What Love Looks Like

Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.    – Jean Vanier

Her name was Marguerite Ann Calnan Giza.  Most people called her Bunny, except for my grandmother who called her by her given name.  I called her Mum, unless I was sick or hurting, then it was Mumma.  Today marks the third anniversary of her death.  The ache feels almost as fresh as it did the day she died.  I miss her beyond words.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, and there are other days when I forget she is gone and reach for the phone to call her.  Sometimes when I’m driving on the long rural roads where I live, I think of something happening in my life I and I want to call her and share it.   Except I can’t.  Those are the times when I cry the most -in the car.  I’m usually by myself and it’s often then that I pray and think of her.  Sometimes I’ll hear a song that reminds me of her and that will encourage the tears.  Mum loved music.  From the time I can remember there was always music in our home.  I remember she always tuned into WBZ radio in Boston in the kitchen early in the morning as she made coffee and breakfast.  If a song came on that she liked, she’d turn it up and start singing.  There was always a radio in the kitchen.  Always.  She loved Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole.  In fact, she loved all kinds of music.  When I was a teenager and I’d be in my room listening to Aretha Franklin, sometimes she’d yell up from the bottom of the stairs, “Turn it up!”  She watched American Bandstand every Saturday afternoon when I was growing up.  I recall her teaching me how to dance in our living room while we watched.  When I would watch Soul Train in as a teen, sometimes she’d watch with me and we would try out new dance steps together.

She loved her children fiercely and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to encourage or protect us.  Life in our home was chaotic for many years but my mother shielded us from as much as she could and I always, always felt safe.   My Mum was like a lioness defending her cubs and she was our biggest cheerleader.  If we were in a school play or musical, she would get there an hour early before anyone else so she could get a front seat.  She wanted to make sure we could see her.  She would smile the whole time and later tell us our performance was the best.   Okay, one of her faults was that she lied a little.    No matter what went wrong in my life I always felt that my Mum could make it better.    Even if she couldn’t fix it, just hearing her say, “It will be alright,” was enough.  She was always in our corner.  She spoke the truth in love, and even if she was disappointed in a choice we might make, her love and support never waived.  It wasn’t a blind love, she always made us own up to our mistakes, but it was an unconditional love.

She had a wicked sense of humor, kind of dark actually, and I’m proud to say my sisters and I inherited it.  When life would throw my Mum lemons, she would sing sarcastically, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.”  If we came home from school and she was singing that, we knew something was up.  We may not have known what, but it was something.  And then she’d address whatever it was and move on.

She was stunningly beautiful.  I always thought she looked like Grace Kelly.  I loved watching her get ready to go out in the evening as she applied her makeup and put on a dress.  Elegant and sophisticated.  That was her style.  Even when we had very little money, my mother knew how to stretch a tight budget and she always looked pulled together.

My Mum never finished high school but she was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known.  She was a avid reader and an extremely well-informed public citizen.  She was a member of the League of Women voters for a long time.  Education was a high priority in our home and our successes in school were always celebrated.  She always told us we could be anything we wanted to be.  She said she didn’t care what we chose to do for a career or job, but whatever it was, do it to the best of our ability.

I remember when I was being bullied in school and came home crying saying I wanted to fit in and be like everyone else, my mother said to me, “Why be like everyone else?  Be different because you are.  Be you, and be the best you that you can be.  Be the good person that you are.”  And when kids would make fun of me and gossip about me or my family, she would say this, “Robin, you can’t control what other people say or think.  You can only control your own actions and thoughts.  You know what the truth is.  Sometimes that is all you will have and that will have to be enough.  If you know you’ve done your best, when you lay your head on the pillow at night, if you’re right with God, that’s all that matters.”  That last piece of wisdom has carried me more times than I can count and that’s no lie.  And then she would say, “Usually people who hurt other people, are in pain and are hurt themselves.  Always remember that.”

