One Corner Piece

Regret and Accountable.

These two words have been running around in my head for months. Some days they are louder than others, but their noise is an almost constant hum in the background of my life.

I didn’t behave inappropriately with someone else, I didn’t and don’t hide from all the people who might judge me or hold me accountable, and I didn’t and I won’t ever make excuses for behavior that is inexcusable.

But you know what I did do? I ignored all the signs that something was very, very wrong in my marriage. I dismissed my ex and attempts to discuss issues because I just didn’t have any more effort to give to anything. I chose to focus on other people and things as the top priorities and that, in part, resulted in my divorce.

When you have to suffer the consequences of your choices, it sucks – but as adults we do that and then pick ourselves up and move on. When you have children, and those children suffer the consequences of your actions and inactions, it’s the absolute worst feeling of failure and regret and accountability, and you just can’t shake it.

Good parents can’t prevent chaos of all kinds and protect their children from everything, but they can stop themselves from creating chaos in the lives of their children.

Regardless of how angry I have been and can still sometimes get at other people, the truth is that two people are responsible for the challenges my children have faced. Me and their Dad. Because as their parents, we are fully accountable for everything. Until they’re adults, we are the CEOs in their life. It was our job to provide for them and to protect them and to do our best in all things and to give 110% to family each day. It was our job to carefully control the influences in our lives. It was our job, and our job only, to set the example for them.

I suppose all Moms and Dads have regrets. And secrets. One of my secrets is that I don’t regret getting divorced. Is it wrong to be happy about something that caused pain for your children? Is it wrong to feel free?

I have known for a very long time, since the beginning really, that if I had to go back I wouldn’t make different choices. I would prioritize the people I prioritized. But I realized something new today. Something important. Something life-changing, really. A corner piece in this giant puzzle. One of the people I really need to forgive in this whole mess is me.

What is Love, Actually?

This is easy: it’s something about Hugh Grant.

Just kidding. I don’t really think it’s Hugh Grant, but at the same time I’m not sure I have the ability to help children understand the answer to that question – at least as it relates to big people being in true love. It’s a subject I’ve been mulling over for the better part of a year, and it brings up an even scarier set of questions all related to this one:

Can children really understand what love is in the absence of good examples?

Of all the things I have mourned as part of the divorce process, the thing I have mourned more than all else combined is the impact on my girls. Adults are big people and equipped to survive crappy things. Strong people pick themselves up, take time to address what’s broken, and move forward. But children don’t have all the coping skills and life perspective to rely on when crappy things happen. They mainly rely on adults to guide them, and relying on the guidance of divorced parents is OK in terms of learning how to get back on a bike after a fall or advice about a bad grade. But can children understand what love is when surrounded by adults who don’t display love properly, or at all?

My gut reaction: oh, heck no.

But that’s absolutely incorrect, and I am certain of it not because of what I’ve read or because of what a psychologist says or because of the encouragement of people who mean well but will tell me what I want to hear to make me feel better momentarily. I am certain of it because of a conversation with my daughter.

Just a few months into our family changes I was a bit horrified to find that my girls were talking to me about me dating. Not only was that not at all the space I was in, I didn’t want them to think that you always need to have a person in your life or you just replace one person with another. So I focused our discussions toward a couple of key things:

1. People do not need a partner to have a wonderful life.

2. There’s no reason to fear being alone. You don’t find real happiness in others and you don’t date or marry someone to feel whole – you can and should be whole all by yourself.

What I didn’t realize until I talked to a helper is that the girls were really just conveying they wanted me to be happy. That they thought if I fell in love I would be happy. And that’s sweet, but it’s also scary because I want my girls to not equate happiness with other people. I want them to love themselves and know God loves them and feel so loved and secure all on their own that they never feel they must have a partner – yet they will embrace one if they find and want one. But how could they know what love really is when all they’ve witnessed close up is a relationship that ended in an unexpected virtual propane explosion and then a relationship between two people who were/are not faithful in their marriages.

