ nursing home bedroom a few weeks before Grandpa died. Grandma had dementia and could not take good care of herself. A multitude of bed sores were now on her legs. I had come to visit them with my children, and while there we witnessed the ultimate image of devoted love: Grandpa–himself dying of cancer yet ever the dutiful husband–slowly leaning his frail, emaciated body over toward his beloved to dab ointment on her sores. No matter his own discomfort, he wanted to take care of his wife of 69 years. Thank you, Grandpa Edward, for your example.  Kindness, to me, is the epitome of love.

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Enemy lost

Jim* was a tall, assertive, somewhat intimidating man who lived across the street and down a couple of houses from the home which my husband and I had recently purchased. After becoming acquainted with the neighbors, I soon noticed and appreciated the care with which Jim, his wife and kids cared for their lawn and flower beds. I was impressed with how clean they kept his large pick-up truck and trailer. I was pleased to learn that the family attended church faithfully. However, I was perplexed that whenever I attempted to make eye contact to greet him, or whenever I waved at him as he drove by, he never returned the salutation. He’d act as if I wasn’t even there.

This hurt my feelings, of course. I tried to imagine what I had done to offend him or cause him to lose respect for me. ‘Do I testify too long and too often in church? Is he put off by my frequent comments in Sunday School? Does he have some personal reservations against people who homeschool?’ I couldn’t be sure, but it was troubling and painful to always be given the cold shoulder.

After several months of this—during which time I never gave up on saying Hi whenever I saw him—I devised a plan. I’d heard it said that

the best way to lose an enemy is to make him your friend.

Having no reason not to like and be-friend this man, other than his inexplicable indifference toward me, I decided to give the truism a try. Figuring that the problem lay in his not knowing me well, I decided to invite him and his family to dinner so we would get the chance to visit and become better acquainted. His wife was always sweet to me. Maybe Jim could learn to enjoy me, too.

Feeling rather nervous (because I hate confrontation), I called his number. I had hoped his wife would answer the phone, but no such luck. Gulp! “Uh—Hi, Jim. This is Shaunalei Andersen. I don’t know if you guys are busy next Monday, but my family and I would like to invite you, Selma*, and the girls to dinner at our house. I thought I’d make Navajo tacos, if that sounds good to you.”

This was so awkward. What should I expect from this guy who refused to even look at me? A flat out “No”? The excuse “We’re busy”? A rude “We’re not interested”? What?! Since I was throwing this at him out of the blue, how would he react?

“Navajo tacos?! I love Navajo tacos. Let me talk to Selma to make sure we don’t have anything going on.”

“Thanks, Jim. That’ll be awesome if you can. I’ll talk to you soon.” We hung up. Yes!

Monday night, our two families sat down to eat. I had prepared not just by making scones and chili, but also by thinking of subjects of conversation which might interest Jim—such as “What should we look for when deciding upon a camping trailer?” (We were hoping to acquire one in the next year.) Jim seemed to really enjoy himself! He was chatty and engaging; such a contrast from his former coldness. Watching us all have a pleasant meal together, an onlooker would never have suspected that this man had been ignoring me for months.

After that experience, whenever Jim saw me coming down the hall at church, he was the one to go out of his way to lean over (making sure I saw him) to say Hello. Each time I was outside when he drove by, he would wave in my direction. Our families didn’t become bosom friends after that, but the cordiality and friendship that came to exist between us as neighbors was gladdening to my soul.

In my mind, it was a miracle. I had lost an enemy and gained a friend!

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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Many ways to pray

Some of the children were gathered, whispering among themselves. “Peter’s mom . . . ” I heard one of them exclaim before his voice died down again to a low murmur. I had stopped by the classroom to update the Thanksgiving Feast food list on the door–having volunteered (am I crazy?!) at Parent- Teacher Conference to coordinate that meal and festivities—and was standing there in my coat, gloves, and black buckled shoes, which were drawing attention. Apparently the latter two items were of interest to the young students: the wearing of gloves and buckled shoes is a marked sign—according to a children’s story they’d recently been read in class—of a Witch!

I wonder how a witch prays?

Prayer has been on my mind recently. Gene Slade, chaplain at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, mentioned last month at an interfaith ministerial board meeting that his next clinical pastoral training class would be starting up in January. Clinical pastoral care, he explained to me later, is spiritual care—the learned art of listening and providing emotional and spiritual support to those suffering crises, grief, or pain.

I was intrigued. Couldn’t our congregation use someone trained in grief therapy? Wasn’t active listening something I’ve been wanting to develop in myself? Could it be that CPE training would provide me the opportunity and the credential to work with–reach–adolescents and young adults whose depression and existential angst I can understand?  Feeling a good vibe, I resolved to talk to Erik and then sign up!

However, my active brain soon realized,

people expect chaplains to pray!

Often in very specific ways. How did I feel about that?  Could I feel comfortable praying the prayer that a person wanted to hear?  Would a patient be comfortable with the way I prefer to pray? Are thoughts, mindful breathing, declarations, typed up questions, mental energy, witnessing grace, openness to wisdom, connecting with touch—are these things I do, technically, prayer?

Wow, that list makes me sound like a mystic. The truth is, of late, I’m a pragmatist who 1) realizes I have a hyperactive penchant for what feels like intuition and therefore 2) must cautiously distance myself from believing I must determine whether chaplaincy is my predestined calling in life, and instead 3) consider the practical affects which such an education, clinical experience, and career might have on me, my family, and my continuing bouts with depression.

And of course there is that question about prayer. “Do I believe in prayer?” I want to believe there are many ways to pray. Talking, connecting with people—in my mind, that is a form of prayer. Singing from the heart. That, too. Poetic expression, hugs, a smile. Absolutely. Even angry, passionate questions—all prayers. Do I believe I can bend God’s will to mine through sustained supplication? Not so much. Do I believe God to be a narcissist who needs our worship and praise? Nope.

I believe that whatever or whoever god is, he/she/we is right there with us. All the time. The supreme reality. I’ve come to believe that prayer, in its myriad forms, is for us—to open us up to

the reality of love.

Such a different paradigm from the self-condemning, I-am-not-worthy-to-approach-You prayers of my past which filled me with self-loathing, pain, and perfectionist dread. Maybe being a chaplain could help me explore prayer further—prayer that enthuses, encourages, and elevates. Prayer that is as living water. I’d like to continue to explore the many ways to pray.

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