Love is…

family, love, traditionThe writer of I Corinthians (or as Donald Trump would call it: One Corinthians) Chapter 13 begins by telling us what love is. As a PK (preacher’s kid), I grew up knowing it (and many other verses) by heart. Today, on Valentine’s Day, I would like to add a few more definitions to that author’s description.

I am blessed to have a lot of  love in my life. My beautiful wife, Carmen…my sons Jeremy and Brad…my daughter-in-law Holly and her kids Donny and Charity…my mother and father-in-law, Judy and Dave, my mother-in-law Kathleen, my sister and brothers…and of course my dear friends. Each relationship brings its lessons in love and in life. I could fill a book (maybe someday I actually will!) with the lessons learned.

Careful readers will notice I did not mention three other loves in my life; two of my newest loves and the oldest.


Love is tough

I don’t do well with blood. I don’t care if it’s mine or someone else’s, if it is more than a little scratch, it makes me queasy. Perhaps this goes back to my childhood when I had a couple of run ins with glass doors which involved a LOT of blood and a LOT of stitches.  I don’t know, at any rate, I try to avoid it. Yet, here I was, my hands covered in blood, my dad’s blood. Ok, before you think I off’ed my dad or something, let me explain.

Dad had prostate surgery this summer. Since it had been performed as an outpatient procedure, I did not want him to be alone that first night (for that matter, neither did the doctor). The nurses gave us instructions for care over the next 24 hours…instructions that included removing his catheter…seemed easy enough…easy if seeing your dad naked for the first time in about 50 years easy. So, there we were the following morning. Dad sitting on the commode, hanging out in all his glory. Me, on my knees in front of him, gently pulling on a catheter. But…something was wrong. They said there might be a little blood. The catheter would not come out. This was not a little blood. I stopped pulling and called the emergency nurse at his retirement center. Dad lives in a section that does not include nursing care. However, I think the quaking in my voice convinced the nurse she needed to buck protocol and come immediately. Thankfully, she did, and thankfully, it was nothing serious, just a case of someone (me) not fully understanding the instructions given. She quickly removed the catheter..and, as for me?  I cleaned up the blood.

THAT my friends is love!

Over the last few years since mom died, as my dad ages, we have had role reversal. The parent has become the child, the child the parent. I am closer to my dad now than at any other point in my life. We share everything, we go through everything together (including catheter removal!). We have had some tremendous times together (like going to Indians baseball games), we have had some ugly times together, arguing over life’s challenges:

“Quit treating me like a child!”

“Quit acting like one!”

Hard to say for sure, but I am positive as the words left our mouths, we realized the other had said the same thing 40 or so years ago.

He is one of the wisest people I know, so I sought his counsel when considering a job change. His thoughts were insightful and incredibly helpful. It was a poignant afternoon as we talked about his career and mine.

Late in the summer, my brother and I had to take his car away. THAT was one of the uglier moments!

No matter the day, no matter the challenge, he and I hug and tell each other we love the other.

Raising a parent IS like raising a child. You love them unconditionally, and you know they love you, as well. Yet love does not mean you give them everything they want. Love means sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for them, even if they don’t agree, even though they get angry. Love is tough (in many different ways)!


Love is communicating

Braxton Kirby Ton-Blake, my first time experiencing the love of a grandparent! All I can say to those who have experienced it is, “you were right!”. To those who have not had the joy, “It is unlike anything you will ever experience!”

Braxton is now three years old. A couple of years ago, we realized that Braxton was not developing like a typical one-year old. Our fears were realized when he was assessed and found to be on the Autism Disorder spectrum. He is a bright, beautiful boy, but as of now, does not speak. (Honestly, heartbreaking and yet, another definition of love, but that’s not for this story). For those who have experienced the challenge of Autism, you know one of the manifestations of it is “meltdowns” (ok, not a medical term, but you know what I mean). While many toddlers exhibit temper tantrums (our grandson Jordan is an expert “drama queen” when it comes to these), trying to work with a child who is autistic and does not speak during a meltdown is especially challenging.

One Saturday this summer, Jeremy and Braxton arrived on our doorstep for a visit. Braxton was in mid-meltdown! SCAAAAAHREEEEEEEEEAMING! Jeremy explained they left their house to come over and Braxton thought they were going for a ride in the car (I guess, I should mention they live next door). As they passed the car and headed out of the garage, the screaming commenced!