How could the girls possibly know, and how could they possibly learn, what love really is? How could I even begin to teach them?

My first thought was I could point out examples of good people they know who’ve gotten it right. Of course no two people are perfect and no marriage is all about a sweet love story, but I found myself saying “You see them? They work hard at it and are dedicated to each other and they got it right.” But that didn’t seem like enough. What if that relationship ended up not working out? What if a year from now one of those seemingly good people that everyone thinks is such a devoted spouse and successful human turns out to secretly be someone else entirely? It wasn’t going to be enough to show them good examples.

My second idea was to point out what love isn’t. This could be a really seriously long list – but boiled down, it’s actually pretty simple: if shame or dishonor is in any way a component of a relationship, that’s not love. If you feel any shame about the person standing next to you, that’s not love. If you’re with someone who has dishonored or mistreated you or you’ve dishonored or mistreated them, that’s not love.

Next was talking about the words “I love you.” Plenty of adult people are in relationships and say “I love you,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean they even know what love is. It might just mean they know how to speak words – maybe they love the idea of love or the idea of love with someone specifically, but they could have no idea how to actually love properly. Anyone who says “I love you” but dishonors you when you’re not around does not love you – they are lying to you or themself or both. Anyone who says “I love you” but dishonors your children does not understand what love really is. Love is always going to be a good bit about faith and trust and selflessness and respect – lack of faith or trust or selflessness or respect smells like like or convenience, not love. Don’t just say words: say words only when you are sure what they mean and you actually mean them.

Step four in this process was to say and actually mean that I believe in love. Because if I don’t believe in love, how can I really expect my children to have healthy views and feelings about love? Step four took some time, but I got there. And the moment I realized I still believe in love was coincidentally the moment when my daughter spoke words that showed me she knows some of what love is really all about.

We were sitting in church, and a few pews in front of us were A+K. And my daughter leaned over and whispered to me, “Did you see him put his arm around her? You need that.” I gave her side eye – I’m fine by myself, thank you. Mom, you need to be with someone who will go to church with us. And I realized in our discussions about it she saw so much more than just a warm body with an arm to lean against. It was two people with shared values, two people who work together to meet commitments, two people who prioritize family, two people who support one another, two people whose lives have not always been easy, two people who are not perfect, two people who worship together, two people who clearly love and are proud of each other.

The girls can understand and experience love regardless of their parents’ examples. I had forgotten for a while that the girls have the perfect example of true love and they’ve been learning about it since they were babies right in that very building with the pews. We – me, you, them – are so loved that we were given clear instructions for love and a clear definition of love that we can always use as a benchmark whenever we’re confused.

1 Corinthians 13 New Life Version (NLV)

Love does not give up. Love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love does not put itself up as being important. Love has no pride.

Love does not do the wrong thing. Love never thinks of itself. Love does not get angry. Love does not remember the suffering that comes from being hurt by someone.

Love is not happy with sin. Love is happy with the truth.

Love takes everything that comes without giving up. Love believes all things. Love hopes for all things. Love keeps on in all things.

Love never comes to an end.

One of my favorite movies is Love Actually. I’ve watched it a ridiculous number of times over the years, mostly because Hugh Grant is bloody swoonworthy. Little Sam has always been my favorite. He’s so sad and grumpy and so forlorn and so scared and yet still a bit hopeful. And he’s young and had so much tragedy that you really, really want his first love to work out – more than any of the other story lines, you want Sam’s to have a sweet and happy ending. For the first time, in a recent re-viewing, I realized that Sam has a parent who is somewhat like me – a parent who wants his child to believe in love and to take the risk, because ultimately it’s so worth it.

Watch: Sam has a problem.

Watch: Sam has a plan.

Watch: Sam gets his kiss.

