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February is the month that always shines bright red in my mind. Surely this must be because I ve had years of Hallmark marketing overloading me with images of cupids, shiny doily hearts, red roses and chocolate boxes tied with a red bow. But in my mind, each month brings a new color and February is definitely all painted in red. The subject of February might seem obvious, it s Love. Right now I am humming that popular Michael Bolton song Love is a wonderful thing. This song was released when I was eighteen years old and in the throes of discovering what love can be. The song says, well, obviously that it s a wonderful thing, but also that it will make ya smile through the pouring rain, Turn your world into one sweet dream, and finally it promises that it will take your heart and make it sing. It s raining as I type and I can hear the drops pounding above me on the skylight and at least for this morning, I am very sick of the rain this season. It seems like it has appeared too often, stayed too long, and given us all cabin fever. I am still smiling, however. Is it love that is making me smile through the pouring rain? In February falls a holiday that has caused way more grief for men and women than it has ever helped: The dreaded Valentine s Day. I remember some doozies from my dating days, particularly from teenage years. One boy bought me a white fluffy teddy bear, which I pretended to find thrilling and then I heard his father whisper to him, See I told you she d like it; they all love teddy bears. But inside I wanted to scream But I am not five years old! Another boyfriend and I had a very
intellectual discussion about Valentine s Day and I shared my thoughts that couples should find ways to make each other feel loved and special regardless of the date. I told him that I found Valentine s Day to be a pitiful excuse to lavish material things onto a relationship and call it cared for. I told him about an older couple I knew who had been married for thirty years who ignored Valentine s Day altogether and instead had a little basket in their bedroom where they would each place gifts for the other. They upheld this ritual just here and there throughout the year. She baked shortbread cookies for him and put them in there; he purchased her new sewing scissors and she was excited. My boyfriend agreed with the philosophy and therefore did nothing on the big day, and of course . I was crushed. Finally, one of my favorite boyfriends, a real sweetie who should have just remained a friend, chose Valentine s Day to make his final appeal to keep us from breaking up. He knew it was coming, and wanted to avoid it. We lived in different states and he flew to see me. On the way to the airport he stopped at his local flower market and bought a dozen dozen red roses (that s one hundred and forty-four!) and carried them off the plane. This was back in the days when you could walk all the way to the gate to meet your arrivals. I was standing in the gate while everyone from the plane was staring and smiling as he handed me a coffin sized box of red roses. I broke up with him on the spot. I married a man who does not consider himself to be romantic, and well, I definitely agree. He does nice things for me, takes great care of many aspects of my life, but he buys flowers for the house, cooks breakfast for his family, and takes me out to dinner so we can socialize with friends. I am fine with all that. Sometimes I might wish to be told how beautiful I am and how treasured I am, but I wouldn t trade anything he does offer, for a little swooning.
When we had been dating for two years it seemed as if our relationship was coming to a crossroads. We either needed to break up and move on, or get married and be committed for life. In the next six months we would be living on opposite coasts unless we did something drastic and getting married and transferring jobs seemed the right course. He made reservations at a fancy restaurant, the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, CA. This restaurant was priced way above our normal budget, so all signals were pointing to the big night with the big question, with what I hoped was a big ring. But I think he couldn t take the pressure of a huge romantic gesture. Instead he took me to a burger joint called Barney s a few days earlier, and just as I took a bite of my guacamole burger he nonchalantly handed me a red velvet box. He still took me to the Lark Creek Inn on the appointed night and I think we both enjoyed the evening so much more because there was no tension of waiting for me, and no pressure for performance for him. Instead we celebrated our engagement and made plans for the coming year. By the end of the night we had a wedding date and a plan for moving back to the east coast. Given his track record, it surprised me when he attempted and pulled off a romantic gesture on Valentine s Day this year. We were traveling as a family on February 14th. We had a tight connection, and once we landed my husband was expected to be in a client reception within the hour. To facilitate this, we decided not to check any bags and just use carry on luggage. A grown man can handle a wheelie suitcase and his own laptop, much more smoothly than can children with their wheelies and backpacks full of crafts and games. It had been quite a trek to get from our house to the airport to the plane with carry on in the overhead bins (really can a 10-year-old lift his own bag up that high?) then we ran through the Houston airport to catch our next flight. We arrived sweaty and I checked to
