Monday, February 9, 2009

Valentine’s Day

Gentle reminder #1: If you love somebody, there’s a day dedicated to expressing it just around the corner.

Gentle reminder #2: If you don’t get a valentine this year, there’s no need to fret too much. Sadness may have been our response in grade school, but not anymore. You’re a grown up, remember?

Instead of expecting to receive gestures of love this Valentine’s Day, give them! Will you buy a card? How about going full tilt with your adoration on a billboard? Maybe you’d like to send a radio message to someone you love? How about doing something romantic like a picnic spread on your living room carpet or serving dinner atop the grand piano by candlelight? Then again, who said it has to be long-stemmed roses? I know teachers, neighbors, and grandparents whose hearts flip when kids send them hand-cut, red construction paper hearts pasted on white lace doilies. After all, it’s the thought that counts!

Remember, you don’t have to always give stuff. Offering your energy and talents can be even more meaningful sometimes. Have you ever thought about applying the gifts God gives you -- those things you do well -- to stretching the expanse of people you reach with your love? Do you have fun gifting someone without fanfare? I learned the joy of quietly giving from my senior project at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, spending one afternoon a week in a nursing home. I turned the pages for a former organist as she played the “air organ” with her feet dangling over the side of the bed. She carefully rehearsed on all three consoles and the foot pedals, even without an instrument physically there. I’d compliment her and she’d smile, correcting me if I turned one measure too soon. Laying the music down on the bed, I admired her for still playing the notes she memorized years ago.

On other days, I read aloud from a worn and ragged Bible to a Swedish woman, blind and bedridden, with impossibly soft skin and an angel-sweet spirit. In gratitude, she nearly purred, nodding her head, with an occasional tear trickling down her cheek. On my last day, I pressed a tiny music box playing the hymn “Abide with Me” into her wrinkled hand. At the time, I wanted to do more but, looking back, I realize I did what meant the most -- sharing the Word of Life with a soul on the verge of crossing over from this life to the next to meet her Maker.

This project prepared me to love in simple, nearly unnoticed ways. I received a grade for the class. However, there was no money and no accolades for showing up every week to be kind to people who knew only my first name and probably forgot it when the next group of volunteers showed up. But it felt like important work and it was. It was pulling alongside people and caring. It was just a few minutes out of my total lifetime, but God used it to teach me something about love.

In those days, I was keenly aware of not getting valentines or long-stemmed roses. My heart rejoiced though just knowing God cared for me enough to give me contentment with people the world ignores. He was readying me to pass on His love in more difficult circumstances down the road. He was showing me how to love seemingly unlovable people in scary and intimidating situations. He was preparing me for work with the State of Illinois Department of Corrections -- with high-school dropouts, kids who hated their lives and loved drugs. These were people who clearly didn’t like me much. Even when you don’t get love returned to you, showing others you care is always worth it!

Some people might say, “If love is always worth it in the end, what do I have to lose?” The truth is, with love comes loss. Everything I love will add or subtract, hurt or heal, break or beautify my life. If I’m willing to love, I’m willing to risk loss. Think of things or people you love. A school child loves her teacher, and so with the end of each school year comes loss. The dynamics of love change and people pass in and out of our lives; only God’s love is changeless. He’s the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He loves us no matter what. That’s a one-of-a-kind love!

I’ve learned that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a), as the Bible puts it. The writer C.S. Lewis observed that things like ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity make you braver, too. But those fixes are only temporary; the real solution lies in that “perfect love” that comes to us from God Himself. The question, “What do I have to lose?” also occurred to God. Just think how much He does stand to lose by loving us! I break His heart every day by things I do and say, but He keeps on loving me. Our feelings come and go, but His love does not. He just asks us to take Him seriously and pass that love on to others as His children.

When you plan your Valentine’s Day gestures this year, don’t grow weary or lose heart. Even if you don’t get that box of candy or bouquet of flowers or dazzling billboard, you can open your valentine from God every day. His love letter to you is His Word in the Bible. Pick it up and read what He's done for you through Jesus Christ, and then share that love with others. What do you have to lose?

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