Open love letter to the people of the world

Today is Ash Wednesday and tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

These are both important days because one is about life, death and love, and the other is about life, death and love.

Poems for Lent

As my spiritual practice for Lent this year, I will write a poem every day. Prayers and poems are good friends, sometimes one and the same. In writing poetry during Lent, I hope to grow closer to the light.

Poems as gifts

Have you already picked out something to give to your Valentine? Why not add a poem? Don’t worry about not knowing poetry. You already recognize a good poem without having to think about it or spend years working at it.

Poetry is a God-given right

The essence is in you from birth. You can refine your abilities, as a reader, writer and listener, but you already have poetry in your heart, passed down from the time you lived beneath your mother’s heart.

My poem for you today

I want you to know
I’ve had a good time here so far.
You open the door for me and
I notice your thoughtfulness.

Thank you for making this a world where doors open.

I want you to know
you belong here.
How you are and who you are matters.
Those around you today might not be the same people around you tomorrow.
Tell them today why you’re glad to see them.

Thank you for being part of this time on earth.

I want you to know
you’re not alone.
Someone else is awake at 3 a.m. You’re not alone.
Loneliness doesn’t have to be a killer.
It can be the start of a friendship
if you give it words.

Someone I didn’t know well called and asked how I was doing.
“I’m lonely,” I said.
“I’ll come over,” she said.
She brought a pizza. We became friends. We had babies.
Our babies played together. It started with saying, “I’m lonely.”

Loneliness comes to everyone. Single people
might think marriage is an answer but if you
know enough married people, you know
loneliness can live there too among the married.

Give the loneliness a place to be. Put it in words.
Put it in art. Put it in song. You can make something
out of your loneliness. Be an alchemist.

Thank you for not giving up because of
moments of loneliness. Thank you for staying.

I want you to know
your feelings have value but not always meaning.
We have times we feel abandoned and betrayed.
Go on. Don’t let pain be the end of you.
Make peace with it.
Sometimes it’s just a feeling and it doesn’t mean anything
about you.
Feelings are clouds passing by.
Some are bright, some are thunderheads.
Let them all pass by. You’re a sky, not a cloud.

Thank you for living in a world of feelings
even when they’re hard feelings.

I want you to know
there’s more to find out.
Keep looking!
Keep finding out!
Splash your face with curiosity and
wake up!
Go toward the thing that makes your heart pound.
Get to know what you fear.
Keep finding things to wonder about.

Thank you for teaching me that it’s interesting to live.

I want you to know
I appreciate you believing in me
when I didn’t believe in life.
You, the people of the world, did this for me! You gave me the sense
I was part of something important, this adventure where we pack our
bags with different items but we all have stories.

Thank you for trusting me with your real stories.

I want you to know
I notice all the big and small things you do.
You help me with my zipper when my own hands can’t do it.
You feed me when I’m hungry.
You say, “Don’t worry about your life.”
You give me a ride when it’s cold and rainy out.
You ask after me.
You know my favorite kind of donut.
You go out of your way to make sure I’m safe.
You smile.
You bring me my favorite drink, hot tea with sugar.
You are patient with children and tender with the old.
You say my name with affection.

Thank you for making my life lighter.

I want you to know
I like hearing you laugh:
children, friends over lunch in a restaurant,
people reminiscing how their loved ones were,
missing them but still
laughing because they could be so funny
about sand in the house or about the speed of the coffee maker.

Thank you for the sound of laughter. Thank you for
remembering those who have gone.

I want you to know
love still matters.
Look around. Who do you love?
Tell them. Tell them in a hundred ways.
Enjoy them! Hug them, serve them food,
forgive them, write them notes. Say,

This is what I see in you.

You try hard. You get frustrated and discouraged but you go on.
You might have times of feeling alone or in pain but go on.

Thank you, world, for going on.

Go on.
Go on.
I love you.
God bless you.

Go on.

Maryam: never far from a friend


“I think God knows what he is doing with us,” says my friend Maryam.

Maryam is a woman of faith, bravery and sweetness.

  • Faith because she sees God’s work in her own life.
  • Bravery because she is a public speaker in a foreign language in a foreign country.
  • Sweetness because she is quick to smile and notice kindness in others.

Daring to try

MaryamAbout a year and a half ago, Maryam left her home of Iran to be at her husband’s side in the U.S. while he worked on his Ph.D. studies in physics at Mizzou. She wanted to learn English better and work on speaking so her husband took her to a meeting of the Downtown Toastmasters Club where I am a member.