see who had which carry on, and who was balancing the tray of lunch we were able to grab. My husband had stopped at the customer service desk to try to work on our return trip which wasn t all wrapped up, but I wondered if he really did need to do that right then. I can t remember exactly the tone I used, but I am sure it was polite and gracious. We boarded and he tossed my bag into a first class seat and continued back. He was upgraded, but gave the valued seat to me and took the kids to the back of the plane. This is looking up, I thought. I got comfy and glanced guiltily back at him, but he waved me off. We re fine. Enjoy yourself. This is a man who lives on airplanes he has long legs and does whatever he can to avoid sitting in the economy rows. I took a breath and walked through it all again. He is willingly sitting in coach with our children. I went with it, relaxed and promptly fell asleep. The attendant woke me up to set up my dining tray with the white cloth, but instead of a meal, she brought me a small jewelry box with a gorgeous necklace with my birthstone, a red garnet, inside and a happy Valentines Day card signed by my kids and husband. Alrighty, I thought, the non-romantic husband of sixteen years just exceeded my expectations. I tell you this story mostly because I like to relive it. Inside of a sixteen-year marriage there are really only a few stories that I can tell that hit these high notes. Most of the love that has sustained us for that time has been more about co-parenting, doing dishes, paying bills, sharing some good books and TV, perhaps taking some interesting trips. There s nothing that would be very riveting to read about. Remember that old couple that used the basket so many years ago? The wife was my high school English teacher and my class could avoid an entire lesson if we got her talking about her life and her philosophies. We learned how
to get her going and mostly we were genuinely interested in what she had to say. One of her little bits of wisdom still sticks with me today. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. I was all about feelings when she was teaching me. I was a teenager! But age has a way of bringing wisdom and now, I agree with her. The feelings I connected with love, all of the butterflies, excitement, and make-me-feel-good-about-myself actions are long gone. There s nothing quite like sixteen long years of marriage to knock those out of the way. But, a choice to stay, a choice to be kind, a choice to avoid sarcastic retorts, a choice to go out of my way, a choice to add new sewing scissors to the basket, a choice to give a better airplane seat to the other spouse, these are the choices that add up to love. Even though February has led me to reflect more on romantic love, I know that there is so much more love that we have to offer. Another is the love parents have for their children and that children have for their parents. This is still a complicated version of this thing we call love, because there is obligation and self-sacrifice (on both sides, but at different times), there is a decision to stay, and there are tough times and funny times. Over the years my parents have offered me love in many ways. My father flew to California just after I was engaged to help me drive back to the east coast. I am sure he had many other things he could have done with his time, but I think he could see a window closing. My free time would shift to free time for me to be with my new husband. But for those three days of fast driving we were able to cover all sorts of topics from family history to theology. I ve still never met another soul who could sustain three days of that type of conversation with me and pretend to enjoy it. When I go to the big subjects I can get pretty intense, passionate, and loud. But my Dad offered me his time and engagement as a gift of love. After Brad and
I married we moved quite a few times in those early years of finishing school and chasing jobs. Wherever we landed my mother would arrive with her sewing machine to make new curtains for every room. When we finally re-settled in San Francisco, she packed her Bernina in her luggage and spent her entire visit sewing at my kitchen table. When I was a new bride and had a day free from class and work she would arrive at my apartment with a cooler of groceries and teach me to make recipes she made while I was growing up. I remember the time we made 100 homemade egg rolls in my tiny kitchen. The entire apartment smelled like oil for days, but I savored every bite of that taste of childhood. Love between siblings can be competitive and supportive at the same time. I have only one brother and I think he is the funniest human being on earth. His humor is understated and perfectly timed. He can imitate anybody and recount stories in such a witty and humorous way that I will be holding my side with tears falling down my cheeks begging him to stop. We both got married in the same year and each had two children within a year of the other. For a while we seemed to be tracking and trying to keep up with each other, but time has mellowed a lifetime of competition. Because there were only the two of us as kids, it felt like everyone compared us to each other. Where I excelled, he struggled and where he shone, I felt incompetent. Even today if I share a story with my grandmother about my eldest child, she will pause for about 3 seconds before telling me a similar story about my brother s eldest. But on those rare occasions when my brother and I get to be alone without our parents or our children, we mostly just laugh. One of my favorite versions of love is friendship. I know the power of female friendships and the sustenance they can offer. Although I also know they can also be fraught with
