two sets of five words

                I first met Bob and Jan a couple of years ago when they came into my place of work.  Even though they are in their late seventies, we hit it off right away. (I have a soft spot for people with way more wisdom and life experience than me :)  They had just moved from Florida to the Chicago area and although they were happy to be near their son, they missed the warmer climate and their friends in Florida.  Jan seemed to especially miss it, and they both were dealing the best they could with the diagnosis that had prompted the move:  Jan was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

                They visit my work place regularly, and we have, over time, developed a lovely friendship.  Some days are better than others, and there are times I don’t think Jan really knows who I am or what we are talking about.  So I’ll compliment her on her nail polish color, or just let her do the talking. Sometimes she’ll tell me surprising stories: I’ll nod my head as I listen and Bob will be behind her shaking his head and mouthing the words no – this never happened. He often has to repeat the same answer to the same question several times, and although I can sense the frustration of the whole situation, their love for each other is obvious.  They have probably been married close to sixty years.

                I haven’t seen them for a while, and the other day my boss tells me that Bob has come in a couple of times looking for me when I wasn’t there - not to buy anything, but just to talk.  She tells me to be expecting a visit from him.  Later that afternoon I hear the door chimes, signaling a customer, and in walks Bob, alone.  When I give him a hug and ask how things are going, he tells me that the disease has progressed significantly.  Jan is now consistently confused and agitated. The disease is horrific, he says, and the part-time care giver that comes to their home is not enough.  His son may be moving out East, so he is looking at where he and Jan should live, and he is overwhelmed by the cost of the full-time care she will be needing very soon.  I can see the heartbreak in his eyes, and of course, there are no words I can say to make anything better.  All I can do is listen and be a friend.

                Looking out the window of the store, he spots a three-legged dog walking with his owner, and we step outside to take a closer look.  Sure enough, the dog is walking on three legs, and Bob seems tickled by this survivor-wonder dog. As he leaves, I tell him that I‘ll be praying for him and Jan, and for the decisions he is facing.  Words that may sound cliché, but I mean them.  I will pray for them because it is the only thing I know to do.

                And then, almost as if he’s talking to himself, he says something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

                Two sets of five words.

                I don’t get it, so I ask him to repeat it.

                He looks back at me, his blue eyes articulating the promises he made a lifetime ago, the values he has lived by for over half a century.

                Two sets of five words.

                                For better or for worse.

                                                In sickness and in health.

                And then he’s gone, and I’m standing speechless.

                I am afraid that loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment are vanishing from our culture.  When we make our marriage promises, if we even use those traditional vows, we are usually in a season of better, richer, and health.  Most of us are not thinking about what worse and sickness and poorer might look like down the road.  My husband, Bernie, and I have been married for twenty years, and on our wedding day we had no idea that a diagnosis of MS was waiting for him in his future.  We can look back on the season of his diagnosis – which was devastating – and think that was the worst.  But the reality is that we don’t know what lies ahead.  We are living out our vows every day, and some seasons are better, some are worse.  Sometimes it can be hard not to feel a sense of dread at what might be lurking around the corner.  And yet we are invited to wholeheartedly trust in a God who is always present with us, a God who is always good.  The vows we make to love our spouse ‘till death do us part’ come from the heart of our God who has promised to never leave us, to be with us in the best of times and in the absolute worst of times.

                As married people, may we teach our children what it looks like to keep our promises – to live out those two sets of five words. 



Room to Grow

I may be an overprotective, overly-accommodating mother.
At times I have questioned if I am, and now that my oldest daughters have returned from a month long trip to Europe with their grandparents and their cousin, I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Claire, Kate, and cousin Francesca in Paris

Kate (15) has always been picky with her food, and I have always accommodated her.  We buy our milk from one store, because she says milk from other stores tastes weird.  She has basically taken the same lunch to school every day for over five years.  She doesn't like pizza.  She doesn't like the different foods on her plate to touch each other.  You get the picture…

So imagine my surprise and delight when I received multiple texts from her telling me that she ate veal and mashed potatoes, lobster and shrimp, stinky French cheese, kidneys and frog legs.  OK, the kidneys grossed me out, but I was amazed!

