In grammar school, Valentine's Day meant wrapping a shoe box with brown craft paper, cutting a slot in the top for cards to drop in and decorating the outside of the box with hearts and cupids. Store-bought Valentines were labeled the night before and carefully taken to school to be given away. When the big day came, it wasn't only if you received Valentines that counted, it was from whom, and if they gave you your card first that mattered.
Being first, feeling special.
In junior high, there were no boxes to decorate, nor required parties in homeroom. I have no memory of 7th-grade Valentine's Day, but in 8th grade I received a heart-shaped box of chocolates. The box stayed with me for years, as a reminder not only of the gift and sign of supposed affection but also as a reminder of my insecurity.
In high school, the years and days passed -- not marked by any special memory. No long-term boyfriend, no long-term memory of Valentine's Day.
When my heart was broken several times in my college and early adult years, I turned to the words in "The Prophet," by Kahlil Gibran, often rereading the passage about love before falling asleep at night.
"When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
...And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course."
A reminder that love cannot be controlled, and is not controlling, but freely given. One can give love -- but one cannot take love, only recognize and appreciate love.
My favorite Valentine's present was three red roses with a card that said, "One for the past, one for the present, and one for the future." The thoughtful giver, Jimmy, became my husband seven years later.
This year, we celebrated 17 years of marriage. Seems hard to believe when some days I feel only slightly older than I did when we first met, a quarter century ago. Since then, I have learned a lot about love, from him, from our two children and from our extended family and friends.
When I talk to our children about love, it is often in the context of what love is not. Love is not someone demanding that you do what they want, go where they want or join them in undesirable behavior. Not as much time is spent talking about what love is -- instead we remind them that we love them, both in what we say and what we do.
Texts between us end in "LU" (Love you). When leaving the house, we articulate our love for each other. When going to sleep, we once again remind each other of our love. "I love you; good night."
Small gifts, Coca-Cola for Robert, our 13-year-old, and a box of chocolates for our 15-year-old, Maggie, are our way of reminding them that they are thought of, cared for and loved. Love is symbolized through thoughtful gifts, and in the time we take to lovingly cook an egg, fold clothes or spend time in activities together.
While I know that one day, they will get older and have their hearts broken, I also know that they will eventually understand that love cannot be controlled, but can be given away, and that it expands and grows larger once let into the open.
Love is not only for family, but also for pets, friends, yards, favorite pastimes and activities. Love is the recognition of the bit of God, the spark of God, in each one of us and in the sunsets, sunrises and activities of life. Love is anywhere you take the time to stop, pause, breathe and notice God.
Friends who make time for you, dogs who greet you at the door, strangers who help you with heavy bags, flowers that bloom -- they all remind us of God's ability to create and to rejuvenate.
Being first, feeling special.
Happy Valentine's Day.