A Labor of Love: Choosing Joy and Gratitude
9.5.2022: A Reflection on the Journey of Grief and Healing
Today I choose joy and gratitude for the deep and wonderful love that God has given my husband, David and I, since we met in 1999 in the campus of Central Philippine University. I hope and pray that by God’s grace, even with the grief that persists to keep me company, I will make it my intention every day to also welcome joy in this journey, for the rest of my life.
I thank my sister, Esther Rose, for sharing with me a photo (the one on the right) from her “FB archives,” taken when we were already married and were in the Philippines for a visit. If I recall correctly, this may have been taken there on one of our short term mission trips, where Dave and I did some team teaching on Conflict Transformation Across Cultures at the College of Theogy.
It was a joy to teach with Dave because he was always eager to learn as much as to teach. He taught me to be patient, humble and gracious even when one disagrees with another person’s views. He used to tease me that I always wanted to have the last word in an argument or debate. Many times he did let me have the last word, with a smile. He always believed, “Happy wife, happy life.” 🥰❤️
The other pictures were taken at Dave’s cousin Bill’s mansion in Hanover, PA (now a museum). This was during the early years of our marriage and we were there to celebrate his cousin’s birthday. I believe it was at summer time and my late sister-in-law, Sue, took these pictures. The one with my back towards the camera was probably when we were preparing to leave but the band started to play and Dave took my hands to dance. His eyes were beaming with joy. Though you can’t see my face, I am sure that my eyes were looking into his with great joy.
In the other picture, we are smiling with so much joy, it’s as if time has stopped and we were in Kairos time, where there is no past, present or future, only the eternal NOW. The photographer had captured in this moment our unique, distinctive personalities: Dave’s quiet, tender self and me, with (using Dave’s own words) my “wacky wonderfulness,” blended into one passionate, exuberant love that couldn’t help but be “surprised by joy!” (Borrowing C.S. Lewis’ words) You may also notice that both of my hands and arms are wrapped around Dave’s left arm and we are leaning on each other, in a comfortable, loving closeness.
Throughout the years of our marriage we continually leaned on each other with happiness and delight like in this photo, but also in tough times especially when Dave’s health started to decline. By God’s grace we tried our best to choose joy and gratitude in the midst of the aches and pains. It was not easy but in the end, the great Love from God carried us through the dark days of suffering, giving us always a reason to smile, even laugh! It was a labor of love that was worth all the effort and tears.
Now that Dave is no longer with me in his warm and solid human form, each day is a struggle to choose joy and gratitude. But I have a choice: I can choose joy and gratitude or not. With the courage given to me by God, in his love and mercy, I choose joy and gratitude.
And, with the many happy memories and the gifts of faith, hope and love that Dave and I share and had been growing through the years, with our son, Isaac, as the most beautiful fruit of our union — there is a vast reservoir of joy that I can receive and give.
Listening with Love and Respect : Reflections on John 21:1-19
By Carla A. Romarate-Knipel
Living in a divided and polarized society, I recently raised this question and shared it with my friends in social media: How do we show love and respect and still uphold the truth and resist evil? Here are my reflections in response to this question, using the story of Jesus and Peter in John 21:1-19.
Active and empathetic listening out of love and compassion that Jesus offered to Simon Peter led to a meaningful and healing conversation that did not distort the truth, gloss over it or ignore it but confronted it with the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation based on an openness to be forgiven and restored by Jesus (cf John 21:1-19).
How to listen and have a transformative conversation is a lifelong lesson that will be learned, tested and applied in the classroom of daily life. For me, to listen (with one’s ears and eyes if reading a post on social media) means being aware of my own biases, flaws and incomplete knowledge and understanding of the situation, with humility and grace. However it doesn’t mean ignoring the truth that I know and information that is already available to all who have the mind to think, discern and decide. It also calls for me to keep doing research, fact check, and use reputable sources. That means not to be lazy to do my own personal work. So, yes, listening with love and the motive to understand and find common ground is hard and exhausting work. But, if we are to follow Jesus’s way, it is important work and worth it.
If I disagree with a person I love, I try hard to listen, not to reply and give a counter argument (immediately 🥰) but to understand. This does not come easy to me (or any human being, I think). I want to win the debate. I want to have the last word. Just ask my husband! BUT… I realize and am learning that to really listen with empathy and love is to rise above my desires and preferences and to “put on the mind of Christ.” (Philippians 2) Not that I give up my own views, but in order to see where the one I am listening to is coming from and to find out what we share in common, to find a halfway point that in our disagreement we can agree to disagree without losing sight of our shared faith and love and together to search the truth “that will set us free” to become Jesus’s witnesses in the world. (A sense of humor is necessary at times. Sarcasm is not so helpful but wit can be winsome when spoken with grace.)
