Thanks for reading. I love you!
Saturday, February 11, 1:50 p.m.
As I sit here, trying to organize my thoughts about love, Zoe is locked in her room screaming her HEAD OFF. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, earplugs in and my Hamilton Pandora station on full volume to drown out the sound of her maddening yells and kicks against the door. She’s exhausted. She stayed up 3 hours past her bedtime last night because Vic and I were out late celebrating my birthday. She’s too tired to even know what she is screaming about or why. She’s in complete meltdown mode and all I could do was lock the door and walk away. I am at my wits end and am praying she screams herself into a much needed nap.
Vic is in the basement resting because he has been dealing with a man-cold for over a week and I am running low on patience and empathy. Ladies, I know you know what I’m talking about.
And after a morning of too much time on the iPad and enough whining from Peter to solve the energy crisis, I finally threatened him just right that he got himself dressed, emptied the dishwasher, half-heartedly made his bed, then stormed off to his friend’s house.
I’m obviously an excellent mother who might be overly qualified to speak to you about love…but because I love you I’ll impart my wisdom upon you this morning. I expect to see arduous notes being taken.
I don’t know if my husband knows this or not, but I made a decision quite a few years ago that I would bear my testimony once a year during my birthday month. Well, as mentioned, my birthday was two days ago, which means last Sunday would have been my chance. I was getting ready to come to the pulpit but it just didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. So I suppose it is serendipitous that I have the chance to speak today.
Love is such a broad topic. Fatherly love, motherly love, unconditional love, Christ-like love, romantic love. I struggled bringing the topic into focus so that I could speak from the heart in a way that was meaningful to me. After looking through the running list of quotes that I keep on my phone, reviewing the latest podcasts and books that I’ve read, pondering what has inspired me lately, and pleading in prayer, it was undeniable that I should speak about BROTHERLY/SISTERLY LOVE.
My father, who was aptly born on Valentine’s Day, often repeated the following, which he still lives by, “There are two types of people in the world. Those I love, and those I haven’t met yet.”
As some of you know, my parents are on their third back-to-back (essentially) mission in Moscow, Russia. (yes, all three missions have been in Moscow, Russia). They are based in Moscow but are in charge of the addiction recovery program for Eastern Europe so they travel all over Russia, to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia, and occasionally to Turkey and various other countries. My mom is a therapist and my dad is an addict in recovery so they are a perfect fit for the work.
I have LOVED hearing about their adventures, the people they counsel with and teach, their regional presentations about marriage and family, the food, the weather, and so on. They are there to love, not to convert.
UPDATE: 2:38 p.m. Zoe fell asleep. She’s napping for the first time in 8 months! And the husband has left the house!
But out of their 5+ years of living in Eastern Europe, the story that has stayed with me the most and profoundly affected me took place in a crowded Subway station in Moscow. My mother often describes the state of the homeless population in Russia—there are huge problems with the homeless due to lack of government involvement. There are really no such things as soup kitchens or homeless shelters and at one point in Russia’s history there were over 7 million homeless children. (In the U.S. there are around 2.5 million). When you take into account the harsh weather conditions in Russia, the economy and exorbitant cost of living, the dense population in Moscow, it can be very devastating to see the way our brothers and sisters there struggle to survive. My parents have seen homeless people literally frozen to death on the streets.
As my mom exited the Subway train one day and stepped onto the platform, she saw a homeless man with no legs and deformed upper limbs. He was sitting on the floor of the station, a hat with a few rubles in it in front of him. She noticed that a handful of people threw change in the hat as they walked by, which is wonderful…but my mom retrieved a significant amount of money from her purse, approached the man, knelt down to his level, put her hand on his shoulder, looked him in they eye, and placed the money into the palm of his only hand.
“I just wanted him to feel human”, she told me. “I wanted him to know that I really see him.”
Do we really see our brothers and sisters? I know Jenny Towery sees them. I know because I watch her relentlessly serve everyone in her path, including my non-LDS neighbor with cancer.
I know Brenda Chamberlain sees them because of how she loves all the women in this ward. How she jumped at the opportunity to organize a list of women to bring food to my friend Lindsey, who is a single mom (and here today) when Lindsey’s elderly mother fell and broke her shoulder.
I know Kimberly Hatch sees her brothers and sisters in the faces of the Primary children because of how she prepares and organizes and speaks with softness to the children.
