Our kitchen table was drowning in construction paper, doilies, puffy heart-shaped stickers and contraband glitter. The children crowded around, hard at work maximizing the sticker-to-paper ratio on their Valentines, and I was hard at work trying not to be stingy about it.
Chubby little fingers wrestled with scissors and an unyielding glue bottle and someone asked me how to spell love. “Mom, I need help! Mom!” they called, one after the other.
Making Valentines is hard work when you’re not quite big enough to be trusted with permanent markers.
I think that is appropriate, somehow, because showing love is hard work too. Always.
While the kids worked, I cut out a chain of paper hearts and wrote a different attribute of love on each one. “Love is patient …kind…” It looked like a string of candy hearts, but the message wasn’t sugary and silly like the candy heart kind.
It was tough, and I felt a twinge of self-deprecation as I read the list. “Love is patient…”
The very first word stabbed my heart. It seems I cannot get patient fast enough.
“Love is kind.”
I am kind, most of the time, unless someone asks me what’s for breakfast before I’ve had my first cup of coffee. Then, I am not really all that kind.
“Love is not jealous.”
I do not have to search very far into my memory to know that if love is not jealous, then I do not really know love.
I remember back to springtime on my college campus, when girls were getting engaged faster than the snow was melting. Their happiness highlighted the fact that I had never been chosen, never been pursued, never been loved like that. But I wanted to be.
I remember when a friend held her baby for the first time, and I was jealous of the love she had for that child when I did not feel the same way about the baby growing in me. My heart was uglier than hers, I could see, and I coveted in her what I was not willing to change in me.
I remember when my mother remarried after my dad had been gone from my life almost as long as he was in it. She married a good and godly man in the middle of our living room with the pastor and my grandparents bearing witness.
I didn’t get out of bed for it.
I was jealous. Unkind. Easily provoked. Old enough to know better. Stewing in wrongs suffered and busy seeking my own will. I felt discarded, traded in, and abandoned. But I was too proud to talk about it, too jealous to rejoice in the goodness of God in providing my mom with another soul-mate, another opportunity to be a picture of Christ and His bride.
I was altogether unbecoming of love.
I thought about this as I guided my little boy’s scissored hands around the candy cane curve of a folded-up paper, cutting away the bits that couldn’t remain if we wanted the heart to unfold. Awkwardly, he tried to open and close his fingers and turn the paper simultaneously, but he couldn’t do it.
I looked over at my long link of hearts. Love is like that, I thought. Love is a showcase for my weaknesses. It is so unlike me, so beyond me. I am like a chubby-handed child with a too-big scissors, trying to make my fingers do something they are incapable of doing very well. I am not patient. I am jealous. I am not very good at love.
But the beauty of true love is that it does not wait for me to be lovely. It does not wait for me to be worthy. It is a love that seeks like a Savior, that draws me in not with poetry and empty-worded praise, but with the strange and awful beauty of the cross. It is thorns and blood, sacrifice and death. It is the ridiculousness of perfect love being spilled out for someone who is not perfect and cannot love long enough for the glue to dry on the Valentines.
It is a love that loves first.
I see that beautiful love and all I can do is cry “Help me, Father!” Help me to love like that.
With great big Father hands, God rushes in to help me do what I cannot do on my own. He grasps my clumsy fingers, carefully drawing the lines and making the cuts. Gently, God unfolds His work and reveals a beautiful love in me.
I gasp at the beauty of it. It is astounding, amazing, and so much more than I deserve.
But then, I’m learning that love is like that.