Love Actually is a group of relationship stories, some about love and some not. Just like the stories of people in all of our lives. In different viewings at different times, I always seem to focus on a different line as THE most interesting one. My viewings the last year or so had me focusing on Karen, who warned her husband about that woman at the office. But when I caught it midway recently, flipping channels, I remembered how much I rooted for Sam the first time I watched the film. His story has always been my favorite. I love this line specifically, which you should be able to say with pride in some variation at decade one and decade two and decade five about the person you love to the other people in your life that you love: “She’s the coolest girl (guy) in school.” Actual love grows and gets better with age.

Now click here, or below, to watch Hugh Grant dance.

Alice in Wonderland

My first glimpse of truth was at a costume party. He took me to her house for the event, and the two of them enjoyed shots with neighbors and work pals while her husband and I watched them like they were our errant children, laughing about how they couldn’t hold their liquor and wouldn’t make it through the whole party. I’d planned to go as Poppy, the happy-go-lucky girl from the movie Trolls, but at the last minute decided instead to wear a costume I’d purchased for an office event. I was Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, in a big blue dress, properly pressed apron, and a little purse that looked like a clock.

There are dozens of theories about what all the fantasy in Alice in Wonderland really means, but I think almost everyone would agree that at least in some way it’s a story about the loss of innocence. And at the center of that story is innocent Alice – polite, sometimes snarky, trusting, with a little bit of a temper. One of the many supporting roles in Alice’s story is The White Rabbit, the character that leads her deep into a rabbit hole to a fantasy land. The White Rabbit is the character that leads Alice to awareness. The White Rabbit is the character that leads Alice to truth.

Some would say that The White Rabbit is a counter for Alice. The initial persona of a happy, carefree character fades and The White Rabbit’s overwrought and desperate self becomes visible. The neurotic character is a counter to Alice’s calm. Lack of composure counters her purpose. Alice is curious about The White Rabbit, and as Alice says, “curiosity often leads to trouble.”

Watch: The Rabbit Hole

The party was filled with happy people, all dressed up for fun. Neighbors and friends dressed as doctors and clowns and such. He was Batman – the costume of a character that lives two lives, who lost the most important people to him in his childhood and who fights to help others not suffer the same loss of family.

One of the funniest details in this wonderland/party story is that two people who hadn’t spoken to each other about costumes before that event were both dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. Me as Alice, with my proper white tights and Mary Janes. Her as an adult steampunky version of The White Rabbit, with bunny ears, leather short-shorts, and black fishnet stockings. It was so funny that people took our picture together – two characters from the same story, a contrast of light and dark. There might actually be more irony in our choice of costumes for that night than in all of Lewis Carroll’s writing.

Did The White Rabbit invite Alice into the rabbit hole and to the party in hopes Alice would see some truth? Perhaps to force the hand of all the players in wonderland? There’s no question what the outcome would be once everyone was exposed to truth. Or did The White Rabbit invite Alice into the rabbit hole and to the party because games were just part of the fun and thrill? In the big scheme of things, The White Rabbit’s motives are not important. The more important question was why Batman would take Alice to The White Rabbit’s house for a party.

I used was because it doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t care why people behaved the way they did, and even more than that I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in divine intervention. Sometimes the seemingly awful things that happen to us end up being our salvation from things that will really harm us. And there are messages and lessons for us not just in what happened, but also in our surroundings at and in the details of those events.

Here’s the thing about Alice and The White Rabbit. In the end, after all the chaos and confusion, The White Rabbit is just a noisy trumpeter that’s a slave to others in a world of fantasy. But Alice…Alice separates herself and she runs away from all the dysfunction. Alice looks at that screaming mob that’s yelling at her and railing at her, and Alice focuses on the calm guidance of a doorway to peace – and then she wakes herself up.

