Late in February 2016, Grandma and I were talking alone in her living room when I spotted a vase of flowers on a side table and said they were pretty.
“Grandpa gave them to me for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “They were a week late.”
My mouth started to form into a surprised ‘O’ as she looked me square in the eye and added with a giggle, “Don’t tell him.”
When you love someone – as she had him for more than 74 years – you forgive them their faults and oversights. You become increasingly willing to bear all things. Endure all things. Seek your own interests less.
We know this. Writ large or very, very small, in one way or another we have all experienced love, and our souls yearn endlessly to find the consummate, unending experience of it, where we are fully caught up – cherished and known – by the One who has loved us perfectly from the very beginning of our creation.
As St. Paul so eloquently explains at the end of his definition of love, “At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
Love is without question – the greatest.
And it can be passionate, expansive, life-giving, and life-transforming.
When Valentine’s Day rolls around and pictures of cherubs and candy hearts are everywhere…Well, I don’t know about you, but most years, I’m not really feeling it. I want to celebrate the holiday about as much as I want to hang wallpaper from a ceiling.
That is, until I re-frame the picture and consider HOW it is I’m called to love my beloved.
My husband and I have been married for 20 years, but I probably did the best job selecting a Valentine’s Day gift for him on our very first Feb. 14th together.
We’d only been dating for about 3 weeks, riding around in his battered Geo Prizm, which he’d bought just after college graduation. I chatted with my very new boyfriend about our entry-level jobs and trying to live cheaply in D.C., and came to understand that we were alike, working hard to prove our worth. There was little time or attention paid to things like a car’s interior.
And while sitting in the passenger seat, I noticed two knobs were missing from his car’s climate controls – one for air and the other for temperature. This didn’t seem to bother him; he just used his fingers to turn what was left of the plastic tube inside each space to make necessary changes. But I wondered…
So, shortly before Valentine’s Day I walked into the local Geo dealership’s parts and service department and explained the situation.
“I don’t suppose you would have these knobs, would you?” I asked sheepishly of a guy in a royal blue baseball cap. He looked in the stockroom and returned with two black pieces wrapped in clear cellophane bags.
“That will be $6.00,” he said, grinning. I dug a five and a one out of my purse, dazzled by the serendipity of the moment.
That Valentine’s Day, my brand-new boyfriend sent me a dozen long-stem roses at my office and took me to dinner in Georgetown. He went the BIG and impressive route, and I went absolutely gaga. I felt like royalty.
And for him?
I told him to close his eyes and hold out his hands, and when I pressed a small plastic knob into each one, he whooped with joy and hugged me tight. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s ever again responded with such enthusiasm to a gift.
As I look back now, I see that first February as foundational in our relationship, because we had mysteriously figured out HOW to love one another well.
My husband gave openly and generously. Consequently – I felt cherished.
I noticed a need in his life and filled it. Consequently – he felt known.
Without planning it, both of us focused our efforts on meeting one of two core human desires: 1) to be cherished and 2) to be known.
Now yes, I admit, we were dating. The endorphins were on full blast. Everyday life isn’t quite the same.
But what we did then by happenstance, anyone can do today with intention.
We can all ask for divine guidance to love as God intends – unselfishly, with hope and endurance.
We can all learn to open our hearts to what’s new – what’s there for us to appreciate right in the moment.
My husband still gives me flowers, and I still feel honored and adored every time he does. And I continue to notice things about him. To me, he smells of sunshine in warm, spring woods. He always asks if the dogs and kids have been fed before dishing up his own plate.
Over two decades, we have learned the fundamentals of love and continue to practice them as best we can. The sustained efforts add up, little by little, day by day.
As I said, with the help of Providence, anyone can love like this, because we are wired for love. Created for it by Love Himself.
Love means caring more about the other person than you do about yourself. It means taking note. It means embracing. It means acceptance.
How does all this translate into a Valentine’s Day gift for my husband?
That’s for me to know, and him to find out, but I doubt I’ll ever find a better one than two plastic knobs.