The Love Card in a book

On this episode of The Novel Turtle Presents, I talk to Joanne Steenberg, the creator of The Love Card. The Love Card is “a global pay-it-forward movement to remind people that they are loved and have the power to love others.” (From thelovecard.org) Joanne talks about how the movement started, how it has grown, and how we can all become part of it ourselves. She shares a few stories from her own life about the power of giving, and receiving, a Love Card.

To learn more about The Love Card, and to order your own cards to give out, go to thelovecard.org

Follow The Love Card on Instagram @the.love.card to get more inspiration, and to see how the power of one small act of kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

(If you’d rather read the interview, continue below.)  

Lori: Let’s start off with how things have grown over the last couple of weeks. I know you did an Instagram post about 22,000 cards going out, and that kind of happening overnight…tell us about that.

Joanne: I’m honestly not 100% sure the source of it. Just to give you a little idea, I would say in the last 4 years I’ve had about 150 orders a year. Where it’s like, I would sit down once or twice a month at my kitchen table and I hand write an envelope and send out cards. It’s been increasing in the last year; maybe 300, maybe twice as much in the last year. Then, two things happened: In early May our local TV station did a little piece on it, and our local newspaper did a little piece on it. In one weekend I got about 250 orders. So, it’s time to ramp up and get them out the door.

Then fast forward to the first or second week of July, I’m losing track of time already. It was over a weekend, it was a Saturday, and I looked at my phone and saw 100 orders had come in. Then another 100, and another 100, and another 100. It wound up being about 1500 orders, each order with 15 cards, which is the 22,000.

I think it was kind of the perfect storm. There’s been so many people over the last 4 years right? I’ve been sending out packages for the last 4 years and they radiate out from the location they are going to. Then a few of those people say, “hey, I want cards of my own”, and that’s how it’s been growing.

And, I am not great with social media, I’m learning more every day, but I think there were several, I don’t want to say “influencers” because I don’t even know exactly what that means, but people who have a lot of followers, who got cards, or who ordered cards, or were given a card, and posted about it. I always ask in the order, “Where did you hear about The Love Card”, and some of them said a Facebook friend, an Instagram friend, some didn’t say anything.

So, I think it’s sort of a combination of everything. I was not able to trace it back and say, “oh, this post is what gave us all the orders”.

Lori: Yeah, that’s really amazing though because that means that just people, one by one, giving them out have kind of spread the word, and it’s gotten that big that quickly. It goes to show how we can make that happen. Even one small act of kindness can ripple out like that.

Let’s talk about how The Love Card got started.

Joanne: I have been drawing this little heart with the radiating rays for years. I love to write, maybe someday I’ll be a calligraphy person, I just love writing letters. In a lot of the jobs that I’ve had, if I sign my name, there’s the radiating heart; or if I’m giving a grade back on a math test, there’s “Good job!” with a radiating heart. So this has been in my life for a long time, not that it’s so unusual.

I had the idea for The Love Card, probably as far as 10 years ago. Around the holidays in December, I have two kids and they were teenagers, getting older, and, I think there was sort of this Mama moment of, “oh, they are growing up and leaving the nest more”.  So I made two handmade Love Cards for them, with, I’m pretty sure, the same words on the back. The thought was that, if they were out in the world, or out and about, and they just need a little love, they could put their hand in their pocket and be like, “Aww, here’s Mom’s Love Card, aww”. That’s really how it started.

Then I woke up one morning, again, 4 years ago, I don’t know why, it was 2016, and I thought, “I don’t want to leave the planet with this idea not manifest”. I’m well, I’m healthy, I had no reason to think I was going to leave soon, but once you cross over the 50 line you kind of start thinking about things in a different way. Literally, I woke up was thought, “I gotta do this”. I went to a graphic designer in my town, and I sat down with her, and showed her what I had. I explained it and she created it on the computer.

I think my first print was 100, maybe 200. I’d love to know for sure. They went into holiday cards, out to my family, my friends. I think all of my students got one right before we broke for the holidays. And that’s how it started.