Watch: Alice Wakes Herself Up

I threw away my Alice costume long ago. I didn’t want the reminder of such a horrible night hanging in my house. I regret that. I likely would never have worn it again, but that Alice costume is a symbol of so much more. It’s a reminder that Alice knows what is real and what is not. It’s a reminder that Alice chose peace over chaos. It’s a reminder that Alice saved herself.

Alice saved herself.

Find the Funny, Brave Girls

Find the funny in all things, and life will be fun.

I don’t know where I heard that in my youth, but it has stuck with me. I really really wish I could remember the context, but it is deeply hidden somewhere in my mid-forties Mom brain which must prioritize school lunch components that need to be purchased and after school activities that require speedy cross-town transportation.

I love funny. I laugh at weird things, things that sometimes make others uncomfortable, and I laugh at silly things. I laugh at Ellen and Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. I probably laugh the hardest at a loud noise from the ketchup bottle. I love what some others might call inappropriate humor. I love kid stories.

And, probably most importantly, I love laughing at myself. I laugh at myself when I dance and I know it’s bad (it’s always bad) and when I do something dumb like buy a car that’s a blue color I like and then drive it off the lot without knowing where the gas tank is. We have to laugh at ourselves. It’s one of the keys to true happiness, I think – not taking yourself too seriously while loving yourself just as you are.

My friends and family and work family are all a bunch of people who love to laugh, and I realized today – in the middle of a sermon about God’s Presence – that one of the ways that I know that God is present in my life is through laughter. My life is filled with people who find the funny. I am surrounded by just the right people at just the right time each day – and that is a daily miracle in my life. It’s true today and it’s been true my entire life.

When Audrey was an infant and still had cancer in her body, I remember my Dad praying for me as I held her in her rocking chair. He obviously prayed a lot for Audrey, and he prayed for my health and my energy and my peace. But the thing that surprised me was that he prayed that I would have joy.

Beth has peace. Beth has joy. Beth is filled with peace and joy.

He understood a truth I am only just now grasping a bit of. Joy is necessary. Funny is necessary. Laughter is necessary. We have to pursue them and we have to surround ourselves with them and we have to actively focus on them. They are keys to our healing. They are keys to full lives. In order to live our lives and accomplish what we need to, we can’t just think we’ll be happy when things are going our way. We have to decide to be happy and decide to pursue joy and decide to find funny when things are not going as planned.

One of the little running jokes with some of those funny people who surround me each day is “that’s one of the reasons.” I love camouflage pants…that’s one of the reasons you’re getting divorced. I’m a big meanie about deadlines…that’s one of the reasons I’m getting divorced. I don’t know what teams are playing in a big game and I can’t stand that some people plan their day around sports on TV…that’s one of the reasons you’re getting divorced. Every time I say it or someone else says it, I laugh out loud – and it feels awesome.

I have watched people look at us strangely when we joke about it, so I know that finding funny about this subject is awkward for some people. But I really just do not care. And you know what else? it is totally okay to laugh and joke about dark things. It is totally okay to have moments of happiness and laughter in the midst of dark stuff. That’s one of the things that puts the dark stuff in their proper place. Very often, I think people feel compelled to be serious about something, or they actually have to be serious about their situation when they’re at home – in my case that’s where little minds are still wrapping their heads around family changes. So that means it’s even more important to have those moments of funny in safe spaces with friends and family. Every one of those one-liner wisecracks is and was a step to a happier person.

Another thing I have laughed about for an entire year is that the book I was reading at the time I discovered my then-husband was in another relationship was The 5 Love Languages. A friend had recommended it, and I was just reading about people who regularly need words of affirmation. That’s pretty far outside my wheelhouse because I am not a person who needs that sort of thing, so I just didn’t even know what to do with that. And I found myself wondering why I should thank someone for stuff like taking out the trash. All household chores should be equally managed by the adults – do people really need a thank you for doing their part? I mean, we’re all grown-ups here and this is chores we’re talking about. But I digress, and clearly I am not well-matched to words of affirmation folk. The point is I was reading a book to understand the ways that people show love, when I learned that I was in a relationship that was in no way about love. I used to think that was sad and tragic, and it is but at the same time there’s funny in that irony. There’s also endless crass commentary about the love languages of people who do not honor themselves or marriage – which is probably what helped me get to the place of seeing the funny in that irony.