My Mum was strong and independent. She was a survivor, but her greatest strength and gift was her ability to mother and to love.  There have been times in my life when people have told me that I am a good mother.  It is a great compliment.  But it is no accident.  If I am a good mother, it is because I had one.  No, she wasn’t just a good mother, she was an amazing mother.  She taught me what love looks like and that is her greatest legacy to me and the rest of us who knew and loved her.

I don’t know what heaven looks like, but if God gave her  a home to live in, I know it’s clean.  She was compulsive that way.  And I hope she has a radio.  Sing on, Mum.  Sing on.

You Are Beloved

Today is the day in the liturgical church year when we read about the Baptism of the Lord – the day Jesus was baptized by John in the river and heard the voice of God say,

“You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3: 21-22).

It also marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.   Every year when this text comes around I am reminded of the day I received my “call” to ministry.  I was in the shower.  A fitting place if you ask me.  There’s all kinds of theological implications here on this one.  However, that’s not where I’m going with this.  I also clearly remember telling my husband, John.  His response was not what you might expect.  He didn’t jump up and down with joy and glee.  Really.  He looked at me with a blank stare for a very long time and then when he finally spoke said, ” Okay.”  If was half question, half statement.  I said, “I’m serious.”  He responded, “What makes you say that?”  I then went on to explain my encounter with God to him.  In any case, it took a little bit of convincing.  When he finally came around in a few weeks he said he had two questions for me:  “Are you sure?” and, “Why?”  My response was, “I have never been more certain about anything as I am this.  And why? Because people need to know how much God really loves them.”  From that moment on, we never looked back and I haven’t regretted one moment.

I have, with the help of the Spirit, held a theory for a very long time.  In fact, I would say it’s a passion.  I’m sure I’m not alone, others have believed it and taught it as well.  I posted two devotionals on Facebook this morning that share this view.   The theory is that if we as human creatures really understood how much God truly loves us and absorbed it, embraced it, lived it I believe the world would be a very different place.  Think about it if you will.  Don’t we act differently when we’re loved?  Don’t we live with more hope that the world can be better than it is?  Don’t we feel like we actually might be able to make a difference?  Aren’t we nicer even to people we may not care for very much?  Love makes a difference.  Knowing we are loved and accepted makes a difference.  There is a reason Jesus preached love all the time.  He knew it from the beginning of his ministry.  He knew it was the only way for us to find happiness and joy in our lives.  He knew it was the only thing that would change the world.

I was bullied all the way through elementary and junior high school.  I remember crying every day because I didn’t want to go to school.  It felt like I was being sent to hell because every day at least one or more kids would make fun of me, or threaten to beat me up before I could get to the bus.  I used to cry and beg my mother not to send me to school.  She would tell me things like, “Ignore them.  If you ignore them they’ll stop.  They just want to get a reaction out of you”.  And every day I would come home crying and say that I tried to follow her advice and it didn’t work.  She talked to the teachers and the principal and their advice was for her to teach me to toughen up.  Yeah, blame the victim.  Finally she just said to me,  “You have to go to school.  I’m sorry, but just remember, I love you.  You are beautiful.  Nothing they say can change that.”  At the time it was cold comfort to a pre-teen who only wanted to be accepted by her peers, but in retrospect it enabled me to endure.  At those moments of torment during the day I would remember that once I got home I would be loved.  I would be safe.  In those days I felt ugly, worthless.  I just wanted to fit in but there was no room.  I learned how to make myself as invisible as possible.  I didn’t raise my hand in class for fear of giving a wrong answer and being laughed at for that.  I did everything I could to keep the kids from noticing me.  Because of that, now as an adult, I can spot a bullied kid a mile away and my heart breaks for them.  Bullied kids need to be protected and they need to know that they are loved unconditionally.  Everyone does.  It makes a difference.  It changes how we view ourselves and how we view others.

