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Love is the word. Love makes the world go ‘round. And then there’s that commandment to love one another.

But what does love mean? And what exactly did Christ’s word really mean? How can we love everyone?

My brother Mike and I sat with our spouses and dozens of other people, all strangers, in the happy, busy, buzzy atmosphere of Abeulo’s in Myrtle Beach Friday night discussing the above questions. Our appetites sated and our moods elevated, we began talking about the homeless, the tired, the needy and what our responsibility was to them.

“We’re supposed to love everyone,” Mike said, not in a preaching way, just stating a reminder of something the four of us already knew, and he and I began to toss thoughts and feelings back and forth. I said my heart hurt as I thought of the Syrian refugees, especially the mothers and those little children. They’re as “precious in His sight” as my own grandchildren who had the good fortune to be born in America to parents who love them.

Did we come to a consensus or vow to devote ten percent of our time and money towards aid for the less fortunate? No. In fact, the only things we agreed on were (1) charity begins at home and we need to be more loving and kind to the people we live with and (2) we need to ponder Christ’s words and their implication for our lives.

Later that night I recalled Aaron Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love. There are several kinds of love, including one called plain old “liking,” but the ideal love is consummate love. Consummate love is comprised of intimacy, passion, and commitment and is an ideal towards which many aspire. Not everyone is fortunate enough to experience consummate love, however, and even if it were possible, it’s not the type of love one can feel towards everyone.

I’ll spare you the rest of my pondering about Sternberg’s theory and its application to Christ’s commandment. It’s quite interesting and something you can easily find and read more about online. What popped in my mind as I was thinking of Sternberg is something a former colleague of mine quipped one afternoon as some colleagues were chatting about an office romance. The chatter turned into a heated discussion as people began to actually take sides. This is going nowhere I thought and was about to leave when someone said, “There are a lot of ways to love, Folks. People love how they can.”

There are a lot of ways to love, Folks. People love how they can. What I love (there’s that word again) is that it cuts right to the chase and, without embellishment or hifalutin theories, speaks volumes. I can’t take everyone home to raise or join the Peace Corps or round up all the homeless people or love people who abuse children. I can’t. But I can love how I can.

Saturday afternoon I parked my car toward the back of the parking lot at HomeGoods in Myrtle Beach. After I turned off the ignition, I read a couple of texts and was in the middle of responding to the second one when someone thumped on the passenger side window. Momentarily startled, I looked around to see a face (no description because of the situation) that I perceived as non-threatening, so I lowered the window.

“Hello, Ma’am. Don’t be afraid. I’m harmless. My name is ____________, and I’m a Vet who hasn’t been able to find a job no matter how hard I’ve tried, and I just need some money for a meal. Can you help Old _________ out?” All of this was delivered in one long string while I stared at her, recalling the conversation of the night before. I found the change purse my husband had bought me as a souvenir in Denali on a land/sea cruise we lucky ducks had taken and rummaged through it until I found a ten dollar bill. I gave it to the kindly-looking, well-spoken, middle-aged woman standing at the window, and off she went.

Was I crazy to have done that? She wasn’t dirty, disheveled, or lean—just the opposite. She asked, I gave. No questions asked.

If Mike is reading this, my answer to our questions Friday night is that you (all of us) love how you can.

 

Last week a couple of good friends and I went to a Women of Vision exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, and we had a great time.

Wait. It was great, but it was also consciousness-raising and thought-provoking. Although I have a copy of the book by the same name, seeing the enlarged photographs up close and personal was a sobering experience. Reading more about the stories behind the images and hearing the photographers discuss them have haunted me all week.

We saw a child with Monkey pox, a virus caused by eating contaminated meat. In this case, the child had eaten Gambian rat, the only choice in town so to speak. Starve or eat rat? That’s what psychologists call an avoidance/avoidance situation, one in which neither alternative is good.

 My friends and I had just dined at Chicago Dog across the street, a diner with lots of atmosphere and several delicious food choices. Our conflicts were of the approach/approach variety since all options were attractive.