competition and envy, I have received much love easily through them. Even though my husband has traveled extensively for almost all of our marriage, I am not used to it and still become unglued when he gets on a plane for an extended business trip. I am not at all competent at running our household without him. I hate grocery shopping and meal planning and am always surprised when 5:00 pm hits and the most I can pull together is pasta with a jar of sauce. Recently, I hit a particular rough patch. My husband was gone, I was working long hours, and the kids schedules seemed to be unusually hectic and overwhelming. A dear friend showed up to my front door with meals for the week. She knows me so well that she knew just how to love me in the way I would feel it the most. I have another friend who shares my addiction to diet coke. We ve discovered a place that sells the cheapest fountain soda in the city at a gas station near the school drop off. I am embarrassed to admit that at 8:00 a.m. most mornings I wave goodbye to the kids and watch them cross in front of my car and then drive straight to the gas station. Often my friend is already there and we sit in each other s car for a few minutes before heading out to our days. Another girlfriend texts when she has an hour free in the middle of her day. Burritos? Yes, is the answer I usually can give and after years of this rhythm we know exactly when and where to meet. Late one night I received a short email from another girlfriend Want to be the keeper of my soul? I was up and dressed before I could respond, I will be right there. We went around the corner from her house, shared a cheese plate, and plowed away at what was bothering her. Another friend recently treated me to an hourlong Chinese reflexology foot massage just because she thought I seemed busy and tired. We were able to relax together and catch up while our feet were squeezed and rubbed. A few years ago I taught a Sunday school lesson about friendship and the kids and I decided it
was better to look for the best in a friend than a best friend. There is so much best in my friends when I take a moment to look at them and stop needing them to be everything to me. A type of love that doesn t get much play in the red month, is the love I have for God and the love He has for me. The Greek word for the love between God and humans is Agape. This kind of love continues to exceed my expectations. Even though this love is steadfast, deep and wide, I fear I am fickle and petty in the face of it. The expressions of God s love for me range from the written word in Scripture, to the amazing natural world He created for me to enjoy. Agape love is what defines the Grace of God love and favor that is unwarranted and quite possibly unrequited. Crazy love! This love has no boundaries and is not based on whether I am good enough, pretty enough, or faithful enough. It s taken me a while to discover this kind of unfettered love from God. His love showed me a place He created in me, the place that has been the real authentic version of me all along. It s the place where I am most me, alone with my maker, my first love. The place I go when I am afraid, or discouraged, or in pain. Agape love always helps in those times. It s also the place I go when I celebrate, accomplish, and strive. And most often it s the place I go when I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be in a relationship with Him. He fills me with hope, joy, and courage. Full of all that hope, joy and courage, I make a choice to love others. Agape love is the love that keeps on giving. When I am most connected with that Source of love and grace, I am most able to love those around me. Scripture tells me that when I run to Him, when I place my trust in Him, when I allow myself to be loved by Him and respond with love to Him that
out of my belly, or my deep innermost soul, will flow rivers of living water. When I am full of His love, attuned to His grace, aware of my gratitude, and making choices to love others, I can feel the rivers of His love flowing out of me. I have been blessed by the rivers flowing from girlfriends and have felt grateful for the baptism of love. I imagine myself to be a tall drinking glass. When I am connected to Agape I am filled to the brim with water. When people accidentally bump into me, I slosh a little bit. They get wet from the rivers of water that are flowing from me. But when I am not filled up, not topped off with God s love, I am empty, dry and wanting. There is nothing to share with others, nothing to wet their lives with. In those times my husband is usually able to shower me in rivers of love from his belly. In his own way, perhaps non-romantic to those looking on, he tells me that he loves me. He might take a red-eye flight in coach just to get home to me twelve hours sooner. He might grill lamb chops, my favorite of his specialties, or he might call in the middle of the day just to say hi. Not too long ago we were planning to attend a black tie event and I had nothing to wear. I had gained enough weight that old dresses were not working, and I had no time to find a new dress. On his own, he went to a department store and bought five dresses. When I walked in the door from work at 11:00pm he was awake and waiting for me as I entered the in the living room. Take off your clothes, sweetie, he said. Here? Now? I wearily responded hoping he could hear the tiredness in my voice and take my subtle cue. He smiled, gave me a knowing look and pointed to the dresses arranged on the couch.
I will take this kind of river of love from Brad over a dozen dozen red roses any day of the year.
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