Today during that sermon on God’s presence, the pastor talked about Jesus attending a wedding and it struck me in a new way that He was a person just like us. And yet it seems like the majority of stories about Him are serious – He wept or He was angry or He was grieved or He was hurt or He was compassionate or He was teaching. He talked about salvation and how to pray and how to treat your neighbor and how to live. There was nothing specific I could recall from the Bible where Jesus talked about laughter. So I came home and Googled it. And I did find something He said about laughter and it’s in the Beatitudes, which I should have thought about. But I hadn’t read the Good News Translation of Luke 6:21 which says “…Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh!”

I don’t know with any certainty if Jesus laughed or if God has a sense of humor, but I feel strongly both things are true. Jesus was human like us and we laugh. I’ll concede He probably doesn’t like my crass commentary. But perhaps He laughed with his Mom when they recounted childhood stories or perhaps He laughed with His friends at weddings. And aren’t we are made in His image and made for fellowship? Part of fellowship is laughter. I have to believe God finds the funny, and He’s present with us all the time rooting for us to do the same.

Grieving is Brave

It’s hard to predict what things will “stick” in our children’s minds years from now. What memories will become indelibly lodged in their brains and psyches. What events will be life changing. What words will be mulled over repeatedly. What action or inaction will never be forgotten, and will alter the way they think and behave forever.

Will my girls remember the words I carefully wrote and practiced on the topic of not caring about what other kids think? Or will they remember that I shouted and took their phone away when they didn’t come home on time? Will they remember me saying you can do it, you just haven’t done it yet? Or will they remember me crying about my failed cooking attempt at the end of a very long day?

Parenting is a such a huge responsibility. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying if you really stop and think about it. Our behavior is one of the primary things responsible for how our children’s lives will play out. They have free will and so will, of course, make some choices as adults that we would not (which in some cases could be a very good thing!). But the way we speak to them becomes a voice they hear in their head throughout the lives. The way we handle adversity in their lives and our lives becomes a lesson they will refer to time and time again. The way we choose happiness, the way we choose avoidance, the way we live with or without moral principles, the way we embrace faith or fear, the way we prioritize – they all teach our children something, even and especially when we’re not actively thinking about our choices.

Almost 4 years ago now, our beloved cat Sammy passed away. It was a chaotic weekend of visits to an emergency vet without all her normal paperwork, which led to concerns she was not up to date on her shots even though I knew she was, which ultimately ended with animal control keeping her body for rabies testing. We didn’t have Sammy’s body to bury, but I thought that the girls having the ability to say goodbye before she died and our talking about seeing her again one day in heaven were all things that would help them through the grief process. What I didn’t realize then, that I’m keenly aware of now, is that (1) the grief process is unique to every person and (2) the notion that grief is a 5-step process is a load of doodoo. Grief does not have a finite end, which is the implication of a process that ends with something called Acceptance. And in fact I think grief is likely a lifelong experience.

Our lives are all filled with ups and downs. With happiness and with disappointments. With change. Our lives will inevitably involve the death of loved ones and the death of people we didn’t know but who moved us in some way. Our lives may include the loss of a job whether by our own choice or someone else’s, perhaps the loss of a pet, a marriage, a feeling of safety, an innocence, a fall from grace, an expectation of what life should have been like. Grief is just a part of life.

We will grieve all of those losses and while we will hopefully move past the initial intense feelings associated with our grief, we will remember the loss or change throughout the rest of our lives. We will remember the circumstances and we will remember our pain, and we will remember the way others reacted and grieved. And something as simple as a song or scent or photo will bring it all back in a flash food of emotions.