We saw a frail-looking 5-year-old bride posing with her 25-year-old husband and another child bride howling with fear and as she rode with her family to her wedding. We also looked into the eyes of an 11-year-old who had attempted to commit suicide by catching herself on fire rather than succumb to a life of sexual and physical abuse.

 On the way to Charlotte we had talked about gender issues, including the incidence of cohabitation, the elaborate venues of today’s weddings in America, and the quest for romantic love.

We also saw girls in Mumbai standing in front of their cages. They were prostitutes with no education and few choices.

Here in the United States, education is a right and responsibly for all of its citizens…including the females.

After viewing the exhibit, I was a feeling a bit melancholy, not for myself but all of the injustice and unfairness in the world. How and why did I get so lucky?

Something else that niggled me was the oft-quoted reminder that no one gets to heaven without a belief in Christ. And yet I was 99.9 percent sure that none of the above people had heard of Him. Did the child in the Congo with Monkeypox go to hell? And what about his mother who sat weeping beside his bed day after day, week after week?

 I could not/will not believe that something so unfair can happen.

A couple of days later, I read a Face Book comment by one of my nephews that sent me to Mere Christianity, one of C.S. Lewis’s most profound and popular books. Although I had read it many times (especially some chapters), on this day I opened the book right to the following sentence:

But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangement about the other people are.

It’s not that Lewis knows the answer to all mysteries, but he’s certainly further along the path of understanding than I. For the moment, I feel better about the child brides, the Monkey pox victims, the starving children, and the prostitutes. God has not told us about His arrangements.

Have you ever had similar thoughts and feelings? How did you deal with them? 

For months, Camden has been embroiled in a conflict situation about city administrators using taxpayers’ money to construct a YMCA when the city already has recreational facilities that seem to be working just fine. I don’t pretend to understand the politics and practicalities of it. I just know that it was/is a major deal that has people writing and signing petitions and that the powers-that-be appear to be insulted/annoyed/shocked that the citizens dare to question them.

A week or so ago I read an article in the Chronicle Independent that summarized the situation and provided a solution. Written by Fred Sheheen, the article was so superbly crafted that even I could completely understand the recent goings-on. The title itself lured me in, “Can this really be happening?,” and when I read the first sentence, I knew I was in for a treat: “Seldom have I witnessed such a gross malfunctioning of local governments as that which has developed in Camden and Kershaw County over the future of recreation programs to serve the citizenry.”

As much as I enjoyed the article and appreciate Sheheen’s clear, crisp writing and the enlightenment it provided, I have to admit that his conclusion packed the most powerful punch of all. It was so perfect, in fact, that I found myself laughing aloud. Why? Because it speaks to much of how things are managed and how people are viewed.

From employees to taxpayers and citizens to college officials, the view seems to be that reflected in Sheheen’s conclusion: LOAD DOWN THE WAGONS; TO HELL WITH THE MULES. While this quote is in reference to situations that occurred while Sheheen was Commissioner of Higher Education for South Carolina, that attitude is still prevalent.

What do you think? Do you see examples of loading down the wagons with little regard for the mules? Can/will you share an example?

I have dads on my mind again this morning. Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend? We need to. Any reputable human growth and development text will tell you that adolescents in single-parent households are at higher risk for poor academic performance, delinquency, violent behavior, drinking, and risky sexual behavior.

Even if the father is not in the home, he can be a force for good. It is the quality of his involvement that counts, not his mere presence. We all know fathers who  are hateful, ineffective, and abusive and whose families might be better off if they were to hit the road. I’m not talking about them. I’m referring to the ones who genuinely care about their children but for various reasons don’t actually live with them. If the dad provides financial assistance, fosters a close relationship, and practices authoritative parenting, his children are usually better adjusted than if he were absent.

I recall the moment when I first realized that single parenting was becoming more the norm. A dozen years ago, I had a pretty, petite, pregnant redhead in one of my classes. I was a bit surprised that she was beginning the semester because it’s been my experience that having a newborn usually takes more time and energy than the expectant mom realizes, and more often than not, she ends up withdrawing for that term. Sorry ladies, although there are many exceptions, that’s been my observation, especially if the mother is single.

