I’ve been thinking a lot about LOVE recently, and in this past week alone, I’ve been reflecting on how many times God has saved me from my self-centered thoughts and actions and reminded me to LOVE. The best way to get out of yourself is to give of yourself, and to this day, my dear mama is the one who continues to teach and affirm this example of God’s loving grace in my life. In honor of her and in great thanks to God, I want to resurrect a piece I wrote for a school chapel/assembly a number of years ago called “Love Extravagantly.”
When I was little, I used to hide beneath the tent that was my mother’s skirt – especially when we’d be standing in line at the A&P, and she would make friends with not just our cashier, but the cashier from aisles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 through 10, and the clerk serving her thankless duty behind the customer service desk. You see, ever since I can remember, my mama has been to me the personification of love. No matter the private or public arena – the mall, grocery store, or arbitrary street corner, my mom had, and still has, the ability to make someone – any one feel KNOWN and loved.
Always greeting our cashier or salesperson or waiter with a smile and identifying him or her by name, mama instantaneously transformed them from being a dismissed and shelved member of society to someone who had a beautiful face, a name, and a common humanity that made us so very equal and so much alike in all of our assorted differences. As a young sheepish papoose clothed in shyness, I would often say nothing and bury my forehead in the haven of mama’s familiar fabric, but I listened and I watched, and now, as I’m older, I remember and cannot forget. “How you feelin’ this evenin’, Miss Denise?” she’d say, and I’d shrink in embarrassment and agitation – mama had gotten off late from work again, and by now at this rate, we were sure to get home after 8:00. Often with a furrowed brow, Denise, or whomever my mom took the time to greet and acknowledge, would look up with blatant surprise, shocked that someone would bother to observe a nametag. As mama continued to engage them in conversation that dug deeper, that skeptical raised eyebrow would subside, melting beneath brightened eyes and newly revived smile muscles. This very aspect of her personality – the myriad of incessant yet important conversations with any Tom, Dick, or Harriet – that which used to make me cower, hide, and roll my eyes with impatience — is one her many traits I so value and honor today. To this day, mama has befriended everyone in her local Publix Supermarket; the moment she glides through the automatic glass doors and calls out one of their names, the collective refrain of “Heeeeey, Martha!” resounds like the Hallelujah chorus. Over the years they have exchanged little gifts, Christmas cards, sad and happy news, children’s photos, songs, and hugs.
It isn’t just charm that mama has, it isn’t mere friendliness; she didn’t win the Miss Louisiana hospitality pageant or Georgia’s “most sociable of the year” contest, nor did she just happen to have the perfect flavor of frosting to specially coat each sugary morsel she’d offer folks. Her acts of concern, care, and respect for other people are not only genuine and sincere, but are as humble as the very sediment that makes us all human. Her questions, her smiles, her handshakes and hugs – they are all real and they all wait for an answer without expecting one. No, not every one responded to mama in equal, like-minded fashion, but that was and is NOT the point. Maybe later, they’d look back and smile and perhaps share a similar exchange with someone else. Something so easy, so seemingly simple COULD and DOES and WILL make a difference.
No, this is not some premature “Happy Mother’s Day!” call to celebrate the one who gave birth to you (I mean, we should do this every day, right?), nor it is a speech on how amazing my own mother is (I mean, SHE IS, but…). Rather, I stand before you today with an open-heart appeal – a plea to LOVE AND SERVE all those around you — to see God in them. Not just your friends or your family, with whom you’ve shared the most intimate of moments and secrets and will always love, but those perhaps you would not label as “friends.” Perhaps someone in the hall you’ve certainly seen before, but never talked to…perhaps the lonely face sipping coffee in the adjacent booth at your favorite local restaurant…perhaps the helping hands that serve us lunch everyday or make it possible for us to actually walk through the hallways…perhaps an opponent on the playing field…or perhaps that cashier at Kroger who has had just as long of a day as you have and would love nothing more than to be acknowledged and share a smile. Step outside your safe comfort zone and risk noticing the other folks – the medley of beautiful souls who also make up this earth, who are just as important as you – and honor them above yourself.
Do not limit yourself in love; exceed those boundaries and pour out such a gift. Serve without the expectation of being served in return. As Kahlil Gibran writes, “it is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” I’m telling you there is nothing greater than seeing the face of someone who feels loved – identified – counted – valued. Even a simple gesture or smile – a visible extension of that love – can change someone’s day – can alter someone’s life. Count every person on this earth, our island home, as a valuable member – just like you. We are far more alike in our humble humanity than we are different because of status, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic class, age, or belief. Celebrate your brothers and sisters, honor their differences, but recognize that they are far more like you than you may realize.
Through my mama’s direct actions with others and her obvious commitment to being a servant to all those around her, she has taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life – we must be responsible for our every action and in our vital consciousness to LOVE OTHERS. My friends, on this day and every day, make it your responsibility to LOVE and to LOVE EXTRAVAGANTLY.
Finally, I want to offer and share far superior words of wisdom from another hero of mine. In her book, Words to Love by, Mother Teresa writes:
“We are supposed to preach without preaching
not by words, but by our example, by our actions.
All works of love are works of peace.”
“At the end of life we will not be judged by
how many diplomas we have received
how much money we have made
how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by
“I was hungry and you gave me to eat
I was naked and you clothed me
I was homeless and you took me in.”
Hungry not only for bread
-but hungry for love
Naked not only for clothing
-but naked of human dignity and respect
Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks
-but homeless because of rejection.”
As Kahil Gibran notes in his book The Prophet, I pray that we may “wake at dawn with a winged heart / And give thanks for another day of loving . . .”