We Are Called to Love

It was a unexpected conversation with a friend. We both wanted make the world a better place and ensure we are living up to God’s desires for our lives, but we weren’t really sure if we were doing it.  We talked about all the signs we had seen, our spiritual gifts. the need we felt to serve others, and the calling on our hearts. The best way I can explain it is that we each felt called to make the world better, to be better, and to do better.  But we had absolutely no idea what that was. For me, it was exciting and strange at the same time – especially since I had no clue what we were supposed to be doing to acheive this goal. For my friend, it was just weird. And different. And strange. And that led us to an interesting conversation with two simple questions.

Why us? Why now?

The bottom line was that we knew if God placed the same feeling on our hearts, then the very least we could do is explore them and carry out His wishes. Especially since it led to the conversation where we discovered we both had the same feelings. Even though we didn’t know what that meant. One of us is a writer (ahem…me) so it would be easy to say, “We need to write a book!” But only one of us writes so…hmmmm. And the bigger question is, was the desire that was placed on our hearts something we were supposed to carry out individually, or together?

And as thought-provoking, Jesus-related, following God’s will discussions go, eventually we started talking scriptures and all things related to God’s glory in our friendship. Which is definitely worth sharing here because one of the most important things we can have in our lives are good friendships. You know, because friends are important.

And as important as our friends are, we heard a different answer. And it could help us with our friendships, but it has a greater purpose. For the universe and the whole wide world. (Dramatic effect? Of course.)

That purpose is Love. I’m not talking about a feeling where we see everything in terms of hearts and romance and lillies and rose petals and Chicago-style pizza. I’m talking love as a verb. An action. A decision to wholeheartedly make someone’s life’s easier. A decision to speak up, to change things, to impact the world. So back to our original questions…

Why us? Love. Why now? Because of Love.

The world can be a cruel place. Natural disasters, a country divided along racial lines, perpetual arguments about whose tragedy is worse make it even more cruel. And some days that kind of hate is so pervasive and stressful that all we want to do is hide under a rock. And truth be told, that rock looks better and better every day. Or we just  want to go to Australia.*

To escape the reality of hate and injustice and intolerance, any of of these scenarios can currently be my situation:

  1. I watch very little news (local and national). But Toni, you love the news…
  2. I’ve contemplated deactivating my personal Facebook account frequently. Wait. Don’t you work in marketing and social media when you aren’t blogging? Isn’t Facebook how you stay in touch with family members who live all across the USA?
  3. I’ve developed an affinity for silly animal memes and videos as a way to escape the offensive on-line world in which we exist. Have you seen the screaming beaver? 

Sorry, I digressed. What about love?

My friend who I initially started this conversation with and I are both sentimental. We are both people huggers. We are both single parents. We both have hearts the size of Texas. Even still we have been called to love more. To be more in the name of love. To do more in the name of love.

Intentionally. Cheerfully. Gracefully. Respectfully.

To each other, to our families, and to the world. Visually, it looks like this:

If this circular diagram represents the love we give, it begins with God in the closest position to our hearts. Note, my friend and I created this based on discussions about our specific circumstances. There is not mention of spouses because #divorce. We now refer to everything and everyone we love as being within our “love circles.”

Earlier this fall, I gave a talk to a group of college students about leadership. In that talk I mentioned the value of authenticity and love in our lives. I implored to the students that sometimes, myself included, we want the world to think we have awesome, meaningful, mutually-beneficial relationships in our lives that we spend endless time posting about them instead of actually taking the time to ensure we have awesome, meaningful, and mutually-beneficial relationships.

Developing, maintaining, and sustaining these kind of relationships takes work. They take time. They take commitment. They take the choice to love.  And you know what? They also take a willingess to establish boundaries for giving and receiving that love, which above all else, should reflect the glory of God.

