Last year at the time, my dear college friends and I were gathered around our friend, Keith, who was dying in the hospital. Friends flew in from the west coast. We all drove several hours multiple times to be with him. Though he was unconscious, we all hoped and prayed that he could feel our presence.
Keith was like a brother to me. And I never got to say “goodbye” to him when he was conscious. At the time, it would’ve been a welcomed sense of closure to have been able to talk to him, for us to say what we needed to say to each other, and to say our goodbyes.
Many years ago, Keith hurt me. When I was working in Guatemala, we planned for him to visit me. I was so excited for his visit. I was having a hard time in this new country. And his familiar presence would be a welcomed gift of “home.” When he arrived, we went to a small cafe in Antigua, Guatemala, and I was excited to catch up. But then, Keith dropped a bomb on me that crushed my spirit. And it wasn’t just that one moment that he had hurt me. I learned that he had hurt me in several moments.
Over the years, we worked through it. That took a lot of time. I forgave him. Eventually he was even in our wedding party. We were like family.
But Keith was hurting inside – for many reasons. We as friends and family tried to love him through his pain. We would invite him to come and visit us, and he would either not respond or decline. We all wanted to love him into wholeness.
At first it hurt that he wouldn’t visit or commit to spending time with us. Over time, I learned that I’d ask and he’d never come. I felt sad and longed for him to enjoy the comfort and love we had to extend to him, to let himself be wrapped up in that love.
A few years ago, Keith was in the hospital. My mom and I went to see him. He looked terrible. Something was really wrong and he was in denial. I wanted to go into “fix it” mode and planning mode. But my mom?! My dear, wise mom. Do you know what she was doing instead? I looked over and she was rubbing Keith’s feet.
My mom was rubbing his feet.
I can look back now and see that my mom somehow knew that his addiction would eventually kill him and that the only thing to do was to love him. Love him where he is, as he is. Love him in this moment. Offer him warmth, comfort, and love in this moment.
She recognized that her job wasn’t to fix him or judge him. Her role was to meet him where he was and show him love. To want nothing from him. To recognize that his path was his own. And her role on that path was to offer him love with no hint of “I want you to be different.”
Please don’t get me wrong. Yes, I imagine my mom still held out hope that his addiction wouldn’t take over his life, that he would recover, and that he would have a good life. I imagine my mom would have loved for things to be different. But she loved him where he was at. And she loved him in a way that created room for him to be on his soul’s path. And throughout his life when he was with my mom, Keith exhaled.
My mom understood that she only saw a small part of the unfolding path of his soul. She bowed to the mystery and offered to do her part: to love him as he is.
I learned from my mom how to set Keith free. I decided I’d love him even in my frustration and desire for it to be different. And the greatest gift I could give to him was just…love. “I love you as you are.”
That didn’t take away the angst, nor the desire for it to be different, nor the sadness. But I related to it all differently.
It didn’t take away the planning and the strategizing that we as friends tried to do. But undergirding my efforts was this feeling of forgiveness and setting him free.
Loving him “as is” also meant having boundaries to take care of my family. Because of his addiction, I wouldn’t have let him drive with my children or watch my children alone. But I saw how I could take care of myself and my family while loving Keith with this new found awareness of my part to play in his soul’s journey.
One night before Keith passed away, I was driving home from the hospital by myself when I “heard” Keith’s voice. He said to me, “Please forgive me.”
If I had been holding anything against him and holding on to any hurt, in that moment I offered it at the altar of my Heart. I laid to down at the feet of the Beloved. I bowed to the mystery that I didn’t know the full picture. And I didn’t have to understand it.
In this last year of not having Keith around, there has been a softening taking place within me. Gradually, I am loving people as they are. I’m slowly letting them just be human. I am allowing for things to not be perfect – not be packaged and tied up in a nice bow. I realize that lives can end without closure and it can be okay. I see how there’s so much grasping in this life to “do it all” and “enjoy everything” – with bucket lists and such. Not that bucket lists are a bad thing. I just realized that within my quest for closure and accomplishing, I was grasping. I was afraid.
And today, I find that I’m beginning to be okay with not accomplishing everything on a bucket list (if I had one). I’m beginning to be okay if I don’t end this life tying up loose ends in a nice, neat package. I’m beginning to be okay with incompleteness.
I see now how the way I was going about accomplishing, trying to always tie up loose end, and grasping to complete things was based on fear. Fear that I am not enough, good enough, and not worthy. And those are just lies.
The bigger truth is that we belong to a Bigger Love. And that Love is complete. I don’t get it. I can’t logically explain it. But I believe in it. And I believe the Beloved is always trying to extend the invitation to us to let go and fall into this Bigger Love that can hold us until our fears dissolve.
I’m okay. And I’m okay with God.
There’s a quiet freedom that comes from such a posture. I can’t really explain it. I bow to the numinous. I bow to the mystery. And that makes this moment so sweet and so sacred to experience with my dear ones…as it is.
I thank Keith for this. The darkness and the light of our journey together have opened me to such a freedom that I never knew before. And I am so grateful.
It enables me to love people where they are – deeper than my strategies, effort, agendas, and ideas for how things “should” be.
I can feel the exhale in my children. I can see the light growing in my husband’s eyes — because of the freedom they experience when I love them “as they are.”
Maybe you have a middle schooler who is pulling away from you. Maybe you have a daughter who is very different than you. Maybe you have a high schooler who isn’t making good choices. Maybe you have a friend who is struggling with an addiction. Maybe you are gathering with family this holiday season, and you have issues with a few people in your family that trigger you.
Loving our dear ones “as they are” doesn’t mean we let go of healthy boundaries. It doesn’t mean we neglect self-care. It doesn’t mean we stop making plans to get our dear ones the help they need. Loving “as is” comes with angst and sadness.
But “loving as is” is a love that trusts in and bows to the Bigger Mystery than our limited understanding. We recognize that we don’t know the whole story of a person’s soul. And we begin to see how such love holds space for deep healing.
What happens when we love people “as they are”?
They see their light. They begin to believe in their goodness. They begin to not be so afraid of their own darkness. They contact their inner resiliency. They feel like they belong. They sense possibility.
Can you recall a time when you were in the presence of someone who just loved you “as you are”? Maybe you were a teenager trying to keep up with an impossible schedule and expectations. Maybe you were a new mom struggling with postpartum depression. Maybe you were having marital problems and felt embarrassed to tell anyone. Maybe you were trying to hide an addiction. Maybe you were grieving the loss of a dear one and felt like the world had moved on.
And someone paused, looked at you, and just with their presence, you knew you were loved “as you are.”
What possibility did such love open inside of you?
This holiday season, let’s practice loving others “as is” …and offer our dear ones space to really exhale.
I want to wish all of you a lovely holiday with your dear ones — loving them “as is.” I am grateful for your kind and encouraging words. Thank you for letting me know that my writings resonate with you. Thank you for supporting local and small businesses. You can find soul-nourishing touchstones in my shop. You can find meditations, my book (Gems of Delight) and Coaching – and each offering is designed to nourish you and your dear ones.