Friday, September 7, 2012

love, a little

I love my family. I love Robyn, my wife and partner of 19 and half years. I love Clayton, my 11 year old son, who loves professional baseball. I love Maddy, my 8 year old daughter, who loves Justin Bieber and One Direction. This is my inner circle.

I love my older sister, who lives in San Luis Obispo with her amazing husband Wade and her two children, Alex and Scotty. I love my mom and dad, even though I'm still angry because they divorced after 45 years of marriage. This is the next circle.

I love my wife's side of the family too. Sue, my mother-in-law, Traci, Marc, Arden, Emye, Scott and Collen, Brad, Joy. The list goes on a bit. The next circle.

And then there's the friend circles. John and Sandy, Dan Deeble, Dom and Kym, Mark and Julie, Scott and Sarah, Scott and Wendy. I love these people. I have some shared history. We've gone really deep at times. These are the close friends circle. And there's the more recent friendships, the ones covering the last few years. Balin and Judy, Kip and Kelly, Jeff and Kelli, Bob and Sheri. I know I'm forgetting some. These are people we hang out with occasionally.

All of these circles are the easy-to-love people (well, sometimes it's hard, but only sometimes). And if I'm honest, I don't really put out that much for most of them. If our paths cross, it's good. But I don't actively seek out how I can love them better (the exception being Robyn and Clayton and Maddy--I actually do sacrifice for them and try to love them in tangible and lasting ways. I know more baseball stats than most dads. I have Justin Bieber and One Direction songs all over my iTunes library. I vacuum sometimes.).  It's easier to love my closest family. It's a little less easy to love the next circle (in the initiating sort of way; my love for my extended family is always constant. I'm talking practical, like calling more often or getting together and hanging out). And then the friendships. Our times come and go, we love in the sense of "Love you, bro" (although a few of the above-mentioned go super deep, almost to the inner circle!).

So here's my quandary: there are two orders I'm supposed to follow when it comes to love. These orders originate in eternity somewhere, and they've made there way to this planet, to the species I'm a part of. I've accepted them as truth, they're a lot bigger than I am, and they're tried, tested, and proven. "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself." And this second one is equal to the first in importance. That's the one that gets me. Loving people. I wish it would have been more specific, like "love your wife and kids as yourself." That would be manageable. Love God and love Robyn, Clayton, and Maddy. But the command is broad. It goes well beyond the first circle. It goes beyond all the circles, in fact. Love people. And not "love humanity." That's easy. It sounds real good, but it's and idea, and abstract. You can say you love humanity but it implies a distance. It's much more honest to love individuals than humanity. And that's why it's so hard, and few do it.

Sometimes, when I slow down and remember I have a soul that needs attention and I recalibrate and find God's rhythm for my day, I sense the joy and pleasure of loving others. Compassion and a yearning to see people heal and grow and thrive start to well up inside. But most of the time it's not that.  Most of time I am baffled to even consider the thought of loving others practically and honestly. There's just not time, and loving takes time. And it can be costly. I literally weigh it out. If I take the time to talk with or meet up with someone, even one of the easy-to-loves, it will cost me money. I'm self-employed, so every minute away from my job is a dollar lost, or put on hold till I get it done. I barely stay in the black each month, even with an extremely frugal wife who manages the budget. I know it's an illusion, but it's one that I buy into, and it's this: If I had more money, if things weren't so desperate each week and month when it comes to generating income for myself and my guys and then producing on time  the work I generated, if the margins weren't paper thin, then I would have space for the love to happen. I'd say to you, "hey, how you doin'? Sure, let's grab some lunch. You need help with a project this weekend? Yeah, I've got plenty of time. I'll be there at 8:00 with donuts." It's not like that. It has been, at times, it's just not now. Now it's like "Hello? Yeah? Uh, I can't really talk right now.Why? Because I'm on a 28 foot ladder on unstable ground leaning into the fascia with a 10,000 speed grinder squinting and inhaling fine toxins before it gets any windier. Why isn't this a good time, again?  Oh, because the migrane that I woke up with at 4:00 is only getting worse despite the 2400 mgs of ibuprofen that are ripping my stomach lining and leaving blood in the stools. Yeah, migranes, or migrane-like, what's the difference. Sure, I'll just take some time off from painting, from my weekly dose of toxin injections so my head can clear and my liver can do it's job." I suppose if you had a fixed income, you could entertain that thought, that you could have a sick day or vacation day and your budget wouldn't become fussy. But most of us in the contracting industry, especially the subcontracting, work until we're exhausted because it's sink or swim. And if you try to do it honest, like paying payroll taxes and comp and liability  and sales tax, your margins stay slim, because you can't keep passing on those costs to the homeowner or the other guys will get the jobs. So you work. And your body pays the toll over the years. Like prostitution. You sacrifice your body for money.

So to stop and take time for others (something I really want to do and try to do, because I actually do have some love in me), is not easy. I can't believe how selfish all this is sounding. I want to be known for someone who loves selflessly, who goes beyond the norm. But I'm depleted from providing and from the anxiety of generating, and so people usually experience me as someone on the emptier side and in need of more rest. So back to the illusion. If I had more money, I'd have more space, I'd have more time to actively love the people in my life. I'd be rested and filled and postured to give. I'd even stumble into that arena of loving my neighbor, the down-and-out guy whom no one gives the time of day to. "You will know them by their love..." Jesus challenges me, not in the shaming kind of way, but the curious, come check this out way. "We love, because he first loved us..." My little paradigm is about getting financial relief and space so I can love. But there's a bigger one, probably more tested over the centuries than my 40 years of experience, that says loving well doesn't start with preferable circumstances, but simply with God's love to me. Another risk. Another step of faith. I have to risk stopping the treading of water a bit so I can get some of that love. I have to believe that it's worth it, even if I sink a little (or a lot?). It is worth it. Just taking the time a few mornings a week to have a cup of good coffee downtown and blog out some thoughts before I jump through the hoops of the day. I push back the thoughts that say I'm losing two hours of productivity and generating income, and instead I listen for the Voice that says today is a gift, take it, let it change you, take my yoke, my rhythm, my love first. For me, taking love and giving love is such a real, practical, sometimes painful act of faith. They go hand in hand.