And that was the case with this young mom. The moment she told me about her “boyfriend,” I thought, “Uh oh,” and  had that sinking feeling that her college career would be cut short. Indeed, I somehow knew that the course of her life was about to be altered in a big way and that unless her circumstances changed, she and her baby would struggle in a myriad of ways.

Little Junior was born, and after a week, there she was back in class. I was delighted and surprised. We talked after class, and she showed me some pictures of the baby. There was a young man smiling and holding the newborn in a couple of the photos, and she proudly told me that he was the baby’s father and her boyfriend.

“He’s really there for us,” she said.

“That’s good to hear, “I replied.

“Yeah, he doesn’t come every single day because he’s busy, you know. But at least every other day he comes over and gives the baby a bottle.”

Again I said, “That’s good.”

Did she finish the semester? No. Her son would be approaching his teens now, and I often wonder about their fate. Does the child’s father offer financial assistance? Does he still “feed” his son? Is the child angry or rebellious? Do they live in poverty? Did she go back to college?

 There have always been single mothers and absentee fathers. I just don’t recall it being so openly flaunted as it is now. I’m amazed at how easily a person can become adjusted to change, even if it’s not good. These days I’m often surprised and thrilled to learn that the couple is married, something that I used to take for granted.

It started with Courageous. Then later that week, I saw a huge billboard with Simba and Mufasa, the words “Be a dad,” written across it. For several moments, I reminisced about The Lion King and its many great themes, one of which is the importance of “remember(ing) who you are.” The movie also said a lot about effective leadership and the power of example. I could go on and on about the attributes of the movie, but I couldn’t do it justice. It’s something you need to see for yourself.

The two movies made me think of other fathers, young and old, living and deceased, and their tremendous potential for influencing their children. Of my young favorites, there’s Rich whom I’ve already mentioned in an earlier post; my son Paul; and Ryan and Charlie, my husband’s son and son-in-law respectively. What all four of these young men have in common is the love and caring that they extend to their children every single day. All work hard and are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to care for their growing families. Their children look up to them and enjoy spending time with them.

Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of recent examples. My daughter-in-law Amanda says that she and Olivia Jayne will often go out on the balcony to wait for Paul when it’s time for him to come home. As soon as the tiny tot sees her father, she gets excited and starts stomping her feet. Recently, little Allie spent a couple of hours with us one morning before school started, and one of her favorite topics of conversation was Daddy, Daddy, Daddy (a.k.a. Ryan). And then there’s Hannah, Charlie’s oldest child. A sweet and precious child, she has often shown me a pearl necklace that her father gave her one evening when they went to daddy/daughter event.

Fathers of adult children are important too. Regardless of age, children need fathering, especially when it involves showing an interest in their lives and expressing a desire to spend time with them. As a quick example, my daughter Elizabeth enjoys monthly outings with her father. Whether shopping, enjoying a movie, or sharing a meal, his presence in her life clearly says, “I love you.” Then there’s my husband who talks with and sees his children on a regular basis. Last week, he spent one day hog hunting with Ryan and another day visiting with Lauren and her children.

Speaking of older fathers, last week I attended the funeral of an 84-year-old father, step-father, and grandfather. After the demise of his first wife, he married a friend of mine who had four young children, and for over twenty years, he’s been “there” for them. At the funeral, these four young adults sang a beautiful hymn in a tribute to Will.

Is there any greater legacy for a man to leave than that of being a responsible, dedicated, and caring father? At the end of life’s journey, I don’t think money or fame can top it in importance. For a child, there are empty places that only a father can fill. Even someone of presidential stature, Barack Obama, speaks of feeling a “father hunger” for much of his life.

Lest you think that I’m dismissing the importance of mothers, I’m not. It’s just been my experience that if a parent “bails out,” it’s more likely to be the father. Why is that? And what can be done to reverse this social trend?

On a scorching day this past July, I walked out of the library in Rincon, GA and heard a sweet little voice saying, “Hey Grandmama!” There she was, my blond, curly haired granddaughter Emma running towards me. She and her father had a daddy/daughter date that day, and they were dining on hamburgers and fries in the park. I looked up and saw Rich, my son-in-law, sitting at a picnic table in the park, and hand-in-hand, Emma and I sauntered over.  I sauntered; Emma skipped.

