Stripping Labels: Leading By Living

Stripping Labels: Leading By Living

Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses is an idiom often used to express an optimistic perception of life. But the sad truth is, optimism is a disposition rarely extended to others. Instead, we tend to look at others and decide what color glasses to wear when viewing them, based on our judgment of them.

Humans have a natural inclination to favor certain sects of society while believing there is justification for harboring caution (at the least) if not outright hatred (at the worst) against certain groups of society. Generally, those biases are formed to include themselves and people like them.

Despite recent trends, I believe women more than men are pigeonholed in their careers and their relationships. Women still don’t receive equal pay for equal work (especially minorities). Women more often than men are trapped in abusive relationships. Women are sexually assaulted more than men. Women are forced into human trafficking more than men. Women are forced into underage marriage more than men. Women are forced to endure female mutilation. I can go on. The topic of bias relates to me both personally and professionally. I face huge biases – not just due to my gender but also my race, which is stereotypically associated with my tendency to speak up. From what I’ve experienced, there is an overt and obvious difference between me and my white, especially male, colleagues and friends. When I speak up firmly, I face resistance from certain people and am made to feel discounted as a nuisance. When my white friends and/or colleagues, male or female, behave in the same manner, often more frequently and more blatantly, they are taken so much more seriously, and their opinions are valued. It got to the point, where I found myself having to confront the dilemma of whether to lighten up or stop speaking up altogether. It felt to me as if I was never heard, and I didn’t want to be labeled as the so-called “Angry Black Woman,” (ABW). I didn’t want to be viewed as unintelligent or bitter either. Talking while black and female proved to be quite the double-hurdle for me. I have personally had other colleagues tell me they have had to face some form of negative labeling in their career. One woman was told by a manager that she “did not fit the corporate image” when she was being considered for an advancement opportunity. She asked for feedback regarding how she didn’t fit the corporate image but then asked for the interview anyway. She got the interview. It went well and she was offered the position.

Humans also have a natural inclination to form biases. I sincerely believe one must consciously will themselves to not behave in those undereducated, underdeveloped ways of thinking. How do you inspire humans to think for themselves?? To break away from their norms and their beliefs? In this climate and in what I see happening in this country, it seems virtually impossible. The answer for me is to live it. Show others in my own behavior and choices. If you want to see an improved environment, be an improved environment all the time – without exception.

In order to be compassionate and try to help others remove filters, my path lies in Christ. By showing others that they can look at the world through the lens of Christ,  they can free themselves of preconceived ideas, biases, and bigotry against others; they can, instead, open themselves up to love. And like so many others, I believe we must love as Christ loved.

 

Love is a verb

Love is a verb

Some say love is a feeling, but I maintain that love, in fact, is a way of being.

An ancient text* tells us that love is patient and kind. That it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. That love honors others and is not self-seeking or easily angered. That it keeps no record of wrong. This same text tells us that love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. That it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. It tells us that love never fails.

Perhaps you’ve heard this ancient text read at a wedding? It was read at my wedding many years ago… and many others I’ve attended before and since. It is indeed a good recipe for a successful marriage.

A good recipe for living, for being, in the world-at-large

If you take a moment to really consider the definition of love above, you will see that it is filled with actions—being patient and kind, honoring others, delighting in truth and justice, protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering. I read these actions and think, while I’m certainly not perfect, I’m fairly decent at these things, or at least I try my best to be. These are high ideals—ideals I want to work towards.

And yet, this definition is also filled with inaction—holding your tongue, your anger, your envy, and not keeping score or seeking on behalf of self. If I’m transparent with you, that’s a list I need a little more work on. I think of how often I state my opinion when I should hold silent instead. How my anger rises to the surface at a moment’s notice. How I keep account of others’ wrongdoings, but not my own. How I often seek for self, and myself alone. Yes, for certain this is the list that needs some attention in my life.