By the time I reached my sophomore year of high school the bullying stopped, but the damage was done.  It took me years to rebuild my self esteem.  What got me through that time was the love of my mother.  She was my safe place.  My mother’s love was God’s love.  In time that is what I learned.  It changed everything.  Do I wish that I wasn’t bullied?  Of course.  However, that experience enabled me to develop a deep compassion for others and I don’t think I would be the pastor I am had I not been through it.  Now I can be a voice for the lonely, the scared, the voiceless.  I know what it means to an outcast and so I preach, teach and work toward making the church and the world a safe place where all people are included.  That’s the real Jesus work.

Now a large part of my call as I have discerned it is to preach the Gospel of love and teach people who to share that love with others.  Now I am not afraid to speak up on behalf of others.  I am braver.  I don’t shrink anymore.  Have I arrived?  No.  I am still a work in progress, but I know I am loved beyond all measure by the One whose opinion is the only one that counts.  That love is unconditional and I have claimed it.  I have a place in the heart of God.  That is something no one can take away from me or you, because it’s yours as well.

On a bad day when I need comfort from a cold world I remember the words of God from the book of the prophet Isaiah:  “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

I hope those words help you remember that you are loved beyond understanding too.  And if you are someone who already knows that, please reach out and share it with someone who may not.

Stand Up And Go

It’s a funny thing how the Spirit moves sometimes.  I’m in one of those places in my life where there are stirrings and a certain restlessness.  I’ve been getting those nudges and gentle pushes to really sit up and pay attention.  In some ways when I am in that space it reminds me of the nesting that happens to pregnant women shortly before giving birth.  It’s the housecleaning and the prep work that gets done just before delivery to make space for the new arrival. I’m getting ready to birth something new in my life. I recognize this place.  I’ve been here before.  Not just the actual giving birth to a child, well actually, four children, but the de-cluttering and labor of making room for this new life or season. When I am in this space it is at once both scary and exhilarating.  I’m never quite sure what’s ahead, but I wait.  I try to manage this with great patience and expectation, but mostly, not so much.  Like I said, I try.

I’m a reader.  I read newspapers, professional journals, magazines (I love magazines), and of course, books.  I don’t read as much as I would like, time doesn’t permit it, but I’m always working my way through at least three books at a time.  My reading list is so long I can’t look at it because it would be overwhelming and I’d be tempted to just give up, and yet I just keep adding to it.  I’m one of those people who has stacks of books and magazines everywhere.  They’re tidy stacks by the way.  They have to be.  I’m organized, and I’ll admit it, a neat freak.

Every once and a while as I read, a common theme emerges even though I haven’t set out on any particular path.  I make it through one book with a particular theme and then it seems like another piggy backs on it.  I read one blog that leads to another.  I have one simple conversation that leads to another with someone I may not have spoken to in a very long time, or a stranger in the grocery store, and the theme presents itself yet again.  If I’m paying attention, thoughts, ideas and stirrings begin to coalesce, a pattern develops and I begin to see that there may be an emerging “message.”  I call them God moments.  It’s those times of clarity that come when we are so open to hearing  what God is whispering to us in the deepest places of our hearts and souls.

As my first blog post stated, risk is my word this year.  This morning as I was scrolling my Facebook feed, I saw a meme of Tina Turner.  It had a photo of her that I know was taken when she was in her forties pushing fifty and fabulous.  She looked amazing.  She exuded strength and confidence.  I saw her in concert on my fortieth birthday and she really looked that good!  I remember how inspired I was by her story years before and it convinced me that it is never too late in life to overcome obstacles, live your dreams, and make things happen.  The quote that went with the photo in the meme was, “I believe if you just stand up and go, life will open up for you.”  My comment when I posted it was, “And she would know.”  She stood up and walked away from an abusive relationship.  She lived in fear and walked toward the rest of her life no doubt with as just much fear into an unknown future with no resources.  Risky.  But look where that walk took her!  And as I stated, it inspired me to make some long overdue scary changes in my own life.  I haven’t looked back since.