“Why did you guys decide to come here?” I asked. “Couldn’t you eat your lunch in air conditioned comfort?”

“Well, it was Emma’s time to choose, and she wanted to come here,” Rich replied. Emma climbed back up on the bench next to her dad and took a sip of her drink. I took a long look at my son-in-law, drenched in perspiration, obviously uncomfortable and thought, “That’s love.”

We chatted a few minutes and then I drove off. When I looked back, there they sat, Rich listening to Emma’s prattling, and Emma swinging her legs and happily telling her dad something important (to her).

I remembered this scene and others like it as my husband and I watched Courageous last week, a movie about men with the courage to step up to the plate and fulfill their responsibilities as fathers. Moved by the stories portrayed in the movie, we talked for the umpteenth time about how fortunate we are that our eleven grandchildren are being raised in homes with both mom and dad present, present in more ways than one. When I compare their young lives to that of millions of our nation’s children, my heart hurts.

Seeing the movie and thinking of its title reminded me that I too need to have courage to speak up, to do and say what I perceive to be appropriate in encouraging fathers to take their childrearing responsibility seriously. The children of America need a masculine influence in their homes, a person who can and will love, guide, protect, and provide for them. Yes, I know that mothers are perfectly capable of loving and guiding, but the children fare better with two adults, united in purpose, to raise them.

In the movie, one of the young men who’s part of a gang has been arrested. As he sits in the back seat of the police car waiting to be taken to jail, one of the officers leans into the car and asks, with concern, something like, “What are you doing?” Sad and vulnerable (at least in appearance), the young man simply replies, “Man, I don’t have anybody.” (paraphrase)  That one sentence contains so much truth and so much hurt.

Children without fathers are more likely to drop out of school, join gangs, and get involved with drugs. I know some people reading this want more specific data. They want percentages and statistics. I can find them easily enough, and maybe by the time I write another post about being courageous, I’ll have looked them up.  Or better yet, maybe you can do it.  The stats and facts are easy enough to find. It’s no secret that over 40 percent of children born in South Carolina are born to single mothers. Where are the dads? Where is their courage?

In my lesson on charity this morning, I included a reference to a recent novel chosen by my book club, Same Kind of Different as Me, and I decided to review the book here. This is actually a revised version of a review I posted at Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago. Truthfully, it took two years and two attempts before I was hooked by this book. When my son-in-law Charlie gave it to me and described it as “wonderful,” I began reading it right away. I stuck it out for two nights, but I couldn’t get into it for some reason.

“Where did the author come up with such a character as Denver?” I wondered. Could anyone have such a poor and miserable life? I knew that poverty, homelessness, and prejudice were serious issues in our society, but I just didn’t want to be reminded of it right before falling asleep. Plus, the dialect annoyed me. Did the author really have to make people from the South sound so illiterate and backwards? Then Ron entered the picture, and while I thought the accounts of life in the 1960s were pretty interesting, I began to get irritated with this character too. Was the reader supposed to believe that someone would wear matching plaid shirts and shorts, black knee socks, and brogans to a college football game in the 1960’s?

When my book club chose it for our March selection, I picked it up again. “Surely there’s something redeeming about this book for so many people to love it,” I thought. I downloaded it on my Kindle and listened to it on the way to and from work. It wasn’t long before I got involved in the lives of these two men, Denver and Ron, wondering when their lives would intersect. Living parallel lives in different parts of the country, their experiences couldn’t have been more different. One was an illiterate black man who, tired of being poor in Louisiana, hopped on a train and ended up homeless in Fort Worth. The other was a white millionaire, a college grad who seemed to live a charmed existence. Married to Miss Debbie, he was a successful art dealer.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the book was true…not based on truth, but absolutely true and told by the men who lived the stories. I’ll leave it up to you to read where and when and how their friendship began and grew. I’ll just say that the millionaire who set out to be a do-gooder philanthropist and the former sharecropper who later had a front row seat at a presidential inauguration were forever transformed by their shared experiences. Interestingly, the one who set out to give ended up being on the receiving end. He broadened my thinking too; because of Denver, I’m using Micah 6:8 as yet another guide for living my life.