Claire (13) left as a pescatarian (a vegetarian that eats fish and seafood). I also accommodated her, often preparing a piece of fish alongside whatever meat we were having for dinner.  Well, she came back a carnivore!  On her first day in Europe, she decided not to be a vegetarian anymore. During her trip, she ate all kinds of meats, including the kidneys and frog legs.  And, she now drinks coffee - she likes it black.
I find myself asking them now, “Do you like such and such?”  Because I honestly don’t know.  They have changed.  Kate wants to start eating hard boiled eggs for breakfast.  Go figure.  
They rode a gondola in Venice and donkeys in Greece.  (Katelyn complained because her donkey was lazy.)  They visited Ephesus, Pompeii and Verona.  Katelyn texted me, asking, "Did you know that the book of  Ephesians was a letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus?"  I could hear her excitement in her text.

They spent time in Alsace, the place in France where my father-in-law grew up, and met their relatives. They saw the church where their grandparents were married almost 50 years ago. They toured the Sistine Chapel, and I got this text one day from Claire:

      We went to the Sistine Chapel today, we had to wear shawls.

      Funny story, the art in the chapel doesn't follow the dress code AT ALL

And Claire made this fantastic video in Rome:

They learned to adapt and be flexible.  They washed their clothes in their bathroom sink.  They did some shopping and brought us back great souvenirs, staying within the budget we gave them.  And as I feared, they had a few bad brawls, but they figured it out.  Without me.

The thing is, my girls were ready for this.  I didn't know it and at times I worried that they weren't.  But they have come back changed, a little more grown up.  

For the first several years of their lives my husband and I told them stories about our childhoods, our travels and our experiences.  But it’s a wonderful thing when your children begin to have experiences without you. Now, I want to hear all about their adventures. I want to hear their stories, see their 1000+ photos.  I want to learn from them, because they have now lived, in some ways, more than me.  

They have seen places I may never see. Tasted foods I may never taste.  And in spite of being an overprotective mama, I feel truly happy. Happy that they got to see their grandmother laugh until she cried. Happy that they survived my father-in-law driving them across France. And happy that they have a dozen inside jokes I will never get.


shake and squeeze

This morning when my friend, Margie, asked me how I was on this Tuesday before Friday, when my two teenage daughters will get on a plane and fly to Mexico City to begin a month long trip with their grandparents, taking them to France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, back to France, then back to Mexico, before returning home in July, my answer was a word picture.

“I feel like an almost-empty bottle of shampoo that you turn upside down, 
shake violently, and then squeeze and shake, squeeze and shake, 
until every last drop spatters out.”

Getting the girls ready to travel AND helping them finish up their last couple weeks of school has been crazy, and has included trips to over a dozen stores, last minute searches for iPhone charger adapters and prepaid Visa cards that can be used outside the U.S.  (Where do they sell these???) It has involved lots of laundry, folding, packing, re-folding, and my dining room table has been taken over by bottles of sunscreen, toiletries and receipts.  My oldest is cramming for final exams and finishing last minute projects, like baking Irish Soda Bread for thirty people. We squeezed in a doctor’s visit and new prescriptions that caused allergic reactions and more trips to the pharmacy.  And because end-of-the-year friend stuff is HUGELY important to teens, we will be going to see the premiere of The Fault in our Stars on Thursday evening.

Shake and squeeze. 

Shake and squeeze. 

My mind and body are feeling the stretching, and my back is threatening to go out on me.  So today I am resting it and putting ice on it.  And as I slow the pace just a little I’m aware that something else is being stretched.  My heart is swelling with love for my daughters, with excitement over their adventure of a lifetime, but at times it’s also racing with the anxiety of letting them go, with the challenge to accept that they are growing up and, like thriving branches, they are growing out, away from the trunk. My heart is stretching as far as it can to trust.  To trust that God goes before them.  That He watches over their coming and going and is intimately in tune with their needs and longings.  That He is shaping all of us.

Even though it doesn’t make any sense and is a huge waste of time, my pattern for a long time has been to worry, pray, and then worry some more.  I find that praying relieves some of my anxiety, but then I usually go back to worrying because, well – I don’t know why.  Like I said, it doesn’t make sense.  What good does it do to trust God for 70 % and worry about the other 30%?  What would it be like to live a life of such surrender that 100% trust becomes a way of living?