And this.  It came in my email this morning as part of a devotional I subscribe to.

“It makes perfect sense that we should be called to go beyond our limits, because the One that calls us is beyond all limits. I suspect that all the energy we have bound up in resisting our own potential is more energy than we’ll need to reach it. It takes as much energy to fail as it does to succeed…The degree of resistance is probably proportionate to the amount of power waiting to be unleashed and the satisfaction to be experienced once the “no” breaks through to “yes” and the call is followed. “

I also happened to read a blog this morning written by a woman my age. Yes, I can say it, 57.  She wrote about taking chances and not letting one’s age hold them back.  I could relate to that.  It was a scary thing when I decided I had to go to seminary at the age of fifty.  Just saying the words out loud was frightening.  But I did risk saying the words out loud and the next thing I knew (at least that’s how quickly it seemed to happen), I was in seminary, graduated, ordained and serving a congregation.  There are those times when you just have to “stand up and go.”

The Divine always calls us beyond our limits and it is scary.  Whatever is birthing forth, I’m sure will involve risk of some sort. As I have learned, making room for the new and making changes almost always requires risking something of ourselves.  That is what growth is.

I know this.  I am willing to continue to grow and I’m ready to stand up and go – again.

There’s something else I know, God always goes with me.  Thank God.

Quoted piece came from Inward/Outward, A Project of the Church of the Savior. January 5, 2013.- Source: Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life – Called to Go Beyond Our Limits by Gregg Levoy.


One of my earliest and fondest memories as a child was staying with my grandparents and waking up in their home on Sunday morning.  As soon as my eyes opened and I was awake it was the smell that caught my attention.  It was the aroma of fresh coffee percolating and spaghetti sauce, or gravy as Nana always called it, cooking on the stove.  I loved coming downstairs to the kitchen.  My Nana would be fixing breakfast for my Grandpa while simultaneously preparing Sunday dinner, which always included something with that amazing gravy.  Most of the time she had prepared the gravy the day before and was now re-heating it for later in the day.  She used to cook that gravy for hours!  Maybe that’s why mine never tastes quite as good as hers did.

A big treat for me was when she would pour me a small cup of coffee, an inch or so of it into the cup, and fill it the rest of the way with milk.  She let me add a teaspoon or two of sugar and I got to stir it myself.  It tasted like heaven in a cup.  I’m not sure if it was the smell, the taste, or  because it came from my Nana, but this is where my love affair with coffee began.  This was a ritual that went on for years, well into my teens and was a treat reserved for my time at Nana’s.  My mom would never let me drink coffee at home.  Every time Nana set the coffee cup in front of me she would say, “Don’t tell your mother I let you drink coffee!”  My grandfather would peer over his Boston Herald newspaper and wink at me and tell my Nana to give me another cup if I wanted it.   After the coffee and some cereal, another treat was being allowed to take a piece of fresh Italian bread and dip it into the gravy.  And, if she made them, I’d get to eat a meatball before anyone else.  I’ve never quite been able to replicate those meatballs either.

Sense memories.  I have so many that connect me to my Nana, like how she smelled of Lady Esther face cream every time I hugged her or how the inside of her purse always smelled like Juicy Fruit gum.  So much of my life and so many of my memories are connected to my grandmother.  She was my best friend growing up and it occurs to me that I can’t remember a time in my life when my grandmother wasn’t there.  I recall countless hours of her rocking me and stroking my hair, caring for me when I was sick, and taking me visiting or “calooping” as she called it in her beach wagon (translate, station wagon).  I even went to work with her in the summer when I wasn’t  in school.  I adored my grandmother.  I mean, what teenager forgoes a Friday or Saturday night out in order to hang out with their grandmother?  This one.

