It’s Valentine’s Day.
I’ve always found this day to be cheesy. Over-rated. A money-making marketing ploy by Hallmark and Russell Stover Chocolates, and florists everywhere. It’s nearly as commercialized as Christmas has become–I walked in to the grocery store this morning, only to see hearts and balloons and roses and candy everywhere I looked at the front of the store. And, a steady stream of mostly guys—picking up last-minute bouquets and reading a card, putting it down, picking up the next card, reading that card, putting it down….that cycle of trying to find just the right balance of cheesiness for their sweethearts.
It kind of makes my eyes roll, and heightens my already heightened sense of cynicism.
Of course, why was I at the store? Yep. To pick out balloons and small gifts for my crew, for Valentine’s Day.
And I slapped my gifts down on the conveyor belt at the cash register (which, by the way, had been decorated by the cashiers–the sides were wrapped in pink paper, and a sign had been made that stated “Cupid’s Express Lane.” For the love of all things roses and hearts, please stop…..), with a curmudgeon sigh.
Valentine’s Day. Humph.
But this afternoon, I’m rethinking things a bit, as I scroll through my Facebook feed (because we alllllll know that Facebook gives us an accurate view on life, right???? Am I righttttt?????), and I’m seeing post after post after post after post of sweet (and, um, cheesy) sentiments between husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, and even parents and children–all extolling sugary love towards each other.
And the cynic in me wants to hate it.
Except I don’t.
In fact, I’ve enjoyed every single post. Every mushy declaration of love. Every picture “framed” by pink and red hearts. And, I’ve “liked” probably a few dozen–which is very “unlike” me.
Some have made me sad. It is always hard to read the posts from couples who have been married for 25-30 years; a painful reminder of a grief that will never quite go away, over the loss of a marriage that was supposed to be for a lifetime. A painful reminder of the cost of sin and betrayal and abandonment.
Some have made me sad–as widows or widowers have expressed grief and a deep “missing” of their soul mate. One, in particular, broke my heart, as I read the post from my high school chorus teacher, whose dear husband passed away peacefully this very morning, as she held his hand. Heartbreaking.
Some have made me sad, as I’ve read posts from those who are single and who feel the sting of a day meant for those who are not single. There is an intense loneliness in singlehood. It is deep and aching. I’ve heard it in the voices of friends who have never married. I’ve seen it in the eyes of those who have been in relationships that have ended–whether married or dating. And, I’ve experienced it intensely myself, in the years since my ex-husband went to prison. For some, this day is very painful; and it is like salt in wounds when they/we hear things like, “God has the perfect person out there for you, somewhere!” To which singles everywhere want to say, “Is he directionally challenged? “Cause I’m standing right here!!! How hard can it be, to find me??”
So, yes, there is some sadness. Some melancholy. But this year, it’s not as intense. This year, I’m not quite as cynical…though I assure you, there is still some cynicism in my soul–I am still me, after all.
This year is different.
And I think some of that difference comes down to this: I’m beginning to grasp what it means to be loved by God.
Oh, not that I will ever grasp that concept completely. And neither will you, in case you are thinking you’ve got it all figured out. To understand fully the magnitude of a love so deep that sacrificed the life of Jesus on the cross, as a means of payment for our sins, is not something that we can ever completely figure out. It’s not meant to be something we can study on and learn all about and master. We can not become experts on the love of God.
But we can, at times, be granted the gift of sensing the tender, gracious, merciful tendrils of His love toward us, and the restorative, healing redemption that is infused in our lives through the conduit of that love.
I sensed it last night, as I sat around the dinner table with 9 friends from church, sharing a dinner, laughter and warm companionship together.
I sensed it this morning before school, as my two smalls gave me hugs on their way out the door to school—and the boy child even thought to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day!
I sensed it this past Sunday at church, as God gave me the gift and honor of comforting a friend who has recently lost a parent and who is aching.
I sensed it as the kind soul I am dating sheepishly handed me a Valentine’s Card and invited me to a Valentine’s Dinner date for this upcoming weekend–and I didn’t think for one second that it was over-sentimental or cheesy at all. Instead, it brought me joy. And deep gratitude.
And I sense it nearly every day, as the intense grief of very hard things lessens just a little bit more…and as my soul experiences small incremental increases of hope and joy.
Only God can do that.
I stumbled across these words by John Stott a few months ago. I’ve held on to them….for I am a collector of words…and I’ve pondered them a few times since them. Today, though–on this Valentines Day—they have drilled their way a bit deeper into my mind:
“To encounter Christ is to touch reality and experience transcendence. He gives us a sense of self-worth or personal significance, because He assures us of God’s love for us. He sets us free from guilt because He died for us and from paralyzing fear because He reigns. He gives meaning to marriage and home, work and leisure, personhood and citizenship.” (Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, pg. 291)
I’ve known crippling shame. I have been deeply guilty of sin and disobedience. And, oh my soul, how I have known fear. Intense fear. And, I’m certain that you have as well.
But I’ve also encountered His tender mercies, and the present future of salvation. And, before the beginning of each day, when I meet with Him, He assures me of God’s love for me.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Post Script: For those who are curious…Yes, I am dating someone. I’ve not been very public about it, for many reasons. So much of my life was thrust into the public’s eyes, following the arrest of my ex-husband, that I had a very strong pull to keep this part close to my soul, and quietly enjoy being courted.
Like I said above, he is a kind soul. He treats me with immense respect, and makes me feel pretty. Loved. Adored. It’s not easy—my life is insanely busy and messy and complicated. I’ve become “set in my ways”, over the past 8 years. I’m stubborn. A workaholic. But he is patient. And long-suffering. He understands that my relationship with God has first place in my soul, and that my children–and raising them to be strong, successful, independent adults–are my highest priority. He is good to my kids–never exerting sudo-parental authority that does not belong to him, but always encouraging them. They adore him; even chastising me if I don’t immediately invite him to join us when we go to the movies or out to the park.
He fixes things around the house, and makes me furniture to replace our worn out pieces. He teaches my boy about car care, computers and the game of tennis. He was former military, so he talks shop with my Navy son. He treats my oldest girl and her boyfriend to dinner, and he tells my youngest that she has a beautiful voice, and exchanges dumb pun jokes with her (those are her specialty).
It’s nice. No, it’s more than nice. It’s lovely.
I’m in no hurry. And we are in no hurry. I am extremely cautious. Like most things in life, I am overthinking this–but I have such a high view of marriage and relationships and God’s standards on the matter, that I think some overthinking is justified. I’m honest with him, about those things. He listens, understands, remains steady. And patient.
He is making friends with the men at my church; men who I have the deepest respect for. Men who, along with their wives and families, have stood beside me and my crew over these last 8 years–providing for our needs when they arose, encouraging us every step along the way. I love watching him forge these new friendships. It’s a beautiful thing.
I don’t know what the future holds for me. I don’t know what the future holds for us. Shoot, I don’t even know what tonight holds. If I did, I’d probably run far, out of fear and trepidation, for so many reasons. But that’s why I am so incredibly grateful for the sovereignty of God. Like the quote by John Greenleaf Whittier, at the top of my blog, I claim this as truth: Before me, even as behind, God is, and all is well.