Timing, effort and caring is so important though. Jesus, in John 21:1-19, first helped his disciples to catch fish (did not criticize them for going back to their old life), cooked them breakfast (extended hospitality and provided them food for their body) and then after the meal, took Simon (Peter) aside (possibly in private that John overheard 😊) and engaged him in an intimate, loving conversation. The “kairos” (God-appointed) time takes patience, discernment and preparation. So it’s important not to rush into it. Doing our own personal interior work and sensitivity towards those we want to listen to with love and respect begins in solitude and prayer and listening to Jesus.
For Peter, it was painful to listen to Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these?” Bible scholars explain that Jesus’s question asked three times corresponded with Peter’s denial of Jesus three times. This was Jesus not forgetting recent history of betrayal, but the way he guided Peter to move on was by asking and listening in order for Peter to remember the wrong he had done against Jesus, renew his love for Jesus, and then to be forgiven and restored in a loving relationship with his beloved Lord, Jesus.
How this kind of listening is applied and practiced is a lifelong learning adventure that calls for prayerful humility and receptivity to the Holy Spirit’s work in us. For Peter and the rest of the disciples it also meant going back to fishing for people and doing God’s mission of making disciples as Jesus taught and showed them to do.
Jesus last words to Peter and the disciples in John’s story was, “Follow me.” (John 21:19). Follow Jesus. Not Herod, the Pharisees, Pilate or Caesar.
I pause my keys for now.
Till next time, shalom and may the God who listens to us and hears our cries as well as our laughter, bind us in love and send us forth in peace. Amen.
Summer musings: A year after the pandemic…
Last year in August, I was baking banana bread and writing haikus and picking sunflowers at a nearby farm. I remember feeling more relaxed even with all that was going on because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The time spent at home in spring 2020 helped me to take a step back, slow down and relish the moment. Yes, I confess I did some binge watching of Netflix movies and had moments of panic. But more often than not, I felt an inner peace and calm especially in my times of inward reflection and prayer. I noticed little things that I hadn’t paid attention to before: the rising and falling of my chest while I was meditating, the distant sound of an owl “whooo-ing,” and the swaying of the bamboo when a strong breeze swept through our neighbor’s backyard.
A year after, the pandemic hasn’t ended, but my more relaxed state of mind and heart seems to be waning. I have lapsed into my pre-pandemic mode of being that is addicted to hurry, obsessed with productivity and unwilling to slow down. For the first time in over ten years I have decided not to take the last two Sundays of August off. This decision, in retrospect, was a mistake.
So here I am writing and reflecting on what of this summertime I can still salvage. Perhaps, I can still make a day trip to the mountains or near a lake and get away from it all: the 24-hour news cycle, social media and all the online cacophony of opinions, claims, disinformation and the raging battle over masks and vaccines. It may not be too late to celebrate this season, even with its heat waves, tornadoes and forest fires. I still have time to listen to the crickets, watch the fireflies glow at dusk and take a much needed afternoon nap.
Perhaps, I can still make a day trip to the mountains or near a lake and get away from it all… (free photo from pexel.com)
Study Notes on the Gospel of John
In my view, the gospel writer, John writes in a manner that reflects the concept of “thin places.” Thin places means a place where God is present in a deep and meaningful way. This means they could be anywhere. But they can also mean special spaces where heaven and earth meet – or at least have a flimsy boundary that allows for the divine and human to go back and forth. For John, the prologue is like a thin place where heaven and earth meet in Jesus (1:14-18). Jesus, is the divine-human messenger who is presented as the Logos (Word) and Light who reveals God as Father. In the first four verses of John 1, the reader is swept into a cosmic stage where he or she reads about Jesus, the Word before any word was spoken and the Co-creator of the Universe (1:3-4). This is Jesus who was before time and creation began. This is Jesus who is not from our planet and dimension. But because of a powerful force called LOVE (1:18; 3:16) came to our planet to reveal who God is – the God who he calls Father. John begins his story about Jesus by telling the reader/audience that the person I am about to introduce to you is no ordinary being but someone who is going to change your life if you believe in him. (Another example of “thin places” encounters in the Bible are Moses meeting God in the burning bush (Exodus 3) and Jesus transfigured on the mountain. John alludes to it in John 1:14 and the Synoptic Gospels report with more detail (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; and Luke 9:28-36).