So the things that become really important as it relates to grief are that for a time we commit ourselves fully to it instead of avoiding any part of it, and then we don’t allow ourselves to wallow in it forever. We have to purposely pursue healthy grief – so that when we are faced with those inevitable flash floods of emotions that will come days, months and years later, we are able to navigate those waters.

Each loss in our lives, even if it’s a loss that’s different from others, can remind us of any and all other losses. The suddenness and unexpectedness of a family pet’s death parallels the suddenness and unexpectedness of our family changes. And so the loss of Sammy in 2015, which I didn’t handle with as much thoughtfulness as I should have, is now something we are thinking about and experiencing again. I didn’t think twice about not having her body to bury or cremate because I didn’t need that to grieve, but others missed it because they grieve differently.

Sammy was a contradiction in many ways – a loner who liked her space and yet loved to take naps on my chest, a kitty who loved play in her younger years but embraced a bit of laziness as she aged, fiercely protective and purry and lovey and a bit cantankerous all on the same day. We honored her this weekend by talking about her and looking at her pictures, and at Audrey’s suggestion, we painted and decorated rocks for our yard to honor her and remember her.

We grieved purposefully. We grieved bravely.

Will the girls remember our stones for Sammy? Stones painted on a cold day when the sky was crying big raindrops? Or will they instead remember the smell of my overcooked crockpot orange chicken? Perhaps they will not actively remember anything about this day at all, but carry within them a sense of peace because we took time to acknowledge that Sammy will be a part of their lives forever.

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott

Don’t Lose Your Wonder, Brave Girl

Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and my children were nestled all snug in my bed while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads. Well not sugar plums, likely Skittles. And not beds, but bed. But you get the idea.

Two nights ago I was in the middle of my giant king-sized bed, snuggled between my two brave girls. During the daytime my bed can easily accommodate the three of us stretched out watching a movie, but on the rare nights we all fall asleep here together I somehow end up smooshed into a 5 inch space in the center while the two little people consume the remaining 75 inches of space.

It. Was. Glorious.

It was glorious because I was surrounded by the two most wonderful little humans I know. It was glorious because everyone was feeling snuggly. It was glorious because so close to Christmas the girls don’t argue about someone being in their space or staring at them or poking them – even teenagers don’t want to get ousted from the good list! And it was glorious because I was keenly aware that the days of all of us climbing into bed together are numbered and few. And with that realization came this question: how does one not lose the sense of holiday anticipation and wonder with all the growing up and with all the change?

Last night, on Christmas Eve, we ended the day in our new jammies. It’s our tradition, and one of the few traditions we’ve maintained. I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about all that’s changed in the last year and I realized that the biggest thing is not that the girls have parents who are divorced. The biggest change is one that every Mom faces over time. The Christmas Eve kid-chatter goes from what Santa might bring to how embarrassing Mom’s striped elf pajama pants are. Instead of putting together Barbie dream houses and pretend veterinary hospitals, Santa lays out an iPhone and Vans and purses.

The biggest change is simple really – the girls are getting older. They’re growing up. And so Christmas isn’t the same as it’s always been.

I’m a firm believer that one of the best things about Christmas is the traditions. But really Christmas is about both tradition and change. We celebrate Christmas because of change in one small family in Bethlehem: Mary found herself pregnant even though she was a virgin and Joseph found himself married to someone that he didn’t get pregnant. And throughout our lives now, more than 2,000 years later, Christmas is a benchmark by which to see change.

We were all once a baby who looked at the lights and bulbs with wonder, we were all once a child who fell asleep wondering about Santa, we were all once a teenager wondering why we couldn’t just get our stuff and then talk to our friends all day, we were all once young adults sitting around the table wondering how to talk like and be real grown ups…and at some point we will all be matriarchs or patriarchs that wait with wonder to see the young people on Christmas Day.

