Conditional Lover (but trying…)

Conditional love is love that is ‘earned’ on the basis of conscious or unconscious conditions. In other words, if you do what I want or behave in a manner that is pleasing to me, I will love you. If not, then my love will be withheld. Sadly this is true for many of us; both those loving and those being loved. I’m not talking so much about romantic love here, although I suppose it works that way sometimes, too. I’m referring to our relationships with friends and colleagues. I’m thinking of work associates, neighbors, classmates, fellow parishioners, and friends.

Capture I often find myself questioning whether or not to spend time with someone because of something that was said or done that “rubbed me the wrong way”. There have been times that I judged someone simply because of who their friends are.  Worse yet, how about those people I avoid just because of their affiliations with certain political or religious groups? Not to mention the folks that I distance myself from simply because of age, race, ethnicity or income level. My justification – “I don’t hate them; I just don’t really like them.” or “I don’t have anything in common with these people.” or “I already have enough friends.”

In truth: My love is conditional. My conditions are simply not being met. And I own this. And it’s a shame.

So I’m   T  R  Y  I  N  G   to love unconditionally. But it’s not easy. Not for me anyway. Unconditional love – such an easy thing to say and such a hard thing to do. Loving without expecting to be loved in return. Kindness given without any expectation of kindness returned. I struggle with this every day.

And yet, I have been given countless examples of unconditional love in my life. Strangers who welcomed me; teachers who guided me; friends and family who have loved me during some pretty un-lovable times.

I think about the year that we lived in England. We were truly foreigners. We tentatively entered our little St. Peter Church in Cirencester for the first time not knowing what to expect. No proof of worthiness or commitment to financial support was required (or ever requested for that matter). Even with our funny American accents, we were loved by our priest “as we were” and embraced by our faith community “just because”.

I have a wife that loves me unconditionally. And I have friends and family that love me unconditionally, too. They’re not looking for anything from me (not that I can offer much anyway). My grandkids love me unconditionally. They just accept me as I am (and they like me this way). Which makes me want to be a better person because of their love.

So I’m going to keep trying to love unconditionally. So don’t be startled if I smile at you for no apparent reason. Don’t be surprised if I am kinder and gentler. And don’t be weirded-out if I give you a hug. And of course sometimes I’ll revert to being a jerk and then if you still love me I’ll know that your love is unconditional.

Loving unconditionally doesn’t guarantee that love will be returned. But it’s all the sweeter if it is.

Peace,

Denis

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31

The He-Man Hideout

I consider myself a feminist. My wife has always been my partner – my equal in all things. I raised my daughter to believe that she could achieve anything that she desired. I have supported women’s rights (equal pay/equal opportunity) in the workplace. I stand firmly against any and all discrimination against women.

And yet I love that my grandson and I enjoy the fun that we can only have because we’re boys.

Noah is big on gender identification. I’m not sure if this is learned or just in his nature. Example: he thinks boys or men should always have the blue clothes/cup/plate/bowl/crayon/toy while girls or women should have the pink whatever. He likes to group men and women separately: “The boys should sit on this side and the girls should sit on that side”. He is very happy when he and Daddy do “just boy things” together.

He loves his mommy and his sister and his Nana and his girl cousins but sometimes a boy just needs to be a boy. Whether that means playing in the dirt or climbing a tree (which girls can do with equal ability – just don’t tell Noah) or pretending to be a super-hero, a pilot, a carpenter or a policeman (again, all things girls can do, too). He just likes being a boy and likes to distinguish himself from the girls in his 4 year-old world.

bubby and meHe and I have a “He-Man Hideout” in my backyard. It’s really just a garden bench but it becomes an airplane cockpit or a super-hero mission control station or simply a hiding place where no girls are allowed (expect his sister who has been granted exclusivity). I’ll admit I cherish our time together on that bench, listening to his imaginative exhortations. He is the MAN IN CHARGE. At least in the He-Man Hideout.

I’m not too concerned that his adult years may be consumed by cigar bars or strip clubs or fraternities or any other all-male enclave. Good parenting and common sense will curb that unlikely possibility. I’m certain that he will grow up to be the thoughtful, loving and respectful man that his father is. He will love women for their strength, intelligence, kindness, and generosity, as well as their beauty (just look at the examples he has in his family).

Still there is something wonderful about being a boy in a boy’s world and I am thankful that he’s let me in on occasion.