See, love is an action-word, a verb. Love must be demonstrated; it must be acted out and acted upon. It must guide our actions and the things we say and do. Moreover, love is sometimes an action word requiring inaction, restraint, and self-control. It is a way of being in the world, a way of living life, every day, even (and especially) when it’s hard.

Love in action: be love

When the tiny things grate on our nerves, love is patience and kindness. When we feel our opinion must be heard, love holds it’s tongue and stops self-seeking. When our spouse or friend makes the same mistake (you know, the one you told them really annoys you), love keeps no record of their wrong.

And our love—does it always protect, always trust, always hope, and always persevere?

Those, my friends, are some VERBS—soul-attending, voice-stilling, heart-opening verbs!

In this holiday season ahead perhaps our love could look or “act” differently? Perhaps you can join me on working on these ideals—not as a goal of perfection, but as a way of living out of grace and beauty and compassion? A way of being with others, especially those we espouse to love and serve?

Won’t you let love guide your actions, as well as your inactions?
Won’t you join me in living out love? Acting out of love?
If love indeed is a verb…
let’s be love!

* This ancient text was written two-thousand years ago by the Apostle Paul and appears in the First Letter to the Corinthian Church in The Holy Bible.

Loving someone takes action

Loving someone takes action

It’s 4:30 am and I awake to the smell of apples cooking.  I stretch and move Sam, our dog, off my feet so I can get up to stir the apples.  I don’t think I imagined at the age of 13 or 14 that I would sleep all night on my couch and stir apples cooking in a roaster every two hours so my family could have Grandma’s apple butter for the holidays, but here I am, loving every minute of it.

As I add the cinnamon flavor, the aroma fills my kitchen and I can almost see my mom and grandma
sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying a cup of coffee and great conversation. Watching them together, it
was always obvious the love they shared for one another.

My Grandma’s apple butter was a staple at our house growing up and to be honest, I’ve never tasted store bought apple butter. I sometimes see it in the store and think maybe I should buy it. But I pass it up
knowing it won’t be as good. As is often the case, I took for granted that it would just be there, available anytime I wanted some. I also took for granted the work that went into those reddish-brown jars of caramelized apples. Although I had witnessed the process, it wasn’t until Grandma shared her recipe with me and I made it, that I realized, making apple butter is a labor of love.

Cooking with Love

Most of our family’s meals were raised in our gardens, harvested in the fall and canned or frozen to enjoy throughout the year.  We spent many hours picking and cleaning green beans, shucking corn or enjoying fresh strawberries while growing up, always with mom and grandma by our side showing us how it was done.

I retrieved fresh eggs from Grandma’s chicken coop and watched my Grandfather collect honey from his
hives many times when I was younger. Although they told us often they loved us, their actions surrounded us and we never doubted their love.

Spending time with my grandparents happened weekly and almost always involved food. Whether it was Sunday dinners, Thanksgiving or Christmas, the air was filled with mouth-watering aromas from the kitchen, the deep baritone laughter of my grandfather and us impatiently waiting for the blessing over the meal to be done.

Passing it along

It’s been 30 years since my mom passed and 22 for my grandmother, so for me canning apple butter is so much more than simply filling jars. It’s sharing a part of my heritage with our children, our family and
friends. It’s remembering that I was completely loved as a daughter of Gatha and Doug and granddaughter of Sarah and Roland. It has taught me that sometimes loving is hard and time-consuming, but it’s worth it.

One of the ways I love my children and others is through my cooking just like Grandma. When my son
comes home from college or my daughter has had a bad day, my first thought is what can I cook for them
to make them feel better. When I hear someone is sick or struggling with life, I wonder what they would
like for dinner.

Loving someone takes action, whether it’s making them a meal, sending them a card or just spending time with them making apple butter. And the return is just as sweet. Watching my children as they sit down to a favorite meal that I prepared, is a great joy to me. It might be a simple act of love, but it is one I pass along to them and I hope someday they will pass along as well.