Love your Neighbor

Stay humble, be merciful, and keep family first.

The other day my husband told me that we’re “at that stage in our lives where every decision we make is the biggest decision we’ve ever made.” In our early/mid-twenties, newly married, with a home, changing families and friends, and fresh careers, he’s definitely right.

At the moment, we’re in a pretty stable place. But that could change quickly because, as young adults, we just never know what might come up. He’s waiting for the next step in his career to become available, and I’m settling into new and changing opportunities in my job. We’re trying to maintain friendships that are evolving as our lives are diverted, maintain close family ties while our traditions must change, prepare for the fact that our own little bundles are probably on the not-too-distant horizon, and doing what we can to start our married life the right way.

It still takes just a little perspective to make prioritize everything as they deserve to be.

My grandfather-in-law suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s for almost a decade. His wife met his every need unfailingly. When he lost the ability to hold a conversation, she never stopped telling him how much she loved him. When he lost the ability to speak at all, she spoke for him. When he couldn’t care for himself anymore, she barely blinked. She became not just his wife, but his nurse, his caregiver, and his lifeline. And she didn’t once complain.

Recently, his health took a serious turn for the worse. Bedridden, unable to eat, drink, or move, he was surrounded by his family within days. All three of their children—from opposite corners of the country—rushed to his side. My grandmother-in-law held his hand and kept him comfortable and told him stories.

He’d been suffering a long time. We all knew he was ready to go Home. And though the last five years, at least, had been far more work than she’d ever expected in her marriage, his wife still wept to see him on his way out. She still ached to keep him with her longer—to stay at his bedside.

As she told him stories, she laughed about the hard times they’d had as a young couple. She joked about the time she fled to her mother’s after an argument, convinced she couldn’t forgive him. The rest of us thought that sounded pretty serious, but she couldn’t even remember what the fight had been about. She giggled over the antics that had once driven her crazy. And in the quiet moments, when the somber mood overtook her, she explained how she could barely remember the bad times.

“They just don’t matter,” she said. “All I know now is how good it was.”

Half asleep and painfully exhausted, she alternated between staying by his side and fluttering around the house caring for her children and grandchildren. She rarely stopped smiling. And though you could see the hurt in her teary eyes, she told him it was okay to sleep. To rest. To go to Him. He did and, though she misses him dearly, she’s doing her very best to cope and know that he’s in a better place, waiting for her.

That’s what marriage is about: sharing the burden of strength in life’s darkest moments. Knowing your place as a servant to your spouse—no more and no less.

So, in the long run, career adjustments don’t mean much, do they? Neither do day-to-day arguments, annoying routines, or undone chores. We shouldn’t make them bigger than they are. We can only make the choices that are best for our family. There are bigger things in this life and the next. Stay humble, be merciful, and keep your family first. That’s all any of us can do.

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Celebrating Valentine’s Day for What it Is

This week is a doozy for my husband and me—both of our birthdays and Valentine’s Day fall in this little stretch of early- to mid-February. Because it’s so packed, it can be tough to balance all the special stuff. In the past, we’ve been tempted to more or less ignore Valentine’s Day. But if I’m honest with myself, I’d be disappointed if we did.

I know a lot of people complain about Valentine’s Day. Friends call it a Hallmark Holiday, or find it depressing if they’re single. And, in a lot of ways, I can see where they’re coming from. The materialism of it is both unfounded and unfortunate. After all, men and women shouldn’t feel boxed into “proving” their love with gifts. And no one should feel excluded just because they don’t have a romantic interest every February 14.

But I like to think of it this way: in an increasingly self-centered culture, what’s the harm in a chance to tell the people around us we love them? To give gifts of one kind or another, or create new memories that make the day special? Though it may seem like an excuse to go through the motions of gift exchanges and fancy dinners, at its heart, Valentine’s Day is much more meaningful as an opportunity to extend an expression of love to the people who are dear to us—whatever that means to each of us.

It’s also a feast day to celebrate a saint, who is ready and able to intercede for us if we ask him. History isn’t exceptionally clear about who St. Valentine (Valentinus in Latin) was, though they do have some clues. He was arrested and martyred in about the year 270 for marrying and otherwise aiding Christians living under Emperor Claudius in Rome. (Traditional stories suggest he attempted to convert the emperor himself to Christianity, which also contributed to his death sentence despite the emperor’s initial affinity for him.) While awaiting his execution, legend says that Valentinus restored the sight of his jailor’s blind daughter. [Source: Catholic.org.]

The Church calls St. Valentine the patron of love, happy marriages, lovers, and engaged couples, yes. But did you know he’s also patron of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, plague, travelers, and young people? So Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be about romance. You can celebrate by greeting a stranger with kindness, thinking of loved ones who are traveling, praying for the sick, or sending a care package to a college friend or doing something nice for your younger siblings. That’s not too difficult, is it? And there’s nothing Hallmark about that.

There are many kinds of love. Don’t feel like Valentine’s Day is all rose bouquets and jewelry and greeting cards. Be genuine however you like. If you don’t have a spouse or significant other at your side today, don’t hesitate to tell your family you love them. Thank your friends for their presence in your life. Pray for the needy out of the goodness of your heart. And, though it may seem silly and contrived, take a moment to enjoy the frilly examples of love all around you. Love isn’t something to be scoffed at or ignored. Embrace it, let it fill you up, and be generous enough to spread it around.

Happy Valentine’s Day, and God bless!

Love and Beauty