Then from there, people got them and said, “oh my gosh this is the sweetest thing, can I have some”, “can I have some more”, and that’s how it’s grown.

Lori: Again, word of mouth. You doing one act of kindness spread out every which way. That’s really neat!

I was going to ask you where the heart came from, and where the words on the back came from, but that is a really cool story – that you wrote it out for your kids and it hasn’t changed.

Joanne: There was a time where I had several people looking at it, because it was starting to get more popular. They would say, “you know, maybe you should do this, or this”. I think I did one run with different words and I was like, “Mmm, it’s not me anymore”. It was probably better English. I think I say a lot of the things over and over, but it’s really important to me that it’s “Hold the Card and take three deep breaths”. I think if we really, really slow down, and take three deep breaths, we can shift our intake and our output in any situation.

I had people saying, “Do you really need to say take three deep breaths”. At first I was like, “yeah, maybe I don’t”. Then after I got it, I was like, “No…It’s not the same experience anymore”.

Lori: I like that you made it a point to stay true to yourself. I also really like that you remind people to include the self-love in the love that they are also giving.

Why do you feel that it IS important, for us to love ourselves and to give ourselves that time to take three deep breaths and re-center ourselves?

Joanne: I’ve learned a lot from this project myself. There’s a lot of generous, big hearted, giving people out there. I’m assuming, because I’m going from my own personal experience, but a lot of times, the big givers, and the big huggers, and the big lovers, forget to do it for themselves. I think we all have this negative self-berating dialogue sometimes. Whatever it is, we try and turn it off, but it creeps in from time to time. I think that if you give, give, give, give, and you love, love, love, love, and you forget yourself, you deplete. Even though the feedback and the energy that comes back from doing good things, and from being kind in any way, always comes back and uplifts the person that’s giving…I think it’s super important to remind yourself to give your own self a little love, give yourself a break, give yourself the three deep breaths.

Lori: Can you give people some ideas about how to give The Love Card anonymously?

Joanne: There’s so many people doing it that way. There’s a whole other conversation about who feels comfortable handing it to someone, and who feels comfortable receiving it from a stranger. I guess pre-Covid, was leaving it with a server at a restaurant. You pay your bill and just tuck it into the little pocket where your credit card, or cash, would go.

There’s a whole story about my kids: They would see me starting to put my hand into my pocket, cause I got into the vibe and I wanted to hand more cards out, and they would be like “oh…here she goes, she’s going in for The Love Card”, and they would go as far as from me as possible. Neither of them wanted to be there, it just felt too embarrassing. But then my son became an Uber Eats driver for a little while, and he would tuck a few in each of the bags, and that felt good.

What I think is interesting is that often, if you’re giving them away like that, and really, even if you’re handing it to someone, you don’t really see the reaction. I prefer that. I don’t want to be like, “isn’t this the greatest thing you ever got”. I generally just tuck it and leave, and then I say a little energy “I hope you have a good day” in my mind, and off I go. So he did that with Uber Eats and he loved it. He would say, “Mom, send me down a couple hundred”. He never really got the feedback, but then I’m lucky because I get feedback. I’ll get the email, “Somebody put this in my Uber Eats bag and it was just what I needed right in that moment”.

People are really creative.

Most of the time, I have pockets full wherever I go. If I’m getting coffee, or going to the doctor, or in a place where I’m being served, as I’m leaving, often as the person turns around to do something else, I’ll lay two cards down and walk away. Sometimes if I am going to say something, where it just feels weird to drop two on a table and go, or if people make eye contact, I’ll lay two down on the corner of the table and say something like, “this is just a little pay-it-forward love, keep one and give the other one to someone else”. Sometimes they’ll say, “aww, that’s really sweet”, and then I move on.

Lori: That makes sense. That’s kind of how we are about it.

