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You’ll likely be surprised by this thought…this year I think you should make your anniversary about you.

Granted, that might feel a little less anniversary-ish and a little more narcissistic-ish. But hear me out.

I read a letter recently that stuck with me. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck authored the classic books Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, but he was also a prolific letter writer. This letter was written in response to his son, Thom, who had written for advice after falling in love for the first time. Steinbeck shared with him some profound fatherly wisdom that has knocked around in my mind ever since.

This part in particular:

“There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”

Steinbeck didn’t start with a comment or question about Thom’s girl. Not right then, anyway. He began with Thom.

Who knows what Steinbeck had experienced in his own life. What was in the back of his mind as he wrote his reply. But he had, apparently, over the years, learned that love is a fire that starts in our own hearts and must be tended with care. How well we do that shows in how we treat, and even how we perceive, the ones we love.

Essentially Thom had a choice with what he would do with that flame…share love in a way that gave life to himself and to the one he loved, or to burn and to use and to blind.

Love adds passion and intensity to us. And what that intensity brings out from us says a whole lot more about us than it does about the ones we love.

Do we love in a way that sees and speaks the value of the ones we love? When the relationships get hard, do we rise up with the strength, the courage, the goodness, the wisdom that Steinbeck knew love could inspire?

Maybe not, but this is the amazing thing about love. While it brings out what is in us, it also changes us. It inspires what we didn’t know was in us. We can do the hard thing and kind thing and sacrificial thing because we hold this flame in us.

Now think about your significant other. What do YOU see?

Making the question personal to us turns our gazes inward to what we perceive about the ones we love. It is, as Steinbeck wrote to his son, our “recognition of another person as unique and valuable.”

We’ve all seen those soldier homecoming clips (and, oddly enough, simultaneously gotten dust in our eyes). The dad, mom, husband, wife, child looks up, and for a moment, their faces are blank. And then…recognition. The seeing of someone who has significance to you.

And sometimes it’s something even more. Recognition can also assign value that is all our own to a person or idea that we’re observing. We look up and “see” them in a way we haven’t before. Or maybe haven’t for a long time because life just got busy.

Recognizing, in this sense, is one of the most loving things we can do in our relationships. So, stop. Really look at them. And really think about what you love about THEM, the qualities they possess in a way that is uniquely them. And then celebrate! This crazy, wonderful, deep, eccentric, and/or loving human chose you on that special date so many years (or year) ago. You lucky guy.

This anniversary you may be planning dinner out, the perfect gift, or even a trip. All great things. But possibly the most important thing that you can do is allow love to bring out the very best parts of you, and then to share those thoughts. And, like Steinbeck, put pen to paper.

“The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.”

I think Papa Steinbeck knew a thing or two.


Writing prompts

When I think about this day___many years ago, I think about the look in your eyes when…

You make me want to be stronger and kinder when you…

I like that you love…

Remember when our perfect day had a few imperfect moments…

There are many things that make us perfect for each other, but I might love____about us most.


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Valentine’s Day

I think we all cringe a little around Valentine’s Day. The commercialism. The pressure. The false intimacy. Words are abundant…and cheap. We can buy a card, or ten cards, that say the “perfect thing.” But not anything we’d ever actually say.

Understandably, we often swing the other way and avoid participating in the hoopla as much as humanly possible. Restraint feels more authentic than the store-bought, cartoon-like emotionalism all around us.

But I propose an alternative this year. Let’s not ignore the big awkward elephant of February. Let’s embrace it. Or better yet, reclaim it.

Let’s tap into that desire that we all have to connect with the people that mean something to us, in a way that means something to them.

And let’s think…the kind of thinking that is becoming rare as it is increasingly outsourced. There are reasons why your person is “your person.” Tell them. In your words. Let them hear your voice when they open their card this year.

There is an intentionality to a well-thought-out message that rings true, not only to our loved ones, but to ourselves, as well. We need to think these things, to say these things, as much as they need to be heard.

February, with its short days and long nights, invites a slowing down and contemplation as part of the natural rhythm of life. The warmth of home calls us in, and we enter to shed the layers of the day. It’s as if nature knows our need for seasons of stripping away what’s on the surface and reflecting on what we find when we ask the right questions.

This year, take one of those long evenings, get your card and a pen, find a seat by a window, light a candle, and create space for you to think seriously about that person you share your life with.

I think gratitude is always a good place to start. When were you grateful for them this past year? Why?

When did you laugh together? What happened?

When did you need them and find them there?

What hard thing did you walk with them through this year? What good thing?

What do you wish you had done differently for them, with them? What do you plan to do differently this year?

When you think about why you chose to be with them, what comes to mind? What is it about them that draws you to them?

Because the fastest way to the intimacy of connection is truth that is born out of love.

You are the only one that perceives your loved ones as you do, the only one that has the particular experiences with them that you have, the only one that can relate to them what you see when you see them.

Don’t underestimate the value of your voice in your loved ones’ lives.

Be the guy who writes the cards that they keep in a little box in their drawer because the words feel so much like you, and them, and you together.

Leave your mark.

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A President’s Letter

“For almost every influential man it seems that there is a published book full of letters that he wrote.” This has proven true for the generations of men who have held the position of Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America. Emails by senior leaders are rarely ever seen as positive, impactful encounters. But pouring over the handwritten notes and letters of a President has a long, prestigious history. There are many books containing the letters of our presidents, which help us better understand their lives and better see how the most powerful men in the world communicate with others to make their messages clear and memorable. A study of these letters gives perspective, but also a model of a gentleman conducting his business, personal, and family affairs.

President George H.W. Bush passed away on November 30th, 2018. He was 94 years old. President Bush spent the majority of his life in the service of his country. As with any politician, he was far from perfect and made decisions not all would find palpable. At the same time, he left a model of kindness, decency, and love of country over love of political party. After losing the 1992 Presidential Election, President Bush wrapped up his work in office and began the transition to the President-Elect William Clinton. As with many elections, the fight for the presidency had been fierce with each man debating for his ideals, his vision of the future, and his ability to provide leadership. In the end, Bill Clinton prevailed over Bush. President Bush began the transition to make sure the Clinton administration could take on the role of leading a nation with as much ease as possible.

On Inauguration Day, January 20th, 1993, George H. W. Bush left a handwritten letter for President-Elect William Clinton. It was a letter full of grace, decency, and love of country, which Bush ended with the words, “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” This note left an indelible impact on Bill Clinton, and even us today as we look back on how to put aside our differences and root for the success of others.

Read the full letter:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—



George H. W. Bush Letter
This image provided by the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum shows a note written by George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton. (George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum via AP)

A few books containing Presidential letters:

FDR: “F.D.R. His Personal Letters 1928-1945”

Ronald Reagan: “Reagan: A Life in Letters”

Truman & Churchill: “Defending the West”

Thomas Jefferson: “Thoughts on War and Revolution”

Abraham Lincoln: “New Papers and Letters of Lincoln”

Barack Obama: “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters”


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