Jesus, the Logos made human, who was the Word/Message and the Messenger who showed up and pitched his tent among humans not just to save them but to inspire them to live empowered by the Light, who shines in the midst of darkness. It will be helpful to the 21st century reader to know that John’s reference to “the Jews,” does not mean all Jewish people. “The Jews” in John’s Gospel are the Jewish religious leaders and those who rejected Jesus as God’s Son. John’s Gospel must not be used to incite anti-Jewish sentiments. John is making a differentiation between the Jews who believed and those who did not believe (cf. John 8:31-32). John’s Gospel included a promise of eternal life for whoever (Jews and non-Jews) believed in God’s Son (John 3:16) because of God’s love.
Recognizing my voice
It’s February 1, 2021. I haven’t been sharing my poetry, prayers and prose here in my blog for awhile. It has been a difficult November, December and January for me because of my husband’s hospitalizations. But I haven’t stopped writing using pen and paper. The act of writing has become a prayer. In my lowest moments, it helped to keep me afloat. Today I decided to come back to this online space and share some of what I have written in the past few months and hope it will bring some joy to you, my dear Reader.
Someone once encouraged me to find my voice. By voice I think the person meant who I am and how do I sound that is distinctively me. I didn’t really think about voice in that way. Yes, I love to talk, sing and listen to myself talk (ask my husband!). But I haven’t really spent time in self-reflection and listen more intentionally to who I am, especially as a writer. Today I gained more clarity about my voice, especially as a writer. The way I came to this recognition was in the midst of listening to a presentation of an author in the Writing For Your Life Conference. This was an online conference in November 2020. I was seated in our dining room viewing the presentation on my laptop. I had an epiphany: God has given me a joyful, “don’t-take-yourself-so-seriously,” earthy, “dance-in-the-rain person” voice, who sounds like a “faith-seeking- understanding” kind of woman-pastor academic willing to learn how to speak the languages beyond the confines of academia, exploring the many worlds that brim with wisdom and resisting the urge to be stuck in stale, overused words swarming online.
Being Kind but not a Pushover
Is it possible to be kind and not be a pushover? By kind I mean, relating with others with respect and calmness even when confronted with wrongdoing or a mean attitude. By pushover, I mean not being easily swayed or influenced by someone in order to please or placate the person even if you disagree with him or her. In my experience of following Jesus as a disciple, reading the Bible and praying for the Holy Spirit, I believe it is possible to be kind and not be a pushover. How? I suggest three things.
- Be kind but firm. Follow Jesus’ lead. Be kind in speech and actions, but be firm with what you believe is right and true.
- Be kind but don’t tolerate evil. You can be kind but not condone or participate in wrongdoing.
- Be kind but not naive. The apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:16 warns us, “Be very careful, then how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
The Gift of Poetry
“Poetry provides us the history of the human heart.” This is what American Poet laureate Billy Collins said in the introductory session of his master class on poetry online that I had attended. This was way back in July, five months since the Covid-19 pandemic began. During those long days of staying at home, I began to read and write poetry more than I ever had since I started appreciating it as a child. For sure I am not a professional poet. I was not a literature major in college nor do I have an MFA in poetry. What I do have is an insatiable curiosity and appreciation for the gift of poetry. I am very grateful for all those in the past who have bared their hearts using ink and paper to give us a glimpse of the architecture of a human soul. There were instances when I was baffled and moments that I was profoundly moved by these heart historians. But in times of uncertainty, reading a poem, has given me some stability, something to hold on to while the storm rages on. In my blog I humbly share some of my attempts to write a history of my own heart, grateful for the gift of poetry and those who generously bestowed them to us. May the Master Poet who has breathed life into us and created this world with poetic beauty and grandeur, inspire us with the joy of receiving this gift!
To All Who Love to Write Poems
When a poem comes to you in the middle of the night, don’t wait for tomorrow. Grab a pen and start writing those lovely lines. You can always go back to sleep, but these elusive visitors may not come back again for a long time, and you would have missed a moment of wonder and joy! Let the words just glide onto paper, like guests all dressed up for the party where you are the honored guest. And when you are done, put down your pen, go back to sleep and perhaps you will see them again in your dreams.