When I grew up, married and had my first child, we rented the apartment downstairs from my grandparents.  My grandmother and I developed another ritual.  My husband wasn’t home very much (that may be a topic for another blog post), and just about every evening  after I put my daughter to bed, Nana and I would have tea and toast.  I remember that it was always Salada tea.  Part of the ritual was that we would read the little bits of wisdom that were printed on the tags of the tea bags.  Nana was always bemused by what hers or mine would say.  She always viewed them like one would the message in a fortune cookie.  And then she would get the bread, always Italian, and put it in the toaster.  “Let’s see if I can burn this for you,” she would say.  I loved dark, crunchy toast.  We would sit there and talk for an hour or so about all kinds of things. It was around this time that my grandparents began going to Florida for the winter and I would count the days until she would get back so we could talk and have tea and toast in the evenings.

I moved away some years later but my grandmother and I stayed in very close contact.   We spoke on the phone at least once a week and wrote each other letters, back when people used to do that.  It was always such a joy to open the mailbox and see a little envelope from Nana.  Sometimes the letters were written on 5 and dime stationary, and sometimes they were written on lined notepaper.  Whatever they were written on didn’t matter.  They were from her and I would hold the letter up to my nose after I read it, because I could swear it smelled like her.  Every once in a while there would be a five dollar bill or a lottery ticket enclosed in the letter.  Nana always struggled financially as did I, and it was her dream to win the lottery so she could fix her home and help me out as well.

In later years when I moved to Florida and my grandfather had passed away, Nana would come and stay with us for a month or so.  We continued our old rituals, yet now she came to work with me.  I would always find some task she could do in the office and we would chat the day away and talk about what we would make for supper.  She still did most of the cooking with me assisting, fussed over my husband, and my children grew to love her as much as I did.

My Nana died in 2008.  She was 95 years old and up until the last year or so of her life was in relatively good health and sound in mind.  She was a bit superstitious and given to believe in old wives tales, not very well-educated, having only gone as far as the sixth grade in school, but she was wise.  So much of who she was and what she taught me throughout my life remain such a  huge part of who I am today.

So often these days when something significant happens in the world or in my life I imagine what my Nana might say in response.  She had many “Nanaisms.”  One in particular, which was in response to something beyond our control or beyond understanding was, “What are you gonna do?”  It was her version of “Whatever!”  I miss her every day, but especially in times of stress and worry, or when I have a really horrible, no good, very bad day.  At times like that I just remember hearing her voice and advice, particularly this:  “You have to stay strong, Robin.  Stay strong.”

My grandmother never had much in terms of material wealth, but what she gave to me, my siblings and my cousins in terms of total love and devotion are truly priceless.  My Nana thought I hung the moon and it always felt as though I could do no wrong in her eyes.  Her love was for me was unconditional.   Everyone in this world deserves to be loved like my grandmother loved all of us.  And I know it’s because of my Nana’s love for me, and being able to see myself through her heart and eyes, that I know the love of God.


Making a Difference

The day before yesterday was the official launch day of my blog.  It still seems a bit daunting and scary to me.  I didn’t write yesterday because, well, I was busy getting ready to head back to work (I’ve been on vacation).  I finished up some household projects such as taking down the Christmas tree, the accompanying decorations, and finishing up my church’s annual report.
And if truth really be told, I had writers block.  So soon?  Yep.  In fact, that is one of the reasons I set becoming a better writer as one of my professional goals this year.  I thought that if daily writing became a discipline for me I would get better at it and suffer from writers block less frequently.  I know I just started, but I’m dubious.

I took several classes in seminary from a teacher who was a writer.  She would always give us a writing prompt for the writing exercises we would do in class as well as for our projects and other assignments.  It was a word, a phrase, or even an object to get us started.  It was surprisingly helpful and I sometimes marveled at what those prompts would cause to bubble up within me. 

Today WordPress gave me my prompt.  Since I’m a newbie at all of this they thought I could use one.  Duh.  The prompt was this:  What change would you like your blog to make in the world?  Talk about intimidating.  I’ve always wanted to change the world, but never once have I thought my blog could do that.  I’m still not convinced.  However, it did prompt me to think about the direction this thing might go. 

