Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Cardinal Valentine

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day.

On the one hand, I always look forward to it. I’ve got to admit: I have a sentimental soul. I love romance. Candlelight. Flowers. I love the color red. And God knows we need red—lots of it—just about now in mid-winter. Especially those of us who live in Wisconsin, where we’re just warming up to above-zero temperatures—and it’s snowing again! In fact, I’ve always wondered if that’s why God made cardinals—because he knew that brilliant splash of red was just what we need about now.

But Valentine’s Day can also be hard, sad, or disappointing. A let-down after all that hype about buying your true love diamonds if you really love her. It can be a reminder of what’s missing. Especially if you’re a single mom. Or a “feeling single” mom. Or a mom whose husband is far away. Maybe because he’s traveling. Or deployed. Or emotionally distant.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always thought of Valentine’s Day less as a romantic-hype day and more as an opportunity to do small things for those you love to let them know how much you love them. In our home it was a family event—not a big event, just a special family dinner. I’d cook a “family favorite,” set the table with as much red as I could find, and have at each place some very small favor or gift just to say “I love you.” And we’d have a special dessert.

When I was growing up, my mom often made my favorite cut-out heart sugar cookies. Cookies she made only at Christmas or Valentine’s Day. Now I know why: those little buggers sure are hard to make! Mine always stick to the counter, the rolling pin—or the cookie sheet. I do usually try to make them at Christmas. But just ask my kids: I don’t think I usually managed them a second time in the year!

Speaking of my kids, I wanted to share with you a brief glimpse of Valentine’s Day in the Anderson family. If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know that this will be an unusual Valentine’s Day for Lars and Kelly with so many miles—and worlds—between them. And our son Bjorn will be celebrating Valentine’s Day by (of all things!) having his wisdom teeth pulled. I guess that will give his wife Abby plenty of opportunity to show her love through ice packs, soup—and lots of TLC!

And guess what Woody and I will be doing? We’re going to Dublin to visit our daughter Erika and her husband Richie. We leave on Thursday the 14th for a week or so with them. A great way, in my opinion, to spend Valentine’s Day. Just can’t wait!!!

Before I go, I want to wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day! (Or a belated Valentine’s Day, if you’re reading this after the fact.) Whatever day you may be reading this, I want encourage you to brighten the lives of those you love in some small way. It’s always good to start with your husband and/or kids. But you don’t have to stop there. Remember the last blog entry? Be a Barnabas—or a Jonathan—to someone in your life. Or let me put it this way—in keeping with this month and my love for splashes of red: be a mid-winter cardinal. You might even write in and share some of the ways you find to do this. Wouldn’t it be fun to splash a lot of red around this winter?

Meanwhile, see you when I get back from Dublin!

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Monday, February 11, 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot about encouragement lately.

I guess it’s because I’ve really needed it. Between grieving over Mom’s death and thinking (and praying) constantly for Lars in Iraq, I’ve needed it.

And I have been the receiver of so much encouragement. Which is why I’m writing about it today. I am amazed at all the ways people have found to encourage me and Woody during these difficult days. Cards. Calls. Emails. Blog comments. Impromptu visits and invitations to lunch or coffee. One couple even called and “invited themselves over” to watch the Superbowl with us, thinking we might be the only four Patriots fans in Milwaukee. Little did we know how much encouragement we’d need that night (a sad night for our team) . . . But the real deal was that their loving interest in a few things which had just arrived from Mom’s home and their assurance of their prayers for Lars (we got the text that he was “safely in Iraq” during the game) were just what we needed that night.

Encouragement can be a very spiritual thing. Woody is amazed almost daily at the assurance he gets from many of his patients—his cancer patients!—that they are praying for Lars. In fact, that’s the deepest encouragement of all—when folks come alongside and let you know they are praying for you.

It’s actually a very Biblical thing—encouragement. In the early church, it seems Christians were encouraging each other all over the place. In the book of Acts, encouragement (or its derivatives) is mentioned at least a dozen times. Indeed, a man named Joseph was even renamed Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” (Acts 4:36). It is, in fact, a command—that we encourage one another. Our Interim Pastor is currently preaching through I Thessalonians, and we are coming across the word “encourage” all the time (I Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 are two great examples).

My favorite Biblical example is from the Old Testament, from one little verse tucked away in I Samuel. When David is at a real low, on the run out in the wilderness trying to escape the murderous King Saul, Saul’s son Jonathan—ironically, David’s best friend—finds a way to encourage David. In I Samuel 23:16 we read: “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” Amazing. Way before the days of cell phones, email, and text messages, Jonathan finds a way to get to David. And what does he do to encourage him? “Helps him find strength in God.”

I’ve thought a lot about Jonathan lately. Years ago my husband Woody preached (yes, he’s an oncologist; but he is also occasionally asked to preach) an entire sermon on this verse. And it’s come back to me full-force in the past week or so. What Jonathan did provides a model of sorts for us, a model I’ve seen fleshed out in my own life from numerous friends. What did he do? Three things: He found out where David was. (Jonathan had to do this physically, geographically. We may need to do it relationally—find out how our friend is feeling, what she’s struggling with.) He went to him. (Notice he didn’t wait for David to come to him or ask for help. People who most need encouragement often don’t—or can’t—ask for it.) And he helped him find strength in God.

That’s the best kind of encouragement: helping each other find strength in God. So many have done that in my life by just sharing a verse they have clung to in some hard times. The most recent example for me came in an email a long-time friend of mine wrote to Lars (and Lars forwarded to me) simply letting him know she’s praying for him and sharing a verse of Scripture with which she had encouraged me in the past. What could be more encouraging than someone who’s praying for your child—and lets him know it?! And uses Scripture to do it!

So of course you know the question I’m leading up to. It’s a question I’ve been asking myself: Who am I encouraging? For whom am I a Barnabas (let’s call it “daughter of encouragement”) or a Jonathan?

Because you see, in the midst of my needing encouragement myself, I’ve discovered something. It’s not actually a discovery. I’ve always known it. But I’ve been reminded: Lots of people need encouragement. In fact, maybe everyone you meet needs encouragement. Especially in January and February. Who was it who said “Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load”? In fact, most often there are many folks around you carrying a heavier load than yours. Particularly if they’re moms!

So, as I thank God continually for the many people who pour encouragement into my life—and the creative ways they find to do it—I’m also asking Him to show me the people in my life who need encouragement. And to help me find ways to do for them what others have done for me. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

And may I encourage you to do that? It might be your best friend—or your next-door neighbor. Your husband and children. Or the girl with the locker next to yours in the gym where you work out. (Quick example: Recently when I ran into a local Mom To Mom Leader at my gym and I shared about Lars, I found out her husband was facing a big scary surgery in a few days—and I’ve found myself praying quite a bit recently for her husband, a man I’ve never met.)

Just be on the look-out for people you can encourage. Who knows? You may just find yourself encouraged in the process—yes, even in February.