Valentine's Day and I have a torrid history. Like many a young girl, there was a time when I dreamed of prince charming swooping in with a heart shaped, cellophane wrapped box of cheap chocolate and over priced roses. That was a long time ago before the smell of roses reminded me only of funerals, since necrophilia isn't my thing, roses aren't romance in our house. I would take a few chocolate covered strawberries or caramels over a box of chocolate any day. There was a time when I thought Valentine's Day was full of romance and the stuff dreams were made of. That time is long past, while my house is currently covered in hearts, I am like the Grinch of the day. Honestly the hearts are for my kid and this year to maybe a little to remind me of the love that is in the world despite politically terrible times. Why should I be obligated to show my love in the form of sugar and greeting cards on February 14th every year? Isn't just my regular old love expressed through a thousand tiny gestures enough?
Let me tell you a story about Valentine's Day 1997. My mom had started seeing someone who was still very much pulling out the stops. He took our entire family out to dinner at a local tavern. My mom, me, my brothers, my niece, my sister in law. We were enjoying a boisterous dinner (the only kind my family of origin knows) when I started to feel really sick, like oh crap I am not making through dinner sick. My sister in law drove me home and rejoined the family. I changed into terry cloth mismatched sweats that were so ill fitting I could fit another person in them. I had a huge white scrunchy holding my hair abnormally high on my head, I hugged the toilet for awhile. Then the door bell rang, it was my now husband and his then best friend. In one of the more romantic gestures of our life together, he decided to ask me to prom on Valentine's Day. When I answered the door in my amazing outfit and sloppy hair, I did not expect to see my friends, let alone the one I "kinda sorta maybe liked". The invited themselves in, my outfit did not deter them. We started talking about answering machines and their prerecorded voices. Mid sentence Paul blurted out, "Would you go to prom with me?" I said, "Sure." and we went back to answering machines. My plans to go to bed were canceled because I had to wait up to tell the family I was going to prom. I think my mom was more excited than I was that I was going. And so began our life together, in between boughts of Valentine's Day vomiting I was asked to the prom. It was probably one of the most romantic Valentine's Days of my life.
Fast forward 20 years later, we are married with one kiddo, we have been through hell together. I find myself the week before Valentine's Day in the card aisle looking for a card that says husband. I am feeling lazy and frivolous. Cards are pricey but I work full time now, so I can buy one. I don't feel like making one. Husband you have the perfect butt... that won't work Paul's back just splits in half where his butt should be (don't worry I can say that, he can tell you about my "front butt"). Wild thing you drive me crazy... do you know what kind of sex we have? Baby making on a schedule sex. It is work, it is not sexy or fun or wild. Stereotypical gender role humor... funny yes but still not us. In case you missed it in one of the other hundred blogs, I am female clergy... so there goes that. I desperately looked for a blank one... nothing. Finally, I found one that didn't say husband, but had sentiments I at least felt were real, true. I nearly cried for a moment in the card aisle, I texted a friend my disgust. There are no cards that fit our marriage, we are failing. We aren't failing, really. Culture was just winning at that moment. I went on ranting about how stupid this whole thing is. I bought a card so I didn't have to write my own sentiment this year. Then I signed the card tonight and here I sit with a glass of wine, typing a much longer sentiment, one that is real.
There is no card that says, thank you for moving to Kentucky and then South Dakota with me because I heard Jesus call me to these places. Particularly South Dakota where we live in isolation like we have never known. Where the culture is programed to more often than not reject us. The winters are long. The political landscape makes our liberal Jesus freak selves rarities. Our families are thousands of miles away. There is no card that says, thank you for loving my difficult self through this infertility stuff. For putting up with sex that is more like making a bank deposit. And the depression. Or how exciting and sad it is that we will spend V-day getting a full work up at the reproductive endocrinologist. There is no card that allows me to say things like "Are you in so much pain you are going to barf, because you lose your mind when you barf, and we can't have you barfing on the table in public?" On that note, my eternal gratitude for your dealing with kid barf bears mentioning.
Our life is not romantic by the world's standards. Sometimes I let the world's standards speak too loudly. Sometimes, I wish I had the kind of life where roses and candy in heart shaped boxes would make me gleeful. This simply isn't our life and it never has been. So I was feeling pretty down about all this, about our love being too real for romance. I didn't mention all this but today I was chatting with my mentor who brought up a great podcast he listened to about love. (On Being, go check out this week's it is fantastic.) I listened to it this afternoon and for the first time in a long while I felt validated in the kind of love we have and encouraged to keep on doing the work of love. I realized that the only reason we have been able to love like this for so long in a world that tells us love is anything else, is because that same mentor has been whispering to me for years about what love really is, the work, the heart break, the loneliness. I don't think we would have lasted this long with out that steady reminder.
My husband asked me to his senior prom while I was sick as dog and looked like hell. It set the stage for our romantic life. Two years later, after ten years of illness my dad was dying. He was in a lot of pain, it was horrifying but I had seen this before. Paul hadn't and he sat in that hospital room and quietly turned green. My mom noticed and sent him home. I don't know that we have ever had a candle light dinner, but he turned green for me and a week later he would be sent to tell me my dad was dead. He drove two hours thinking he had to tell me, not knowing I already knew. Six years later, right before our wedding, my stepdad was terminally ill. I told him if he wanted to call it off for fear of his own life cut short, I would understand, he didn't. He walked with me feeling like every man I cared about would die. 8 months after we were married we had to move unexpectedly back to my mom's house, where Tim (stepdad and guy mentioned above) would go on hospice care. Paul didn't turn green this time but he shared the night shift with the rest of us. And two years later when it was my grandmother dying and I totaled our newish car drivnig down I95 to Florida to get my mom to her... he drove twelve hours to get to us and drive us the rest of the way. He grieved her like his own. When on a whim I wanted to visit a seminary in KY he was game and when I wanted to apply he encouraged me and when I was accepted, he left behind our friends and the life we had known for years. My sister in law dropped dead and he drove me to my family while he grieved deeply too. There was the kid's broken arm and surgery followed by the start of my anxiety attacks. There was the never having enough money to make the ends meet. There as the call search that left us on the verge of homelessness. Then leaving behind the community and city we loved to move to the great unknown middle. And those are just the big things, there are a million little things.
It is no wonder I can't find a card that says that. My best advice to anyone crazy enough to say yes to a life of working at loving a person. Find a person who will ask you out even when you just vomited. Find a person who will turn green for you. Find a person who will drive to three different Target stores, to find the Christmas ornament you saw two weeks ago. Find a different person to whisper in your soul, love is hard keep at it because I promise you there will be times you want to give up on it. I can't remember the last time I had butterflies in my stomach, it might have been our first kiss some twenty years ago. Today I can't remember what it is like to have sex, with out trying to make a human, I feel the polar opposite of sexy. I am not even sure I understand romance or love as the world puts it forth. But I do understand what it is to work at loving a person, who is as human and flawed as I am. I know I am not easy to live with. I am not easy to love because love is risky, love means risking heart break 1000 times, and doing it anyway. My heart has been so broken by other things, sometimes I don't want to risk love. Layer by layer my patient partner has helped me to disassemble my tower of protection that kept him at a distance for so long. All this is before I even tell you about the kind of dad he is, let's just say this April, he is participating in a daddy/daughter dance on stage in front of a sold out crowd for the dance recital in town. He hates to dance but for his lil' lady he is going well outside his comfort zone.
Today I am grateful for this kind of deep and committed love that embraces the mess of life. Ordinary no, I don't think so... me and you.