The other day a colleague, a seasoned blogger, asked if he could link my blog to the site he manages for our association.  I declined.  I did so because as I just stated, I’m not sure the direction this blog is going to take and so I’d rather wait.  I still don’t know where this is going, but what I do know is I have to keep plugging away at this and I’m sure as someone encouraged when I began, I’ll find my voice.  And yes, WordPress, I’d love to change the world.  Thank you for asking.  In the meantime, I have a sermon to write. 

Not Exactly Shorthand

I’ve been wracking my brain here trying to remember a certain television commercial of some years ago.  I can’t quite conjure it in totality.  I’m pretty sure it was for a financial services company.  The punch line, I recall, went like this, “We make money the old fashioned way.”  I remember the voice of actor John Houseman of Paper Chase fame.  The “old-fashioned” way.  That’s not a phrase I hear very often any more.  When we moved into the 21st century we may have left that expression behind.

I’ve slowly moved along with technology, in fact, I’ve come to really appreciate it.  Way back in the day as a secretary I remember using carbon paper to make copies along with stencil and mimeograph machines.  I was still in that profession when the first office computers came out and now I am so grateful for the ease it affords me and others as we perform the many tasks we do on a daily basis.

My most recent foray into technology was acquiring a smart phone.  I’ve discovered that it is nothing more than a mini computer.  That stated, I have been in possession of this phone since September and I am still learning all of its functions.  It’s enough to make this rather savvy and bright person humbled, frustrated, and well, not so smart. One of the reasons I convinced myself that I should upgrade to such a device was because of its many organizational functions.  I am nothing if not organized.  Mine has a notepad.  “Terrific!”, I thought.  I don’t have to carry a pad of paper and a pen with me should I become inspired with a sermon idea or a much needed grocery item.  I’ll just put it on my phone notepad!  Fail.  All I have done with that function is track my mileage for work.

Now, all that being said, as much as I appreciate technology, computers in particular, it occurred to me how little I actually use mine for my sermon writing.  I do it the “old-fashioned” way.  I use a steno pad, the kind I used to take dictation in shorthand when I was a secretary way back in the 20th century.  Frankly, I’m surprised they still make them, although I have noticed they removed the brief forms chart on the back.

I remember the delight I felt the day I discovered them on a shelf in the local grocery store in the village where I live.  I did a double take.  Steno pads!  I immediately purchased two of them.  When I arrived home with my find, I was eager to share it with my family who were less than impressed.  No matter.  I had found a treasure – a fond remembrance of my past.  I thought that perhaps they were some left over stock from the past they were trying to sell off and so I went back a few days later to purchase the two they had left.  And, much more to my delight and surprise they keep reappearing.  And I am stockpiling.

If the store proprietors or clerks think it is odd that the pastor of the U.C.C. church in the village is buying up steno pads like the apocalypse is coming, they haven’t let on. I haven’t detected any strange looks.  And, if they’re gossiping about me, I haven’t heard it.  Yet.

The point to all of this is that since my New Year’s goal is to become a better writer, the only way that works for me is to do it the old-fashioned way.  My steno pads will be filled.

Perhaps one day these words will find their way to an electronic cyber place, but for now, they live in another dimension on pages that smell faintly of ink and of the space where they rest in my home office.

P. S. To Mrs. Evelyn Lovely, my favorite high school English teacher who I trust is enjoying her spot in heaven:  I don’t use black ink and I still don’t write on the last line of the page.

(I wrote this yesterday not knowing I would create this blog today)

Risky Business

Risk.  That is my word for the year.  I’ve always been a play it safe kind of girl.  I’ve been slowly learning how to step outside the box the last several years and now I’m ready (I think) to be more bold.  More bold with my faith, my ideas, my heart.  This blog is part of that risk. It’s scary as heck, but here I go!