Peace,

Denis

Come To The Water

baptismWater gives life.

Our lives begin in water. Water makes up 60-70% of our bodies. Water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface. Plants need water to grow. Fish need water to swim. Animals and humans need water to drink. Human beings can survive for weeks or even months without food but only days without water. Water is essential for life on Earth.

Water destroys.

Flooding devastates homes, crops, and at times kills human and animal life. Flash floods can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Drowning in the United States is the second leading cause of death in children 12 and younger. Tsunamis and tidal waves can wipeout nearly everything in their paths.

Water fascinates.

Most people are drawn to water. Swimming pools and water parks draw millions everyday. Water fountains, pond pumps and sprinklers dot our landscapes. Ocean-front and lake-front properties are sold at a premium. We spend precious vacation time getting to beach destinations just to play in the water. Boating, skiing, canoeing, kayaking and various other water recreations vie for our time and money.

Yesterday, as our youngest grandchild Ainsley was being baptized, I was thinking about how basic water is to our human existence; how ordinary; how necessary; how miraculous.

It’s fitting then that Baptism requires water. Through the waters of Baptism we are born to new life in Christ and sin is destroyed. After Baptism we live the rest of our lives fascinated by God’s unending power to transform our lives. Baptism isn’t a one-time event. It’s an invitation to “play in the water”. To immerse ourselves in the love around us. To refresh ourselves when our journey becomes burdensome. To cleanse ourselves when darkness overtakes our spirit. The life-giving water of Baptism never leaves us. It remains essential for our life on Earth.

cousinsMy prayer for Ainsley is that her life will be filled with love, peace and joy. And that she will always know that she has been strengthened by the power of that baptismal water. We have all been blessed by having experienced it with her.

Peace,

Denis

Ainsley, I hope you find your wings. Love, Pawpaw

 

 

 

Anna Turns Seven

 On Tuesday Anna turns seven. Seven? Where did the time go? So much about her has changed in just seven short years. She still lets me hold her in my arms but I’m afraid those days are numbered. tunies.jpg

The name Anna means gracious and merciful and indeed she is! She has gone from being a helpless infant into a bright, confident, loving first grader. She’s a big sister who dotes on her little brother. She’s a sweet daughter who loves her Mommy and adores her Daddy. She’s a kind and caring friend who shares her time and attention (and her toys). And she’s a granddaughter who brings so much joy that sometimes my heart aches from the sheer beauty of her little soul.

I want to tell her how much she is loved but she already knows that.

I want to tell her that she has changed my world but I suspect that she knows that, too.

I have thanked God for her each day since she entered our world – with a song in her heart, a smile on her lips, and a twinkle in her eyes.

On Tuesday as she blows out her birthday candles I’ll be making some wishes, too. Here are my wishes for Anna:

  • Even when others are unkind. Stay true to your loving spirit.
  • Dream big. If you can dream it; you can do it!
  • Pray always: with words, with deeds, with your smile, with your tears.
  • Travel the world; have great adventures, but remember to always carry Home in your heart.
  • Never forget how much that you are loved. Especially by God.
  • Dance like no one is watching; sing your song to all who will listen.
  • Question authority; shake things up; make some noise for justice and peace.
  • Laugh out loud. A lot.
  • Be tough but caring. Be compassionate but strong.
  • Be the smartest person in the room but never be arrogant or unkind. 
  • Love without fear. Give yourself to others without regret.

anna pawpawI have one wish for myself, too. I hope that Anna lets me carry her in my arms until old age or weakness makes it impossible. And then I hope that she will carry me.

Happy Birthday Anna. Pawpaw loves you more than words can say!

Peace,

Denis

 

 

 

Finding Christmas

My challenge each year is to remember to S L O W  D O W N and embrace the joy of Christmas. As a Catholic, I attempt to use Advent as a time to prepare myself for Christ’s coming (again). Mostly I fail.

I gripe about shopping. I complain about the weather, the traffic, the costs of things, and the rudeness of sales clerks. I eat more than I should and then complain that my co-workers are bringing too much food into the office. I bitch about the lack of consideration of others and then I push my way through crowds to get what I want (when I want it!). And I swear to all that is holy, if I hear Mariah Carey sing “All I Want For Christmas Is You” one more time, I might actually bleed from the ears.

So much for “glad tidings”.