He was inconsolable. Trying to get him to play with any of his toys got nothing but louder screams in response. Thinking perhaps he was hungry just resulted in food flying across the room. Jeremy said he would take him home. Maybe get in the car and drive over. Instead, I took Braxton by the hand, still screaming, and led him throughout the house. Still screaming. Back to the master bedroom. Still screaming. Pointing out the window. Still Screaming. To the kitchen. Still screaming. I picked him up and took him upstairs to the playroom. Still Screaming.

For what seemed like hours, but was probably 15 or 20 minutes, he screamed. I put him down. He screamed and wanted in my arms. I picked him up. He screamed and kicked me. I put him down. He screamed and wanted back in my arms. I picked him up.

Still screaming, we walked downstairs and out into the garage. I put on my boots (still screaming) and we headed out to take a walk by the creek. Still screaming. We walked across the foot bridge (I don’t have to say it again, right, you know by now, he was still screaming) and down to the creek. We threw rocks in the water and watched the ripples. We moved on. The screams now more like whining, but still loud enough to scare the doe that was sleeping across the creek. We walked north along the creek. Soon, the screaming and whining stopped. Still carrying him, we walked to the north end of our property and looped to head back.

Braxton got down and held tightly to my hand as we trekked toward the barn. Now he was actively looking at the birds and the trees. He watched the water in the creek intently. I must confess, we took our own sweet time heading back to the house, just my best buddy and me. It was a moment long in coming, and it was a moment I never wanted to end. Love is communicating (even when you don’t have words)!


Love is joyful

If ever there was a toddler that embodied pure joy, it is Jordan Jeffrey Ton! His has one of those smiles that spreads across his face and enwraps his entire body (think of a puppy dog when you come home from work)!

My favorite picture of Jordan was taken this summer. Whenever I want to instantly smile and laugh out loud (the REAL LOL, not the LOL of text messages!), I find that picture. We were having a family picnic in the backyard, it might have been our Father’s Day picnic, I can’t recall now. What I do remember is the whole family was there. Jordan was cute as a button in his shorts and onesie. He had on a floppy hat. Carmen was pushing him in the swing, his hat blowing back each time he swung forward. His mouth open wide in a huge grin (just a couple of teeth showing by now) and giggling with each push. Sheer pure joy!

This past December, Jordan discovered Santa, or Tanta, as he called him, unable to pronounce an
“s” yet. Each time he saw Santa, he would point, bubble with excitement and grin that joyful grin and exclaim, “Tanta”! I did not realize how many “Tantas” we had around our house until Jordan visited. With each one, and with the same amount of excitement and joy, he would point out “Tanta”!  As we ran throughout the house playing and finding “Tantas”, I would always add the “Ho, Ho, Ho!”

On Christmas Eve, we started a new tradition (or at least, I hope what will be a tradition). We called it “Cookies and Cocktails”. (For the record, the kids got the cookies!) Given the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, the idea was a quick stop for both Brad and Jeremy and their families at Grandma and Grandpa Ton’s on Christmas Eve. Straight out of Christmas Vacation, I got to play Clark Griswold and read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Braxton was crashed from the excitement of the day, so while he napped, we all gathered by the fireplace for the story. Jordan, still very much full of energy, was at my feet (somewhat). As I read the book, it was Tanta that caught his attention. With each and every page, he would point, cry out “Tanta” …and then in a low voice (I kid you not!) add in a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”! I could barely even read the book, I was laughing so hard tears were flowing down my cheeks (no wonder Santa’s cheeks are rosey). Everyone was laughing so hard! Love is joy (whether you are two or 58!)


Whatever your definition of love is…I hope you have it this Valentine’s Day! I hope you can look back on your year and your life and find many definitions of love. I would be honored if you would share your stories here in the comments on Rivers of Thought.

With love, Jeff


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6 replies
  1. Jon Kizer
    Jon Kizer says:

    Great story as usual Jeff! Robbyn and I got a glimpse of future Valentine’s Days this weekend – sans kids! Our son is at a retreat so we spent quality time together. Nothing fancy – just quiet time by the fire, hanging out and experiencing “comfortable” love.

  2. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Just for you — I’m sitting at a country concert with Cassadee Pope and Chris Young and I just read this entire blog – I have tears streaming down my cheeks – You are just so incredibly SPECIAL and you Write so so well.


    Loads of hugs and love, KATHLEEN ❤️💖💋💘💕


  3. Patrick Spencer
    Patrick Spencer says:

    Jeff, great story and thanks for sharing. Deb and I are going through the role reversal with our parents and that truly is a whole new way of thinking, acting and loving with your parents. But, with the love they gave us, is there any other way of doing life?