I love the way The Message paraphrases the following passages:

Proverbs 3:5

The Message (MSG)
Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.


Philippians 4:6
The Message (MSG)
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

I’ve had it all wrong – those two little words are changing my life.  
Instead of worrying, pray. Not, in addition to, or along with.  
But rather, Instead of.

I am seeing my daughters blossom before my eyes.  I am seeing them overcome their own anxieties, and problem solve solutions.  I am watching their beautiful branches extend further than I thought they would.  I am hearing their honest prayers as they give thanks and ask God for His help and blessing on our summer.  But as is so often the case, as the parent, I may be the one that is growing up the most.


The Power of a Mother's Voice

Not long ago, I found myself walking in circles
inside a Walgreen's. I went in because I wanted to buy
a couple of sympathy cards for friends, but I ended up
avoiding the card aisles because they were filled with
Mother’s Day cards.

This is my first Mother’s Day without
my mom. People say that when you lose
someone you love, the firsts are the hardest
— the first birthday, the first Christmas,
the first Mother’s Day. Last year at
this time I was terrified that my mom
would not survive her recently diagnosed
cancer, and this year that fear is
my reality.

After finding a couple of cards near
an end cap, I wandered over to the Easter
candy aisle thinking that some chocolate
might make me feel better. That’s when I saw the
marshmallow Peeps. Those were my mom’s favorite,
and I always bought them for her at Easter. Now they
have hollow milk chocolate eggs with a marshmallow
Peep inside: my mom would have loved that.

Before my mom died, she said things like, “I will
always be a part of you” and “You’ll always have me in
your heart.” I couldn’t imagine then what it would be
like to not have her here anymore, but my relationships
with my daughters help me to understand what
she meant when she said those things.

When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten,
she went through a phase where she felt disproportionately
guilty after she had done something wrong.
Her dad and I were over it, her sisters were over it, but
she couldn't get past her guilt—she couldn't move
on. She would say, “There is just this voice in my head
telling me I’m bad, that I never do anything right,
that I’m not good.” Finally, I thought to ask her whose
voice it was in her head telling her these things. She
looked at me like the answer was obvious.
“You!” she said. I laughed and cringed at the same
time. I had never said those things to her, but she had
picked up on my frustrations and disappointments,
and that translated into negative self-talk spoken in
my voice. It was a good reminder that as a mom, my
voice is powerful.

We joke about hearing our mothers’ voices in our
heads, and when we are younger that may feel more
like a curse than a blessing. But we are lucky if over
time that curse turns into a blessing as her voice
becomes a part of us.

In pretty much any given moment, if I quiet myself,
I can imagine what my mom would say to me. I can
still hear her voice, feel her love. Now I know what she
was trying to tell me.

Our oldest is learning how to drive, and in a few
short years she will be leaving for college. Sometimes I
look at her — in some ways she is like me and in other
ways she is so different—and I know it’s happening.
In the day-to-day mothering, I am becoming a part of
her and she, well, she has always been a part of me. It
is what it means to be a mother.

My mom, Carol Stephens.  1941-2013
I think I will go back to the store and walk directly
to the Mother’s Day card aisle. Even though it will be
hard, I will search until I find the card that best says
what my mom means to me, and then I will walk to
the check-out and buy it. And even though I don’t
care for them, I might even buy a package of marshmallow
Peeps — I think I’ll hear my mom’s laugh
when I do.

• Becky Baudouin lives in the Northwest suburbs with her
husband and their three daughters.

reprinted from the Daily Herald, April 16, 2014 


Reflections on Love After Love, by Derek Walcott

One Friday night, not long ago, I did something I have never done before.  After enjoying a delicious dinner with a group of wise women friends, our host moved us to comfy couches and chairs in the living room; one of the women passed out copies of a poem, and another read it out loud.  Then we shared our ideas, our thoughts, how the poem spoke to us. 
The thing is, I have never been much into poetry.  Except for Shel Silverstein, and maybe Dr. Seuss, I have not often been moved by it.  So at first I just listened.  I listened to my friends as they shared which words and lines spoke to them.  Some of them asked questions, and others answered – from their story, their perspective.  I read and reread the lines.  I reflected.  And then, like a probe reaching deep into my heart - examining, inquiring, exploring, I was stirred up and moved.  By poetry, of all things.

Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~Derek Walcott

Our discussion led us to our younger selves, to the time in our lives when we felt the most free to be ourselves.  For me, this was around first and second grade.  I remember feeling carefree, thinking myself smart and funny, and never doubting whether I was enough.  Good enough.  Lovable enough.  Smart enough or pretty enough.
As young girls, my friends were imaginative and silly, cruising their neighborhoods on roller skates, making horses and corrals out of twigs, and producing musicals for their parents.  We were artists, teachers, leaders, nurses, communicators, and business women in the making.
Then come the fears that bind us, the shame that makes us hide, and the insecurities that make us feel less than.  A couple of women in the group shared how they see traces of themselves in their daughters, and while they love these streaks in their daughters, they no longer love themselves.  Somewhere along life’s journey, many of us stopped believing the truth about ourselves – that we are loved, accepted, and cherished.  We are made in the image of the God who created us, and are of immeasurable worth to Him.
 But our journey is not yet over, and for me, this poem is about the journey home.  Home to where I am loved and I belong.  Grief is mingled in with my interpretation, because in some ways it is hard to see myself since I no longer have my mom as a mirror.  Her love and encouragement always was abounding in my life, and if I ever doubted my value or whether or not I was loved, all I had to do was look into her eyes.  Listen to the way she said my name.  Her love is still in my heart, but perhaps part of letting go is learning to see my true self in God’s eyes, in His words.  Listening to the tender way He speaks my name.
                 I've taken down the photographs, the love letters from the shelf.  Polaroids of my mom cradling me in her hospital bed on my birth-day, soft sheets and blankets, her blond hair long and thick, like a movie star.  I've looked into the eyes of my four-year-old, six-year-old, ten-year-old self.  Even though my hair is cut like a boy, that’s me.  After all these years, that’s still me.  Love After Love reminds me to be gentle with myself.  To care for my heart, spirit, and body.  To believe the truth, and to come home.

    “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
Luke 15:20



Not long ago, I heard a song on Christian radio, and the chorus says this about faith:

It’s gotta be

More like falling in love

Than something to believe in

More like losing my heart

Than giving my allegiance

        My kids were in the room when the song came on, and my knee-jerk reaction was to tell them that this is not true.  Faith in God - living the Christian life - is not a feeling.  It is most definitely not like falling in love. I thought about Paul being knocked off his horse and blinded for three days when he encountered Christ.  I thought about the disciples – most of them were martyred for their devotion to Jesus.  And I’m thinking about the situation in North Korea where Kim Jong-un has ordered the execution of thirty-three Christians.  Faith is most definitely something - Someone - to believe in, and it is absolutely about giving your allegiance.

        I think it is misguided and even dangerous to compare or equate our faith to falling in love, and it tells me that our Hollywood culture (which is obsessed with falling in love) has shaped our faith life in profound ways.  I am not saying that we cannot or should not feel intense love for Christ, or that we will not have amazing experiences where we feel God’s presence and feel intimately connected with Him.  But real faith is not based on those feelings or experiences.
Here is what the bible says about faith:

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, 
the evidence of things not seen.
 (King James Version)

        My husband, Bernie, and I attended a funeral on December 30th that truly broke our hearts.  A couple that we have known for several years lost their adult son – he took his life on Christmas morning.

        This couple is now attending the same grief support workshop that I am, and Bernie and I walked into church with them not long ago.  I asked them if the workshop was helping them at all, and the man, who was walking in front of me, threw his arms up in the air and just kept walking.  His wife, who was walking beside me, said, “You know, maybe it helps some to talk to other parents whose children have taken their lives - we are just here because it is the next step we know how to take.”

        We walked together into the worship service; they went to sit with their group, and Bernie and I grabbed a couple of seats near an aisle.  From where we were, I had a straight line of vision to where they were seated in the auditorium.  The music started, and as we sang about our God being a God who saves, I couldn't take my eyes off of them.  They were on their feet, singing in full voice, and I could see the intensity of both their pain and their conviction in their bodies as they worshiped their God.  In their unspeakable grief they were singing to the God who saves.  The God who saves them, the God who saves their son.  And I thought, this is what faith looks like.

Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. 
(American Standard Version)

        I am studying the book of Job in my community bible study, and my small group was discussing the theme of Job.  He was an upright man, and yet God allowed Satan to take everything from him: his children; his wealth; even his health.  Some say this story is about suffering – particularly unjust suffering.  Others say that it is about God’s sovereignty – He created the universe and His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  He doesn't owe us an explanation – He is God.

        And yet when I read about Job scratching his sores with broken pottery, listening to his friends go on and on about how there must be some unconfessed sin in his life, listening to his wife tell him to curse God and die already, I am moved beyond words to hear Job say, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble? The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In his humanity, Job questioned and struggled.  And I can’t help but think, this is what faith looks like.

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for 
and gives us proof of what we cannot see. 
(Contemporary English Version)

        When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she was believing God for a miracle.  But she told us early on, “Either way, though, I’m in a win-win situation.  If I live through this I win more time with my family.  If I die, I know I am going to be with the Lord.”  She put her faith and trust in God, not in an outcome.  This is what deep, abiding faith looks like.

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, 
is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. 
It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what 
distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. 
(The Message)

All of these people are examples to me of what it looks like to walk by faith, not by sight: 

  • Taking one step forward even when you can’t see where you are going
  • Believing in God’s unfailing love and goodness even through life’s darkest trials 
  • Worshiping God in the midst of crushing grief and loss
  • Holding on to the promise that He will see us through, and that heaven waits for us

  Ahora bien, la fe es la certeza de lo que se espera, 

la convicción de lo que no se ve. 

(La Biblia de las Américas)

Let us walk by faith, not by sight, and may our children see in us examples of real, abiding faith.


           I was looking at Valentine’s Day cards the other day, and I found one I liked for my husband.  It was sweet and simple, not flowery or too wordy.  I flipped it over and saw that it cost $5.99. $5.99! For one card made out of paper!  (I obviously should have gone into the card publishing business.) 

           So, I have proposed that instead of exchanging store bought cards, we write each other notes and use that money to buy a dessert to share and a glass of wine for me when we go out to dinner :-)  Did I mention that we are using a Groupon to go out to dinner, and the conditions are that we have to go Sunday – Thursday?  We are going Sunday, and that’s OK, because we feel super smart that we will miss the Friday night Valentine’s Day crowds in all the restaurants.

                Depending on how you look at it, we are either the most unromantic couple on the face of the planet or we are one of the smartest.  Here’s the thing:  we have celebrated a lot of Valentine’s Days.  My husband, Bernie, actually proposed to me on Valentine’s Day 20 years ago.  He is not, and has never been, a conventionally romantic man.  On February 14th, 1994 he took me to our favorite Japanese restaurant in Mexico City, and then didn’t propose – at least not in the restaurant.  He waited until we got back to the car, and then he handed me a little black box.  With my heart pounding, I opened it only to find that it was empty.  He then acted like he had lost the ring and was looking all over for it, until finally he pulled it out of his pocket.  It wasn't really romantic, but it was 100% him, it made me laugh, and I loved it.  He did not sweep me off my feet with charming one-liners.  He won my heart by being authentic.  Having said that, there are moments - without him even knowing it - that he does something genuinely romantic, like making me coffee in the morning, taking my computer to the Geek Squad to do a tune-up, and saying things like, “You get more and more beautiful every year.”

Early on we bought each other gifts for Valentine’s Day.  After we had kids we discontinued the gifts and started an annual treasure hunt with the girls, and we get them gifts instead.  But we have always gone out for a nice dinner and exchanged cards.  So when I suggested that we skip the cards and write simple notes to each other, Bernie looked at me suspiciously.  Turns out he had already bought me a card (he learned very early in our marriage that cards were important to me), and I think he thought it might be a trick.  You know, like when a woman says, “Oh, I don’t need anything” but really she means you better get me something fantastic and meaningful or I’ll never, ever let you forget it.

                My third grade daughter, with the help of her older sister, made handmade Valentines for all of her classmates.  I found her class list on the table one night, and next to each person’s name she had written a special, unique message – something she liked about the person.  Things like:

·         You are so nice and kind.  I am lucky to be your friend.
·         You are very pretty and intelligent.

·         You make the funniest voices and always make me laugh.

·         I am so glad you are in my class – you are very helpful.