  • A life based in love has its own set of values specifically related to love.  I use Galatians 5:22 as my guide and I make sure that I try to speak love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness to those I love. I would venture to say that using that verse has actually improved a lot of other relationships in my life as well. And not included in this verse, but definitely an important factor, is my need to extend and accept grace when other people extend it to me.
  • Love requires laughter without judgement. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with people in my love circles that start with, “Okay, I need to have a moment of total transparency without being judged,” and end with roars of laughter.
  • We have nothing to loose and everything to gain by being honest. First with God (because doesn’t He already know?), then with ourselves (the truth is often different from the stories we tell ourselves), and then with others. #Pinocchiodoesn’tlivehere.
  • Prayer is a priority. My friend on the love journey and I pray for each other and our families daily. We’ve even been known to text or call in the middle of the workday with an issue on our hearts or just to get a quick prayer in. We’ll also organize some mutual friends as additional prayer warriors on specific issues. But after we do that, we pray for our friends, our families, our communities, and the world we live in. Daily. Not just when there’s a hurricane, or an earthquake, or famine.
  • Love builds on similarities and embraces differences. If you stop and take a look at the people around you, you’ll find that as humans we have more similarities than differences. As an only child, that realization makes me uncomfortable sometimes. BUT, this makes it easy to understand communication styles and start to love. And for the few differences we do have, well…#grace.

  • Our love circles gives us hope for a better future and a better world for our children. To be perfectly honest, like so many parents, I am terrified for our children and all of the chaos of the world we live in. Added to the fact is that I already think I’ve doomed my kids to a life of unhealthy relationships because of #divorce.  In Romans 5:5 it is written “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Simply put, living in love gives us hope that we need. And that’s important.
  • Love serves. One of my favorite and most radical sayings is that I do not believe in random acts of kindness. It a nutshell, I believe that all kindness should be intentional, not random. I also believe in doing all that I can for the people in my love circles without expecting anything in return. Is it hard? YES. Do I sometimes fail? YES. Do I get frustrated because there’s just not enough demonstration of love in the world? YES. Do I ever feel selfish when I think about serving? YES. But even still, I continue to serve. Those I serve include my family, my friends, my church, and my students. I serve them all in different ways, but the most important thing is that I try to my best to serve them the way they need to be served.
  • Tradition is important. Very important. I’ve mentioned my friend Cathy and her fabulous Thanksgiving dinners on the blog before. Simply put, she LOVES Thanksgiving. She does it big y’all. Her tradition for creating special memories around gratitude is ah-mazing. When you live in love, you create traditions in love. Those traditions create memories. Memories made in love make the world a better place.
  • The small things are located right at the heart of love. As much as we love the glitz, glamour, grandeur and occassional pomp and circumstance of life, it’s the little things that drive our days. Our morning routines, our traffic woes, and our weekly trips to the grocery store are what this life is made of. My parents and I have a standing phone appointment every night at 8:00 pm. When we miss it, we try to let each other know in advance and if we can’t,  we make up for it as soon as possible. Others in my love circles know this, support it, and hold me accountable to it. While I don’t keep phone appointment like that with everyone in my love circles, I do regularly think of ways I can help. It usually starts with the extra errand I could do that makes someone else’s life easier, the thank you note I could write to someone, or the simple “How was your day?” that I could ask.
  • Love cannot thrive without consistent communication. The he-said, she-said stuff from our high school years can continue into adulthood. These days, we tend to infer a lot from text messages, social media posts, and non-verbal cues without knowing the actual truth. Have the kind of relationships (within your love circles and beyond) that value regular, consistent communication, will not jump to conclusions based on the stories in our head, are quick to forgive when there’s a communication breakdown somewhere, and  can identify where the room for improvement is. (I.E. “Why didn’t either of us just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey! I miss you!'”)

Have you been called to love more? What’s your favorite way to show those you love that you really do love them?

*One of my favorite children’s books is Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. When things get rough for Alexander, he wants to move to Australia. Somedays, I feel your pain, Alex.

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