Now, on to Valentine's Day. (Or, Balentine's Day for Big Sister.) If you know me, you will know that I can be really "bah humbuggy" about the way our culture likes to make holidays all about consumerism and consumption. (Which is pretty much every holiday now, right? Buy this. Do that. You can only celebrate properly if you have spent a ton of money. Blah! Bologna!) My radar keenly picks up on how profit motives drive the marketing behind holidays big and small and how something good and pure gets warped into a money making machine. To this, I say "Boo!" However, God has pulled off quite a feat this year. He is softening my heart and showing me how we can celebrate fun days like today AND still keep our love for Him as the motive. That we can participate in the consumerism aspect as little as we'd like and yet still let the spirit of love (of God and neighbor) be present in our interactions. Let me share with you a little about the events of this past week:
The other night, after dreading and dragging my feet, we all sat around the dining room table neatly tearing, folding, signing, and sealing our 125+ valentine's day cards. What I thought would be a nightmare of an event, full of moaning and complaining, and ending with me (mom) having to forge (using my weak hand) 100 signatures on their cards, turned into a joyous evening. Our table was full of love and stories about the friends in their class, why so-and-so will be Larry's favorite valentine (including a specially made double starburst with the hearts facing out gift for her) and why Big Sister will NOT be handing a "your cute" card to so-and-so. Moe was thrilled to be able to write his own name 25 times. I was thrilled that each child happily wrote her or his name on every. single. card. I went to bed that night a little confused, quite perplexed, and full of joy that the simple act of writing cards and sharing stories brought so much happiness to our dining room.
The spirit of love continued throughout the following day and evening as we headed to our Wednesday night church dinner and then to the Ash Wednesday service. The service is a special and reflective time to ask for forgiveness and prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus' death and resurrection. This year, Ash Wednesday just happened to fall the day before valentine's day. I am not sure why, but I kinda liked that. It seemed to bring our family close together. We ended the evening happily, apologized for our shortcomings, and my heart felt content. Strange. I don't usually like these (valentine) holidays. But, it gets better.
This morning, I woke up to beautiful flowers and a card from my husband. Larry (my resident hoarder) told me this: "Mama, valentine's day is not about chocolate or presents. It is about spreading love." Those words, coming out of the mouth of my six year old, made my mama heart explode with joy. But it gets better. I had presented all five children with a small box of chocolates, which I fully expected to turn into a whine fest, full of moaning about why they can't eat the entire box before breakfast. But that didn't happen. Rather, Larry and Moe asked me if they could give their box away. Each box had four pieces of chocolate and they each decided who would get them. On the walk to school, Officer Stacey, our crossing guard was gifted with two pieces. One of the teachers who corrals the students each morning in the cafeteria was gifted two as well. When Moe slipped up and ate half of one of the pieces he wanted to give to his teacher (and after explaining that it would be rude to gift her a half-eaten piece of chocolate), we put some heart shaped cookies in a bag so they could have something to give their teachers. All was good. Or so I thought.
Then, just as I thought we were having the perfect morning, the reality of past hurts crept in. Even though we have been home now for two years, there are deep wounds that resurface from time to time. Scars from her past presented, a life where fear, malnutrition, and starvation were daily realities. When I couldn't find Sassy, I knew immediately what had happened. She had taken her box of chocolates up to her bedroom and was hurriedly shoving them in her mouth. We have come so far toward developing a healthy relationship with food, but there are triggers. There are times when she seems to have so little control over what she is doing. I have seen this so many times. It breaks my heart. She will lie about what just happened. Even though my eyes saw her doing this, when I ask she will look right at me and say, "No. I did not eat the chocolate." I will have to press her at least a half dozen times and explain why we need to tell the truth. Sometimes she will, sometimes she won't. The scars are deep. Through parenting Sassy, God teaches me daily about his patience and grace and love. While God continues his healing and redemptive work in her, he also reminds me and gives me countless opportunities to exercise that same patience and grace toward her and I truly consider this a gift from God.
In all honestly though, this is something I wish I could explain better to others. Yes, Sassy is healthy and thriving and exudes confidence and joy, but underneath there are scars. I think the same can be said for all of us, right? Underneath that mask that we wear in public, at work, at church, in school and in our daily interactions, there are usually some scars from previous life experiences. Scars that while hurt us a great deal, also helped us to grow in other ways. They are part of us, and although I wish I could take away every awful nightmare of an experience our children lived through, I absolutely believe God will use every hurt to help them help others one day. God is a God of new mercies and new beginnings. God redeems all brokenness. God is love.
This year, I am thankful that God softened my heart and showed me how to parent and participate in a fun and loving event that can and will still be centered on Christ. Through the joyous and the painful, God is at work redeeming and loving. Happy Valentine's Day!
Romans 13:10: "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."