How was her first meeting? “It was really frightening!” she said. People were hard to understand because they spoke so fluently and fast. Not one to give up easily, she kept returning every week to our Toastmasters meeting.

Her first goal was learning English but more than just finding a place to practice English speaking, she found many good friends. Her new friendships gave her the opportunity to know American culture and let us learn more about Iranian culture over the past year of her membership in Toastmasters.

Maryam gave a speech on how Iranians celebrate their new year in spring with special foods and meaningful symbols on the table . She taught us how they stay up together during the longest night until they see the sun rise. She spoke to us of Persian poets and how their words live in her heart. She made us laugh about her wedding photos and her attempts to make her face look sexy.

American and Iranian cultural exchanges

I asked her how it has been to live in America. She said, “We say America is the land of opportunity. If you can study hard and work hard, you get the best job. It doesn’t depend on your religion or your politics.”

Maryam’s sweet spirit and openness are charming. She looks for the goodness in people. She said, “All Americans are really kind people. People are so open when I say, ‘I’m a foreigner. I came from another country and I’m learning English.’ They encourage me and help me.”

I asked if she ever had difficult experiences because she is a Muslim from Iran and things can seem tense between our two countries. No one has ever said anything bad to her. She said, “Don’t trust your TV. When two governments are not so good to each other, they can make the people of the other country look bad. But people are completely different than politics. We all work, we all have children.”

Challenging days on her own made her stronger

In Iran, adult children usually only leave their parents when they marry. Maryam was an exception. She applied for a MA degree in the south of Iran, far from her family in Tehran. She was alone and had to learn how to handle things by herself. She worked, studied and made friends. After graduation, she got a job that required travel for work. Those days made her stronger.

Life often surprises us. She could never have predicted her current situation living 6,800 miles from home. But she explained that coming to the U.S. was not so hard. Her faith and a sense of purpose gave her strength. She says, “God had a plan. He was preparing me. Because of those days on my own, I could bear being alone without my parents and family. Now I’m OK, no problem!”

No matter where she is, she will never be far from a friend because she makes friends so easily.

Funny stories for the future

Where will she go from here? Maryam says she is not satisfied with her English and feels she should work harder. She used to write a blog and stories in Farsi, her native language. Now she dreams of being a writer in English and making funny stories out of everyday life.

I treasure my friendship with Maryam. Whether she is giving a speech or writing a story, she has an audience in me!

Give that horse a banana!

Devon sees the bananaWhat’s the typical thing to give a horse as a treat? Apples and carrots, right? But I know a horse named Devon who is different. Devon loves bananas.

When he sees that I have a banana, his eyes brighten, his ears perk up and he’s quick to the door. He even licks my hand afterward to get every taste of banana he can. Bananas are from heaven for Devon.

Do you give what you expect your loved ones to want (apples and carrots) without knowing for sure if it is their heart’s desire (bananas)?

Time to play games

I used to get my husband books, candy and clothes. Those were things he liked and they were easy to buy. Then I realized the sweetest treat I could give him wasn’t anything sugary. It would be playing games with him. Now I make time to play card games like Blitz and bluffing games like liar’s dice.

A friend told me listening and kind words are her banana. She appreciates when someone pays close attention to her feelings and responds by saying the things she needs to hear in that moment.

A pack of gum

After I graduated from college, I went overseas for an internship. There I met Rachel from Oklahoma. As the only young Americans working in a small town in Belgium, we were drawn together. Over a dinner of pasta as we got to know each other, she told me her dreams about how her future husband would be. What she said has stayed with me for two decades.

“He wouldn’t bring me roses on Valentine’s Day. I don’t want flowers when everyone else gets them. I’d love a pack of gum on an ordinary day if he brought it home to me and said, ‘I thought of you at the gas station and got this gum for you.’ Just knowing my husband had thought of me would be better than Valentine roses,” she said.

Since our time overseas, Rachel married and has been with her husband for 14 years now. While away on business, her husband recently posted a photo on Facebook of a beer on a Friday night. Now a cold glass of beer might be enough to make most guys happy, but for the photo caption he wrote, “Just wish my favorite lady was here to share it.” Her husband’s thoughtfulness makes her feel like the most important person in the world. Even thousands of miles away, he always has her on his mind.

Ask, understand, give

Devon enjoys his banana.Often we give what we like to get, or we give the typical choice. Horses eat carrots, right? Instead, ask your loved ones, “What is special to you?” Take time to understand them and their deepest values. Let them surprise you. Work to delight them.

Give that husband a game partner, give that wife a pack of gum and give that horse a banana!

What makes your heart sing? Do you know someone who gives affection in an unexpected way? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!