    You referred to I Corinthians and in that book as well as in most of the Bible, it talks about abundance. Most people think of abundance as houses, cars and promotions. But, last week, Deb and I spent Super Bowl weekend (can I say that?) in Orlando, FL, with our daughter and her new husband, Dylan. For the first time since their wedding in October, we had a chance just to sit, relax and talk about their new life together. We witnessed how good they are for each other and was able to share in their excitement of good things happening in their jobs, their new church and new set of friends. And, we met our new grand-doggy, Evelyn Sue Taylor, otherwise known as “Evie”. Deb and I left seeing a “glimpse” of things to come and believe that to be the “abundant” life we are all looking for.

    Thanks again for making us think and share with your post.


  4. Emily Butler
    Emily Butler says:

    Hello My Friend Jeff,

    I am just reading your post, and it feels like I missed a special blessing by not reading it on Valentine’s Day.

    Thank you for revealing just a little bit more of your soul.

    You have been uniquely gifted with the talent to paint a word picture as you tell your story. It is brushed with colors that are pure, real, and then accented with such truly special shades of lighting.

    As we all get so very focused on “doing” versus ”being,” and I am speaking of myself mostly here, we lose perspective. You have done a fine job of providing an opportunity to refocus. It’s not about what’s in the head, but the heart, and being “still” enough to experience life as it unfolds.

    We can recite First Corinthians all day long, but without loving others, it’s of no value…Just as the verses tell us.

    The experiences with your Dad, and most of your post, honestly, brought a gushing of memories back to me. I’ve experienced becoming the parent to my Mom, as we walked thru her journey with Alzheimer’s Dementia. Just as she cared for me, it was my turn to care for her. I’ve not parented a child, and was not prepared to play this role to my highly independent, iron willed, and truly wise Mom. But, that is what I needed to do for her, and you are completely right. That’s Love on both accounts.

    Each time I have walked thru a difficult time with family and friends, I’ve found myself thinking it is just life interrupted. But…It isn’t. It’s Life. And it’s a story of Love, if lived well. We have the choice to simply slog thru it, or to live, and help others to live thru it too. There’s purpose and ability to thrive, including special little moments, just as you described.

    As my story continues to develop, I am learning to be still, and to listen, and to experience love………Psalms 46:10. The poem below reflects just this. It is the product of my latest conversation with my Father.

    A Conversation with My Father:

    Help me see,
    Help me to be.

    Help me to know,
    Help me to go.

    Assure my steps,
    Confirm my path.

    A way you have prepared for me,
    Search me Lord, and help me be.

    The woman shaped by your hand,
    To reflect your light in this dark land.

    Your will and your way,
    Lord help me to discern.

    For all that you have taught me,
    Lord help me to have learned.

    I want my life to daily, be worth your death.
    With a heart to serve those that you send across my path.

    I desire to see so much more,
    And help me God today to see my current chore.

    I really do not know what step to take,
    For this day Lord, help me know what step to make.

    I thank you for this day,
    For helping me walk thru the long and narrow way.

    And at the end, I seek to hear,
    Welcome good and faithful servant, sit here, stay near.

    For now you can see me as never could you before,
    For at last you have walked thru that final, wide open door.

    And yes, without you on earth, there would have been a hole,
    Thank you good and faithful servant for fulfilling your role.

    I made no mistakes for the path that I designed,
    Yes, you struggled mightily to follow my will, and yours to resign.

    But you let me work my will and my way in you,
    My refining hand to humble and to mold you.

    You had no others around you on which to depend,
    Others may learn that lesson much closer to the end.

    I garnered your attention through storms that raged with no end.
    You learned each day to be a little more still, and even to the end.

    It is in those storms you sought me the most,
    You surrendered your will, and sought my spirit to be your host.

    While clumsy and cumbersome, you persevered,
    And now my child you fully have audience with the Father you have revered.

    Welcome home my child. Welcome home!

  5. Kathleen McClanahan-Gruhl
    Kathleen McClanahan-Gruhl says:

    I have tears streaming down my face – what
    a beautiful story told by one of the BEST WRITERS I know – Jeff you never seize to amaze me with your incredible story telling – I just wish I’d experienced some of those precious moments with you and Carmen – cherish those beautiful Grandsons ~ they are so blessed to have both of you. First Corinthians 13 ( I think ) was my sorority verse
    that we began every meeting with – one of the worlds’ best !!! HAPPY VALENTINES DAY!!!7


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