As the book progresses, Denver and Ron take turns telling their life stories and their individual perceptions of the events described in the book. Each of them shares scenes so descriptive that the reader can see them and feel their essence. Whether Rocky Top, rural Louisiana, the “hood,” or the homeless shelter is being described, they all seem real. Denver’s visions of spirits, occasional scripture references, and pithy words of wisdom are as thought provoking and interesting as Ron’s big art deals and spiritual transformation.

The person who served as a catalyst for the book was Miss Debbie. Denver and Ron loved her, and so will you. Even as I type this, I’m wondering if I can persuade my husband to go to Fort Worth during Spring Break. There are some people I want to meet there…and an art gallery I want to visit.

As Connie was leaving my house after book club last week, she spotted a picture of Paul and Olivia and paused to look at it. “Love it,” she said.  “Me too,” I replied. I then went on to say that every picture I’ve seen of him and his precious daughter shows him smiling. Plus, he’s usually cradling her lovingly in his arms or kissing her. Connie went on to say, “Well, you know there’s a special bond between a dad and his daughter. I still miss mine every day.”

Connie loved her father. I loved mine too. My daughters love and admire their dad, and my husband’s daughters think he’s the cat’s meow. He is. Why am I going on and on about filial love? Because children need fathers. They need mothers AND fathers providing support, love, guidance, and the sense of security that all children need.

Today 42 percent of children born in SC are born to single mothers, and I just can’t “get it.” I’m not blaming the moms. It takes two to tango, and sometime between conception and birth, the father often decides the prom is over. Or it could be that the mother doesn’t want him around in a steady, committed way. Maybe she thinks she can be both a mother and father, especially if the “baby daddy” helps her financially. This is crazy thinking.

I’ve recently read of unmarried women who want to have children but don’t want a relationship with a man. In fact, it’s fine with them if they never see him. A sperm donor is all that’s required.  On the surface, this sounds “okay,” and I can well understand the desire for fulfillment. Motherhood is not overrated. In fact, it’s downright awesome!

At the same time, I can’t understand why a woman would deliberately bring a child into the world with the knowledge that this precious being will never (in all likelihood) know his father.  To me, it’s a selfish act, especially when one considers all of the unwanted children who are hungry for love. Why not adopt one of them? Does a woman like this sincerely believe that her personality, resources, strength, and love are all that a child needs? She’s wrong. People have a desire to know who they are where they came from.

I have tons of research to back me up on the above…all of it disheartening.  Rather than drag out the statistics this afternoon, however, I’ll just mention an incident that my friend Tilara wrote about. She told a story of three young men who are currently in prison because of armed robbery. None really had paternal influence in their homes, and yet the 19-year-old’s father showed up in court to beg for mercy for his son. The son hadn’t seen his dad since he was 2, and now this young man has a 2-year-old child of his own.

Tilara’s post really touched my heart and spurred me to action. It’s one thing not to say anything for fear of offending someone. It’s another to stand quietly by and watch the missteps of what Tilara has accurately dubbed “the lost generation.” In her words: Tonight when I turn out my light to go to sleep, I am going to pray for these three boys, but I am also going to pray for all of the other boys that find themselves in this lost generation.  Most of all I am going to pray that as a nation, we (everyone) look in the mirror tomorrow morning, and ask ourselves “What role can I play, in making our world a little better for this lost generation.”

What’s happening to our young people? What are you doing to make the world a little better for this lost generation?

Announcement to my husband and children:  I won’t be buying any more soft drinks to serve in my home.  Nor will I buy them for any of you in a restaurant…not even the diet variety. And not even Sprite. I’ve always suspected how unhealthy they are for us, but from listening to NPR this morning, I learned that they are “uniquely bad” for humans.