But then, as happens most years, something in me stirs. Sometimes I’m hit over the head with the obvious: A loved one struggling with illness. A friend in need. A tragedy in a far-off land. A crisis at home. Other times I am reminded of my blessings: A granddaughter recovered from a concussion. Grown children home for the holidays. Gainful employment. The kindness of strangers. A loving wife. A forgiving God.

Joseph Anna

Joseph (aka Noah) with proud big sister Anna

Last night we attended our grandson’s preschool Christmas program. There he was bounding up on the altar decked out as Saint Joseph. He was one of many Josephs. In fact, it was a preschool full of Marys, Josephs and Shepherds singing and smiling and wiggling. Little faces beaming! And at least one old face beaming back. O Holy Night!

And suddenly I found Christmas.

Peace,

Denis

 

I Fell In Love Ten Years Ago

Our oldest granddaughter Charlise is ten years old today. Ten years! It seems like yesterday that she was born. I suppose all parents (and grandparents?) look back on the day their child was born with feelings of nostalgia and wonder.

Charlise was born a month early and even though Deb made a quick trip to Florida shortly after her birth, I couldn’t get away from work as quickly. We went back to Florida together by the time she was nearly a month old. Of course I had seen hundreds of photos by then but I will never forget the first time that I held her in my arms. It was love at first sight. She was this tiny, beautiful, precious, baby girl. Her skin was so soft that I could barely feel it with my rough hands. She was everything I’d ever hoped for and I prayed that one day I would be a grandfather worthy of such a miracle.

CharliseWell that was ten years ago. Today my girl is more beautiful, if that is even possible. She is a sweet, smart, funny, caring girl who never stops amazing me with the love she shares. I may be prejudiced, but I believe if you met her you would agree that she is just simply a good girl. Every teacher is happy to have her in their classroom. Every coach wants her on their team. Every scout leader wants her in their troop. Every parent is happy for their kid to call her friend.

At times it makes me a little melancholy to think about how fast she has grown. I can already see the kind of adult she will be: Strong, confident, loving, kind. She will make her mark in this world. Her love of others will always be a guiding force and she will surely be successful in all of her endeavors. I hope that I’m around to see the woman she will become. I know that she has some scathingly brilliant ideas!

But that will all have to wait. She’s remains my little girl even though she’s a BIG ten year-old! There are still times when she climbs up on my lap and hugs my neck and I’m carried back to that moment ten years ago when I first fell in love…

Happy Birthday Peanut!

Love,

Pawpaw

 

 

Noah is Four

Today is our grandson’s birthday. In four short years he has carved a hole so deep in my heart that I struggle at times to remember life before Noah. He is my golden boy!

Of course he’s smart. And of course he’s beautiful. His smile can melt the hardest of hearts. He has his Daddy’s boundless energy and his Mommy’s loving spirit. He may even have inherited a little bit of this old man’s temperament but with good parenting and lots of prayer that will hopefully be overcome.

Noah is fourWith leaps and bounds he has become a four year-old! Church, preschool, swimming, soccer and Little Gym® are all part of his life now. With a twinkle in his eye and a bounce in his step he is both fearless and completely disarming. His neighborhood friends and his backyard fort reign supreme. Swinging a bat or kicking a ball and running provide endless hours of fun. And when he asks me to play, I can never say no (but then, why would I?). Building things with Legos® or playing with blocks or scraps of wood captures his imagination. Playdoh® or construction paper, crayons, and markers feed his artistic spirit. He loves music and cannot help but dance or sing along when he hears a song that moves him. 

Noah is a lover. He is Mommy’s heart and Daddy’s soul. Keeping up with big sister Anna remains his number one priority (this will likely be a lifelong goal) and there are occasions when he nearly surpasses her. Witnessing the love that these two share is a slice of heaven.

Noah brings joy. There are people who carry joy with them wherever they go. Any encounter with these joy-givers always makes you feel better; better about yourself; better about your situation; better about the world. Noah has that gift. He gives joy to all who meet him! And I have been the lucky recipient of that joy for four blessed years.

Happy Birthday to my little man!