Ray and Jane Greer SEE their brothers and sisters when they march for refugees at the capitol and teach their Sunday School marriage class to a group of couples who, on somedays, are simply just trying to not kill each other. They see us. They know the struggle. But they know that love is up to the challenge.
I know my husband sees his brothers and sisters when he makes his homemade granola out of love for friends who are struggling, for the families he home teaches, for his children.
I know that my friend and visiting teacher, Andrea Sato sees me when she listens to my struggles and regularly calls and texts to check in on me.
When Peter stops on the basketball court to help a player from the other team recover from a fall, I know that he is seeing his brothers and sisters.
I know that most of you really SEE your brothers and sisters.
Horace Mann, one of America’s great educators said, “To pity distress is human. To relieve it….is God-like.”
I will never, can never, forget the relieving of our distress when our 2-year-old daughter died. Most of you know that she choked on a small apple piece right outside in this parking lot almost 9 years ago. Some of the acts of love and service performed for us are beyond description. They are a part of my soul and my cellular structure. I will never, ever tire of sharing these sacred experiences and sharing the life and light of our Lucy. To this day, the brotherly love and kindness shown to us at our tremendous loss leaves me speechless. Thank you for seeing us.
I think God breaks our hearts again and again and again until they stay open. That is when we begin to truly see and love our fellow man. This is what I hope will be the outcome with all the broken hearts in the world right now.
I believe that the measure of our love is the measure of the greatness of our souls. I am so honored to be among so many great souls. I want to love people so that they return to themselves. And in turn, I will return to myself.
I try so hard not to change my brothers and sisters (Vic and my children especially), but to simply see the humanity in them and extend compassion. As Mother Teresa has famously said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” This is much easier said than done, but it is what I aim for.
Some of the most unburdened spaces of my life are when I am simply loving my brothers and sisters. We are sponsoring a refugee family who currently lives in a tent on the border of Syria and Lebanon. I was made aware of an incredible organization, Humanwire.org, and we knelt as a family, the week before Christmas, to decide which refugee family we would sponsor. We get to Skype with the family, use our network of friends and associates to help raise money for them, and watch as their lives change. Peter and Zoe are the ones who made the decision about which family we should choose. I just couldn’t pick one. When they saw the baby boy in Sanaa’s arms, they knew that was our family. They are all in need. We are all in need.
In October General Conference of 2010 President Monson taught, “In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing their best to deal with the challenges which come their way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.”
In closing, I want to share an excerpt from one of my favorite podcast episodes. This is from a short essay written for NPR’s “This I believe” by a school teacher in St. Louis titled, “God is in the Hands.”
“I believe in acts of love. I believe that God asks me to fill the empty hand of the beggar. I believe that God poses the question every time I see the hand my student raises. I believe that I find God as I type the poem, the one I begin without knowing where it will end.
I can tell you what I believe. But I’ve reached an age where I don’t care what I believe. Because I believe that love is not found in the mind or the heart. Love is found in the hands. Love is in the nightly back scratch I give my wife. My wife kneading the dough, that’s love. Love is in the hand that crafts, sculpts, sews, caresses, soothes.
That’s where God is. That’s where God is the most obvious. In the hands. In my religion, Roman Catholicism, the hands of the priest are especially dedicated during his ordination. If I could, I would sanctify the hands of everyone. I would bless the hands of the nun who teaches the child to write. I would bless the hands of my wife as she e-mails to me a joke. I would sanctify the hands of the clarinetist as she plays the Mozart concerto. I would consecrate the hands of the carpenter who shaped our simple dinner table. I would bless the hands of our dinner guests.
I do believe in a love that sails the Caribbean in a honeymoon yacht. But just now, just this day at age fifty-five, this morning, I have come to believe in a love that begins when my wife gently awakens me. Because God is in her hand. In the hand that caresses my shoulder in the morning. The hand that encourages me, simply, to open my eyes.” –John Samuel Tieman (full essay can be read and listened to here).
I’m grateful that I have been bent and broken because I have learned about love. I try to see past the end of my nose and ease the suffering of my brothers and sisters with my hands. There are still days that my happiness catches me by surprise because I never thought after Lucy’s death that I could feel this way. I owe that to my Father in Heaven and his angels here on earth. Thank you for seeing me and loving me with fierce and abiding brotherly love. For bending down to me, touching my shoulder, looking me in the eye, and placing your love in my hands.