The last question is the creativity question. It’s the same question that I ask everyone. Partially because I’m curious, because I find that people’s ideas of creativity vary so much. Partially because I know people, like my Grandmother for instance, who always says, “I’m not creative”, but then she comes up with all these crazy ideas of how to do things. I’m like, “but you’re not at all creative”. So, I like to get people’s different ideas about creativity and show people over the long run that everyone’s idea of creativity is a little bit different, and then how they can use creativity in their lives.

So, what is your definition of creativity?

Joanne: That’s such a good question. I would say I’m a lot like your Grandmother. Most of my life I’ve felt like, I’m not artistic, I’m not a musician, I don’t paint, I don’t draw….but I am really good at drawing hearts with radiating lines out. Also, drawing a little animated sunset out over a body of water, with rays…I like my rays. So I’ve been very critical of my own level of creativity.

Now I would say, I think quieting the mind, however you do it – whether it’s meditation or whatever – and listen to your heart, and listen to what it’s telling you, and listen to the ideas, and feel your emotion around it, and just go with it. Ideas are creative.

It doesn’t have to be that you’re making something with your hands. I’ve definitely felt that most of my life: I’m not creative. My mother’s an artist, my father’s a woodworker, what do I make? Cards with hearts. But you know what? It’s creative, and I get that now.

So, I think it’s really listening to your heart, and how you want to express an emotion or a feeling or an activity of giving.

Lori: Is there anything that you would like to add, anything else that you’d like to tell us about yourself, or about The Love Card?

Joanne: We have this card, and there are so many people now that are giving them away, literally all over the planet. Initially we tend to give them to people that look like they are having a sad day, or people that are going above and beyond, like the Local Heroes that are doing these amazing things. My realization is that we all need it. Maybe even the most bubbly, smiley person needs it more than anyone. So don’t hesitate to outreach to anyone that you’re intuitively guided to give one to. We need to spread love to everyone.

I’ve had a lot of experiences where I had the courage to outreach to someone who was clearly angry, and having a really bad day. Not someone who looked a little sad and forlorn, but someone who was ready to create some havoc. If we can somehow find a way to get this message to that person, I’ve seen it incredible transformations, literally in the moment. You see the breath in, and then their shoulders come down from the ears, tears.

In the beginning, part of the reason that my kids would disappear when I was handing out a card…initially you feel a little self-conscious because it’s you giving love to another, but actually the love is all around us. It’s all around us, it’s in the energy, it’s in other people. So, it doesn’t have to be like, I’m giving this person love….it’s the reminder that we’re loved in a bigger way.

Lori: Yeah. And it’s a good reminder for us to not be judgmental and to still understand that even those people that are being irate, and being less than pleasant, they still need love, and they are hurting, and that’s probably why they are being that way.

Joanne: There’s a short story, about a time when I was in New York and I was getting my nails done. There was an older woman there who was blowing steam, rolling her eyes to the top of her head, not happy with how this was going and that was going, and she didn’t have the time. She was just difficult. She wasn’t being mean, but she wasn’t being kind either. I was judging her. I felt that she looked like a person of great means, because of the way she was dressed and how she was behaving, and I was judging. In my mind I was like, “I can’t wait until I’m dry so that I can get out the door and get away from this energy”. It was really making me upset, and I saw what it was doing to the people around too.

It was winter, and I put on my coat, and I put my hands in my pockets, and of course they landed on wads of Love Cards, and I thought, “Joaaannnnne, you were judging her…just because she looked a certain way or acted a certain way, how do I know her life, how do I know what she’s dealing with”. I walked back in and I handed her a card, and she started to bawl. She said, “thank you so much, I needed this today”, and “can I please have a few more, I want to give them to my grandchildren”, and it was just as good for me. I got in the car and bawled all the way home because I thought, “oh Mrs. Love Card Lady, you’ve been doing this for four years, and here you are judging somebody that’s sitting five feet away from you”.

It’s just a good reminder, that when someone is really mad, and really struggling, that they have lost that connection to the love that is all around them.

Thank you Joanne, for spending some time with me, and reminding us all that we are loved!!!