Peace,

Denis

 Noah found favor with the LORDGenesis 6:8

My Sweet Boy

I have one grandson. His name is Noah. He’s almost 4 years old now. For me it was love at first sight. I’m pretty sure he likes me, too. Turns out that Noah and I are alike in many ways. We both have blue eyes (although mine are more blue-green). We are both fair-haired (although mine is more white than blond). We share a favorite color – blue. We both love chocolate. We’re both very funny (really – we are!) and we like to make other people laugh. We both adore his Mommy, his Nana, and his big sister. And we love his Daddy, too.

noah and me 2I believe that Noah is mature for his age and understands some very adult concepts and this may be why we are so simpatico. But truth be told, I suppose I am more comfortable acting like a four year-old most of the time and this is the real reason we get along so well. We like to play the same games – cars and trucks or Legos® or Playdoh®. Building things and imagination are a big part of our playtime together. And we love the girls. His sister and his cousins are always welcome to play with us (and we will even endure tea parties and such).

We’ve enjoyed reading books together, playing in the park or backyard, and he loves for me to tell him stories about when I was a boy. “Pawpaw, tell me again about when you were little.” So I’ve taught him a few things along the way and shared lots of stories and I have been amazed at times at just how beautiful he truly is.

And now he is teaching me. He just started preschool and on the second day he was awarded two stickers for ‘good listening’ and for ‘singing’. Another student in his class received no stickers and was very disappointed. Noah, without being asked, gave one of his stickers to the child that had received none. Noah freely gave what was his to relieve the other child’s sadness.

How often have I held on to what was MINE? How many times have I turned a blind eye and a cold heart to those in need? A simple act of kindness can heal a wound; repair a broken heart; forge a friendship. Noah taught me that.

There’s not much that makes me happier in this life than when Noah runs to me, jumps into my arms, and wraps his arms around my neck. The fact that now I’m learning from this little man is just sublime!

Peace,

Denis

 

The Lesson I Learned Watching National Velvet

Recently two of our granddaughters spent the night. Part of the requisite for a sleepover is a movie. Usually it’s some Disney® or Pixar® animated “new release” but this time my wife suggested a classic: Elizabeth Taylor’s National Velvet.

What a treat! Not only was it a nice diversion from the usual fare but it is a beautiful film from 1944 that tells the tale of a girl who, against all odds, wins the British Grand National Steeplechase. Our granddaughters were mesmerized. First by the fact that they love horses; secondly by the fact that Velvet, the young girl played by Elizabeth Taylor, was disqualified because she was a girl (only boy jockeys were allowed in 1944). The girls were both delighted and outraged. They know full well that they can do anything boys can do.

My own little equestrian

My own little equestrian

But the message of the film was not lost on them. Velvet’s success in training and racing her horse and ultimately winning the race was what mattered. The recognition and prize money were less important. Velvet loved and believed in her horse and her reward was knowing that together they had achieved greatness regardless of what society deemed worthy or acceptable.

Of course I love my granddaughters but my pride in seeing them embrace a film that is not cutesy or Disney-fied is hard for me to put into words. They might have struggled with some of the British accents and some of the antiquated ideas from the 1940’s but they followed the story and cheered for Velvet and her horse. They both spoke later about how the important thing was that Velvet never gave up on her dream. Pretty profound for a six and nine year-old.

I’m guilty of sometimes dumbing-down stuff for my grandkids. I try to take some of the harshness out of reality. I want every day for them to be all sweetness and light. And I always want them to have rainbows and fairytale endings. But that’s not really such a good idea after all.

The girls taught me a valuable lesson the other night. I know now that they are tougher than I thought. They will be able to handle disappointment and heartache in life because they realize that they are surrounded by love. And they are capable of tremendous compassion. I’m certain that they will be winning their own “championships” someday and that their gains will be in character, faith and love.

It seems certain that there is much more they will be teaching me in the future. I can hardly wait…

Peace,

Denis

Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve known my son-in-law Travis for twenty years. We met long before he even knew that I had a daughter; let alone that he would one day marry her. He was the (very young) computer consultant that the company that I worked for at the time had hired. Funny thinking back on it now, I couldn’t have imagined then that he would ever be part of our family. Or that I would love and admire him as much as I do.

But that was then…

T & DToday he is a man who deserves to share the life he has made with my beautiful daughter (something that I once thought no one would EVER be worthy to claim). Travis adores my daughter. And he is loving, patient, and kind to his children. His example of faith is a witness to us all. And he has taught Anna and Noah to know and love God. He is always the first person to lend a hand and brings his tireless energy to even the most difficult tasks. Plus he is fun and funny!

Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Friend.

Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Ruth 1:16

Peace,

Denis