            I think my daughter is on the right track.  As much as we make Valentine’s Day about romantic gestures, gifts, flowery cards and perfect dining experiences, isn't it really as simple as telling the people we love why we love them?  Isn't the most important thing that we say the words? 

 Love one another deeply, from the heart.  

1 Peter 1:22


Disclaimer – if you are a guy reading this, and your wife or girlfriend likes to get jewelry, flowers, candy or whatever, then disregard everything I said and do what you know you need to do.  Just maybe include a hand-written note inside of your ‘spensive store-bought card. 




            I love to cook, and I especially enjoy cooking with my brick red, enamel-coated, cast-iron Dutch oven.  Several of my favorite recipes, like pot roast with porcini mushrooms and red wine, follow the same method:  first I brown the meat in a little oil and then remove it from the pan.  Next, I sauté onion or shallot, garlic, and veggies in a little more olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Sometimes I add a little flour if I am going to be making a sauce. 

            Right around the time that the pot starts to turn brown on the bottom, my husband (having smelled the aroma) usually walks in, looks in the pot, and says “Wow, that it is going to be really hard to clean.”  And then, like a magician, I make the brown bottom disappear.  I pour in a little liquid, either broth or wine, and using my wooden spoon, I scrape up the brown bits on the bottom.  This is my favorite part:  gently stirring up all that flavor.  I add a few spices - maybe some fresh herbs - and stir a little more.  With some recipes, I add a little butter at the very end, and stir, stir, stir.
            Have you ever considered how we get “stirred” up?   We have pet peeves.  Sometimes we say that someone is “pushing our buttons”, or we are aware that we are “getting triggered”.  Life events can also stir us up.  In my grief group, I was asked to choose a word from a “feelings” list that describes how I feel after losing my mother.  Among others, I chose “agitated”, thinking of my old washing machine with a center agitator.  The machine would aggressively rotate back and forth, tossing my clothes and splashing soap and water.  It seemed the perfect word to describe how I was feeling since my mom’s death had stirred up feelings of loss, sadness, anger, irritation, and even anxiety.

            And we are not the only ones getting stirred.  At times we are the ones that stir up, trigger and push other people’s buttons.  And unfortunately, this can be especially true of the people we are closest to and love the most, like our family members.
Here’s the scripture that stirred me up, in a good way:

And let us consider how we may stir up one another to love and good works.”   
Hebrews 10:24

            The cooking visual implies something else that is true:  the things getting stirred up are already there.  Desires, emotions, and memories.  Words and actions that brought joy or pain.  Stories I have believed that may or may not be true.  They are there, sometimes buried, and then powerful events like a death or a loss stir them up.  People stir them up by things they say or don’t say, things they do or don’t do.  Abrupt, back and forth movement that causes emotional sloshing and splashing.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…
For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.  
Luke 6:45

            This idea that I am to “stir up” others in a positive way, toward love and good works, challenges me.  In my relationships, I have the opportunity to stir up good things that are already in my children’s hearts, my husband’s heart, my friends’ and family members’ hearts.  By asking questions, listening well, and affirming the positive qualities I see in my loved ones, I can stir them up to love and to good works.

            I overhear my husband handling a difficult phone call while working from home, and I affirm him for his polite, professional tone with a difficult client.  He takes my encouragement to heart and continues to patiently work with each client to find workable solutions.

            As a family we serve the under-resourced, and my youngest daughter gets “stirred up” to do some chores, earn some money, and give to the poor.

            I listen as my teenage daughter shares about a difficult situation at school, and instead of immediately telling her my opinion, which is my natural tendency, I ask a few questions, “drawing out” her thoughts.  I ask her how she sees things, how she thinks she should handle it.  In doing so, I stir up what is already in her heart.  There may still be a place for me to share my opinion, but I want to start with patient, gentle stirring.  

 The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, 
but one who has insight draws them out.  
Proverbs 20:5  

            I am a wooden spoon, and in my relationships I want to stir gently, patiently, over low heat. I’m going for a simmer, not a rolling boil.  I am not using a pressure cooker, an electric mixer, or a blender.  I am not vigorously whisking; I am stirring.  I want to add understanding and encouragement. Gentleness.  Patience.  Taking the time to develop the flavors and cultivate tenderness. 

Let us consider how we might stir up the people God has placed in our lives
 to love and good deeds.