Anyone who’s even halfway aware of what’s going on in our society knows that we have what’s been referred to as an obesity epidemic. Beginning in infancy, obesity (defined as weighing 20 percent above recommended weight  for height, etc.) has become a growing (pun intended) problem. We also have more problems with diabetes than ever  before, and according to the interview on NPR’s On Point, soft drinks are one of the chief culprits. High in sugar and low in nutrition, Americans gulp them down, sometimes several a day, and a doctor (didn’t catch her name) on the program believes that this habit is primarily responsible for the rise in diabetes and in obesity.

How has this happened? Some of my friends and children would say it’s because they taste good. True, but what else? A commentator on the show mentioned that soft drinks are far less expensive than 100 percent fruit juice. When people on limited incomes are trying to economize, it’s cheaper to buy Pepsi than cranberry juice. And children love the sweet syrupy taste, just like their parents do.

In addition to talking about the zero nutrition of soft drinks, the animated discussion covered the controversial topic of using government money to buy cola drinks. Naturally, people who use food stamps are upset about the possibility of having this privilege curtailed because they feel that it isn’t fair and that it robs them of their choices. One caller asked (paraphrase), “So as a taxpayer, I not only have to work to support the people on assistance but now I have to support, even encourage their poor health too? I have to buy their groceries and promote obesity too?” It should be interesting to watch how this situation plays out in New York, especially if Mayor Bloomberg has his way.

It’s easy for me to spout off about this topic because I don’t have a craving for Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, or any other cola beverage. For a long time, however, it’s bothered me to see people consume such huge quantities of it when it has zilch in the way of nutrition. I was just thinking about Thanksgiving and how yummy the sweet potato soufflé is going to be.  I’d also like to try Connie’s recipe for hummingbird cake.  Those items are loaded with sugar, but somehow I can justify it because of the vegetable/fruit ingredient. But what, my friends, is the healthy ingredient in cola beverages?

Maybe I’m just like everyone else, able to rationalize about the merits of what I like while failing to see it in the preferences of others. That’s too much for me to ponder this evening. All I can tell family and friends is that if you want a soda at my house, bring your own bottle. I can’t purposely contribute to diabetes or obesity, two of the major causes of premature death in America today.

P.S.  Just have to add this afterthought. When I walked into the building for my afternoon class, I heard an interesting conversation coming from the break room. A young man was stocking the drink machine, and one of the people watching him asked when he was going to put the real Mountain Dew in the machine, not the diet stuff.

This morning while walking a few miles at Scott Park, I was again struck with the contrast of sunshine and shadow, just like our lives. Even when you’re walking in the light, there are some things going on that you could notice and complain about. Some people do, loudly and frequently. “It’s hot as heck,” they say, “and my eyes hurt.”  Then you’re in the shadow. It’s good too, but sometimes you’re so busy feeling sorry for yourself that you don’t notice the slight temperature change or the slight breeze that cools your skin.   

Have you got anything good going on right now? Can you walk? Can you see? Did you sleep in a bed last night instead of on the street somewhere? Will you have lunch later today? Sunday morning before going to church, I spent some time watering my plants and flowers. I was lamenting the fact that I’d spent a small fortune on them, and despite my frequent attention, many were dying. Plus, it was almost unbearably hot, and I just wanted to get it over with and scoot inside to the air conditioned comfort. I was also thinking about a lesson I had to teach in a couple of hours, one that I felt a little anxious about. Although I’d spent hours reading and preparing, I still felt inadequate to adequately cover the topic.

Did you see a few good things going on in the above paragraph? There were several. I have an air conditioned home that has some pretty flowers and plants around it. I have running water that enables me to stand and water the petunias and ferns.  I don’t have to go to a well to get it. I have eyes to see not only my yard but all of Mother Nature’s handiwork. I have the opportunity to worship at a church of my choice…and to teach. I don’t live in a country where women’s voices are stifled. Here’s what happened to wake me up from my pouty, self-centeredness. I looked up. That’s it. I looked up and saw the treetops gently moving with the breeze, and beyond them was the bluest sky I’d seen lately…or at least that I’d taken note of. I gulped at the magnificence of the sight and wondered how many just like it I’d missed because I’d been too busy grumbling or looking down.

Hours later and several degrees hotter, I remind myself that I live in the American South, the land of magnolia trees, grits, and beautiful beaches. Hmmm. Makes me want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird.

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