Buy, buy, buy - show your love with stuff!
Spend, spend, spend.
Eat, eat, eat.
Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.
What if we all decided that, instead of buying more stuff this Valentine's Day, stuff we certainly don't need, we would simply express our love on our own terms? With our words. With our actions. With smiles and hugs and storytelling. With cooking food and enjoying it at home. Looking at photos of times spent together. Wearing red stuff we already have. Making cards from the paper, markers, and stickers we already have. Recalling why we fell in love. Sharing our love. Making love.
If there isn't a "significant other" in the picture, then you can love yourself. Do for yourself what you would want someone else to do for you. Make yourself your favorite meal. Pick out your best outfit and jewelry, shoes and overcoat on Valentine's Day and romance your own gorgeous self. Write yourself the love letter you've always dreamed of receiving and drop it in the mail - old school style. Be sure to decorate the outside of the envelope with hearts and sweet messages. From you to you. From me to me.
Recently, I finished a book called, To Pray and To Love, by Roberta Bondi. I had the privilege of sitting under her teaching this past Friday evening and all day Saturday at a retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she spoke about the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, third and fourth century writers and teachers who left the cities and towns in Egypt and went to live in the desert in order to deepen their walk with and love for God and each other.
One of the things Roberta talked about was God's love for all people and how difficult it is for many to believe that they are loved by God, that we are loved by God - that I am loved by God.
I grew up in a home and church where I was reminded that God was always watching me. That no matter where I went or what I did, God was watching. A verse I heard over and over when I was a child was the latter half of Numbers 32: 23 - But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure your sin will find you out. So even though I often heard people say, "God loves you," I found it nearly impossible to believe it. I believed that God was a cosmic policeman watching to see me screw up and was ready to pounce on me and punish me for every wrong thought, word or deed.
Hearing Roberta describe her love for her husband and her children prompted me to think about my love for my own family. Often over the years, I have compared my love for my husband and children to God's love for them. And I know that as much as I love them, God loves them a bazillion times more. But I've never been able to unreservedly apply that logic to myself - I have struggled with believing that God truly loves me as I am.
Roberta made us laugh when she told the following hypothetical story.
She described herself arriving home after this weekend, heavy laden with her suitcase and other stuff. She is greeted by her husband and pets at the door and tells them all how much she missed them while she was away. Her husband responds with hugs and greetings of his own. And then he says, "Roberta, I love you in spite of who you are." We all laughed heartily at the idea of such an outrageous statement - and we know we would never say that to anyone we love.
But that is what I have heard my entire life - that God loves me in spite of who I am. In spite of my rottenness and sinfulness, my horrible habits and terrible tendencies, God loves me.
Today I can say with a clearer understanding than ever before - That is a load of crap!
God loves me. As I am. As you are. As we have always been.
As we always will be. Period.
It will undoubtedly take the rest of my life to eliminate those voices that still echo and resound in my head and my memory - those voices that say that God is not only a God of love. That we cannot only cling to that truth about God, but we have to remember God's wrath and judgment first and foremost. Those voices that suggest that, contrary to what it says about God's love in John 3:16, God was in fact so disgusted with me that God's son had to come and die for me. Those voices that warned me about my wicked heart and evil intentions. Those voices that told me that I couldn't speak up when I was young because I was only a child. Then when I grew up, those voices told me that I had to be silent in church because I'm a woman. Those voices that still try to make me feel like less than a fully articulated member of the family of God for other dubious reasons.
I spent the first 40+ years of my life actively listening to those voices and internalizing their terror-filled sentiments. Those voices are still there, but thanks be to God, they are getting quieter with each passing day. I plan to spend the next 48 years, if I should be granted that many more, listening to the voice of The One Who Loves me and celebrating love every day.
I am grateful that what I am hearing more and more these days is this -
From my husband - I love you, babe.
From my kids - I love you, Momma.
From my friends - I love you, Gail.
And from God - Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine...
I love you. (Isaiah 43:1, 4)