“Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.” Hebrews 10:24

The “pumpkin spice everything” season has arrived, invading coffee shops, bakeries and Pinterest, and indicating that summer is ending.  Soon, warmer temperatures will cool, flannels will cover up t-shirts, and boots will replace sandals.  Despite this ending, I have a bounty of summer delights filling my freezer and pantry: frozen peas, fire-roasted tomatoes, corn salsa, strawberry-honey butter, blueberry-orange syrup, mixed berry jam and homemade ketchup.  With the pop of a lid or the unzipping of a bag I can be instantly transported to the hazy days of summer with the smell of sweet strawberries, blueberries, and tomatoes.  Along with this flavorful bounty, I have spent my summer preserving memories with my loved ones.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions, I traveled a little this summer, using common sense and following social distancing guidelines, including wearing masks.  All my travel involved seeing family and friends, including a wedding, and meeting my grandson for the first time.  The pandemic forced me to prioritize my time, slow down to savor moments and create memories.  In the past, I have enjoyed my trips to major cities, hustling along with crowds to catch glimpses of memorials and famous buildings.  But this summer was not about tourist attractions, or cultural experiences, it was about relationships.

One of my visits this summer was to not-so-exotic Lincoln, Nebraska.  I am not disparaging Lincoln; it is clean city with beautiful old houses, tall oak trees, and frolicking red squirrels the size of small dogs.  Yet, it is not a major tourist destination where everybody “likes” the photos of your big summer vacation.  It doesn’t appear on most bucket lists unless you are a college football fan or attempting to hit all 50 states.  It is just your typical, flat, friendly mid-west city.  But Lincoln holds a special place in my heart and not just because it was where I discovered my love for Indian food.  Lincoln is home to my sister and brother-in-law and their two children, affectionately known as A and E.

Maggie, Auntie Cho and my niece, Emma!

My sister, Cheryl, and I both moved away from Wisconsin within a year of each other.  She moved west and I moved east.  At the time, she had the distinction of being everyone’s favorite aunt.   My children and their cousins all loved their “Auntie Cho”!  She would swoop into town and the children would surround her, listening to her sing silly songs and make funny faces with her.  She would buy them suckers with insects inside, set up petri dishes around the house to collect bacteria, and tell them funny stories.  She introduced them to skiing and ice skating.  She sent them postcards from her world travels and tried to create cultural experiences with them by introducing them to foods such as prosciutto and borscht.  She was the Pied Piper, leading them on adventures and enriching their lives.  Even my children’s friends loved her and were delighted when she showed up at birthday parties where they all clamored for her attention.

After moving to Lincoln, “Auntie Cho” got married in 2012 and soon had two children of her own.  The distance between us has been challenging because I am unable to be a part of the daily lives of my niece and nephew.  Yet, if I have any hope of a relationship with them, I need to be intentional in building and maintaining a connection with them.  Over the past year, I have been sending them homemade cards, sometimes including stickers, in the mail.  I try to FaceTime with them regularly, occasionally reading a story to them.  I even demonstrated how to make jam for my nephew, who is a miniature sous-chef and lover of all things jam!

A and E with snacks and a pile of games for our “Game Night”!

Recently, this intentionality brought me to Lincoln while my sister and her husband took the opportunity to get away for a few days alone.  I used that time to create memories with A and E by myself.  We had a blast baking cookies, taking walks, reading books, playing games, and building Lego creations.  I was introduced to Barb, the hard rock Troll, pancakes on a stick, and Guess Who.  We listened to a lot of music on Alexa, planned adventures for next summer in Pennsylvania, and told silly stories right before we went to sleep.  It was a fun-filled, few days that I hope created lasting memories.

I have learned something in the last few years: it is too easy to make excuses as to why important relationships fade.  For about two years, I made excuses as to why I didn’t try to connect more strongly with A and E: the distance was too far, they were too little, and I was too busy.  All of that is true, and, honestly, there was a time when I had a lot of personal issues that needed my full attention.  I did not have the energy to actively contribute to anyone else’s life.  But that time has passed and establishing a relationship with them why I still can is important to me.  Therefore, I am making it a point to connect with them!

The other thing that I have learned is that it does not need to take a huge amount of planning or energy to connect to people.  A short text, a simple home-made card, a phone call or just some time carved out of your day are all that is needed to make those connections.  Extravagant dinner plans with Pinterest worthy charcuterie boards are fun to create, but not necessary when entertaining friends.  Elaborate craft projects are exciting to do with little ones, but sometimes, just sitting down and coloring with them, is all that is needed.  Raking your neighbor’s leaves might be a blessing to them, but even a simple hello and asking them how they are doing can brighten their day.

Jesus was a master at connecting with people.  He met a woman at a well, asked her a few simple questions, and changed her life.  He went to the homes of people with questionable reputations, ate dinner with them, and made connections, leading them to repentance.  He was never too busy for children, instead welcoming them into his arms and taking the time to bless them.  He looked for simple opportunities to make profound connections!

A and E with me in Wisconsin for a wedding.

Even his disciples carried on his ministry by making connections.  Paul spent a lot of time in his epistles greeting different men and women with whom he had cultivated relationships.  Furthermore, he said in Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”.  I love how The Message Bible translates this passage with these words, “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.”  I know that, in context, it continues to imply that we should not avoid worshiping together, but I think Paul is trying to convey a bigger principle in this passage.  Taking the time to connect with others, whether over a cup of coffee or an elaborate dinner, creates an atmosphere of love for others and encourages them to be better people.

The time my sister spent with my children was invaluable.  She could have made excuses: she was pursuing a master’s degree at the time, traveling all over the world, leading a full life.  Yet, she still took time to spend with my children which added to their lives.  I, too, could make excuses on this rainy Sunday afternoon.  I have three captivating books from the library I am looking forward to reading.  I could organize my pantry or curl up and take a nap.  Instead, I have two little cards to make and send to A and E, along with the promised paper puppets so they can perform a puppet show for their mom and dad.  These puppets are not Pinterest worthy, but hopefully they will show A and E that I love and care for them.

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