It's February 14th. I'm wearing a red dress and a scarf covered in red hearts. There will be parties at the school where I work. Kids will exchange valentines with classmates. Some of my friends will wait for gifts from their spouses. I recognize that for plenty of people this is a very important day.
But if you were a fly on the wall in the Tullock house you'd see a whole other reality unfolding. February 14th, 2017 is just a Tuesday. Next year it will be just a Wednesday.
I usually dress up in red or pink because of all the school festivities, but there is no bouquet of flowers waiting for me. There are no special chocolates. On my way out the door, my husband says, "Love you! Happy Tuesday."
Now, Reader, let me explain to you why this is not a sad thing or a wrong thing.
Years ago my husband and I began exchanging notes. We were college students and "just friends." He wrote little notes and cards to me when I was having a rough time. I wrote little notes back to him. We delivered these via the school mailbox system for a while and then, as we got closer, the notes began turning up on my car, tucked under practice room doors during the day, and in the form of silly e-cards (are those a thing anymore?).
I remember being home at my parents' house during my Junior year, over Thanksgiving break, and receiving a turkey themed hallmark card in the mail. Actual snail mail. I opened it and it sang me some sort of silly turkey song. There was a short note inside from the boy who would become my husband (I didn't know that yet). My mother was sitting with me in the living room when I opened it. She lowered her glasses and gave me "the look" and said: Oh. My. Word. This boy is courting you, Sarah.
We were a very traditional family in many ways, but there weren't a whole lot of traditional expectations about what a significant other should do. He didn't have to ask permission to take me out or to propose to me. But he earned my parents' admiration the moment he sent that first card to their home address. It was not Valentine's day.
I like to tell the story of our wedding day sometimes.
We walked down the aisle together, side by side, holding hands. Just like the first walk we took before we knew what was waiting in our future, we were equals, standing next to each other.
We've been married almost 7 years and together for nearly 10. My husband likes to jokingly say, "Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they shall not be disappointed." He usually says this when something like February 14th is approaching. Expectations are important, aren't they? So often our expectations are not voiced; other times, we express them out loud, but we don't know why we want what we want. These days I know not to seek or offer any of the culturally "expected" romantic gestures. It's never ever been our pattern. In fact, when we got married and set up our home together we said it out loud again, just for good measure: "It is still true that we won't be doing Valentine's Day as such."
If we aren't aiming for these big romantic holidays, what are we doing, then?
We're aiming for intention. That's a funny statement. We're intentionally seeking intention.
The beauty of the spontaneous notes when we were dating was their meaningfulness. They came about for a purpose. It wasn't dictated by a calendar. It was all about what was actually happening in our lives. If the other needed encouragement, we each took the initiative to express support that way. It's still the thing I want. And I know exactly why I want it. I want it because I want to still be paying attention to what's happening in my husband's life, and I want him to still be paying attention to what's happening in mine. I want us to still be actively learning about each other. People are not spiritually sedentary beings. People continue to grow and change as they age - all the way to the end. I know this for sure. I've seen enough people cross through that last door to understand that nothing is actually done until it is.
So, Reader, this whole philosophy about relationships hangs around our house through the good moments and the bad. These days we're parents and we have some pretty rough days! The folks who know my music know that I have written some love songs for my husband, but I write a particular sort of love song. Although I enjoy some sappy, shallow love songs from our popular culture, I am unable to write like that. Because it's not the life experience I've had. Instead, I tend to write what I like to call real person love songs.
For your listening enjoyment, this is a real person love song I wrote for my husband last year. It says, "The Truth is so much more than good or bad, we're so much more than good or bad..."
You know, St. Valentine has a crazy story. His name and holiday are well known mostly because of a miracle involving the restoration of a young lady's sight . . . not so much because he was a champion of sappy love affairs. He championed the marriages of young Christians, but not because they were idealistically besotted with each other - he mostly championed them because of intense and violent persecution taking place where he lived at the time. If you want to know more about St. Valentine's history, click here. Red Letter Christians always does a great job of explaining historical stuff like the patron saint of the day.
Here's what I want you to know today, friend: What you receive or don't receive today is not the body of evidence proving the validity of your real person relationship. Your real person relationship is made up of much more than February 14th, a wedding day, a proposal story, or any of that other stuff. It's more likely made up of the gritty stuff . . . births, deaths, financial troubles, hysterical laughter at odd times, quiet meals, and so on.
As I consider the past 6 and 1/2 years of marriage and the time we spent together before them, I can't name any one thing that definitively proves we love each other correctly. It's more like a sense of agreement we have - that we'll reliably attempt the everyday rituals of this shared life . . . that we will still be one another's helper. Sometimes we go through a season when somebody shoulders more of this than the other. It's only natural. That all ebbs and flows with time. But the agreement we have holds everything together even as the world pulls at the corners of the life we're constantly working to build.
In fact, case in point, this little musical interlude perfectly describes the reality of our life and our love affair! It's just a couple of crazy kids doing the best they can. Loving others is serious business . . . but we can't take every little thing (or every little Feb. 14th) so seriously that we lose our joy in the process:
My husband is the love of my life, not because of February 14th or the date of our wedding, but because I've decided that he is and that he will be. I am the love of his life for the same reason. Love and affection are choices we continue to make as time goes on. Sometimes our duet sounds really slick and we're in tune and everything looks good on stage. Other times not so much (see above proof of point). Regardless, it's ours and we're in it for the long haul.
Do not allow today to be the end all, be all . . . because it isn't.
Look that other person in the eye and make the choice to continue learning about them. That's where you'll find it: your real person love song.