To fully understand and embrace all that is Christmas, we have to be open to change – all throughout our lives. We embrace a baby that was born to become a king and a savior, and we embrace Christmases and the different phases of our lives with the firm belief that there’s beauty in each one. That’s the only way we will hold on to our sense of wonder.

So I will snuggle with my girls in the big bed along with a tray of pineapple cookies, a family tradition that’s at least over 45 years old. I will watch a Christmas cookie bake-off on the Food Network instead of White Christmas, which apparently has boys that are weird and music that is weird. I’ll wake up on Christmas morning and watch Ella smile just as big at a Merry Christmas text from a boy as she did for her new phone – I’ll even think I like that boy for making her smile. I’ll watch Audrey play more with her new device than with her LOL Surprise house, and I’ll be a little sad for a minute until I see the first text she sends, to me, reminding me to embrace the change and see the wonder: “I love you so much.”

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things, not the great occasions, give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~ Bob Hope

Happy Christmas, everyone.

What Do *I* Know About Love?

Our family lit the advent candles at church this morning, and in a perfect representation of our life right now, the whole thing was a little messy. Perhaps the most funny thing is that I couldn’t even operate the lighter – the culmination of a week of messiness. A week of frustrating Christmas picture attempts, appointments moving around, arguments, broken devices, and someone advising in all seriousness that my cat probably needs relaxation therapy for litter box anxiety.

I have several bad habits that were out in full force this week, but I’ll focus on two here. One is skimming emails while I’m sitting at stop lights. Two is saying yes to things before I fully have or process all the details.

Will you and the girls light the advent candle this Sunday? Yes! Later I get the follow up email and find that love is the theme for this week. Wait, what? LOVE?! I can’t stand up and talk about love. I didn’t know this was about love. This is the absolute worst time for me to talk about love. I go back to the original email, looking for my “out” while mentally preparing my response: I’m so very sorry, but I didn’t know this was about love. And then I fully read the last line of the email that I skimmed the first time: the theme is love this week.

!?&#$*%#!

And as I started to process that I am going to have to actually go through with this advent lighting, I laughed out loud at the silliness of it all. What the heck am I going to say about love? I suck at love. I can’t even choose a faithful mate! While I wouldn’t ever say it to my girls and I’d rather not admit it out loud in church, I’ve also spent much of the last year thinking that not all people are deserving of forgiveness and love. Anyone that makes deliberate selfish choices that hurt others, especially children, just has no idea what love is – and does not ever deserve love or forgiveness or happiness. I know what the bible says about forgiveness and love, and I can even quote those scriptures. But the truth is I still believe with absolute conviction that some people cannot and should not ever experience it. It’s part of my messiness, I guess.

What the heck could I possibly say about love? I had nothing. I was completely devoid of ideas. So I said to my girls: What do you think love is?

My seven year old gave me a one word answer: worship. Worship didn’t really make sense to me, but she wasn’t interested in expanding on her answer so I decided to try again a day later. Audrey, what is love? Worship, she said. So I googled worship plus love and found Psalm 100. It’s only five verses, a packed act of worship that ends with the reminder that His love is eternal. And I realized that what Psalm 100 teaches us is that worship is the way to get love to invade every area of your life.

My 13 year old stood up today and said this: God’s love is different. You may not love him, you may sin, you may be mad at him, but he doesn’t care. He will love you no matter what…God will love you through the hard times and he will be there for you every step of the way.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: my children are smarter than me. I learn from them all the time. And I am absolutely certain I could learn from them even more if I paid more attention.

Advent is the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. In Latin – Mr. Martin from 1980s Bayside Junior High, I have not forgotten you! – adventus means arrival, but also develop or set in or arise.

All things happen for a reason, right? Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because it’s time to steer my thoughts on love away from what it is not and on what it is. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because the season of arrival is about new birth. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is simply because God has a really great sense of humor. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because I needed to hear my daughters’ thoughts on love, and let those thoughts develop and set in and then arise in me.