If it's Love that we Give ...

Even on this Valentine's Day week, love seems perpetually underrated.

We've traded in romantic comedies for dystopic, credible thrillers about the injustice and death lurking between increasingly polarized social classes (side note: you should definitely see Parasite, this year's Best Picture winner, ASAP).

We've traded in declarations of love for declarations of hate, soaring rhetoric for conspiracy theories and QAnon, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free for travel bans and benefit purges.

What an uplifting way to begin a blog about love.

What an uplifting way to celebrate Valentine's Day, which if you want a piece of good news, this is the one holiday sustaining the long embattled U.S. Postal Service and the paper cards industry. You can buy great paper cards at Trader Joe's for $1, by the way.

I am blessed in my life to know much love. Ben and I were each other's first serious boyfriend/girlfriend, and we've celebrated nearly 16 Valentine's Days now together, if you forget about 2008 - the year of Florida and Vegas and long distance/break up.

On our first Valentine's Day together, he got me flowers and we went to an Italian restaurant. We'd only been dating really then about a month. I still remember the pink top I wore from The Limited, and the way the waiter at Macaroni Grille said we seemed like we were in love.

I read this week that one way the card industry has sustained itself through Valentine's Day is by expanding Valentines from just romantic love into families, friendships, and even cards for pets. They may have had a commercial motive for doing so, but I welcome any attempt to expand the role of love in our love-starved world.

Over the past seven years, my love has swelled to include two new people who were once formed inside my own body to now exist outside of it, testing my resolve and my anxiety, and my patience, and my fears for what life might throw their way. On Valentine's past with Jake and Josh, we've made tortillas with heart-shaped holes for eggs in them, and chocolate-covered cherry smoothies.

Where I lack in craft-momming, I tend to excel in holiday food-momming.

This year, Josh and I will head to Jacob's first grade class to share a heart cookie walk.

I remember pictures of my own class parties, at Cedar Island Elementary in Maple Grove, MN. We made pipe-cleaner heart glasses and decorated sugar cookies just in time for milk carton deliveries.

Perhaps it's fitting that I see those memories through my own pink, rose-tinted glasses - wondering if my children's childhood will ever measure up to the magic of my own, or if the world has become too irreparably changed, divided, and anxious.

This Valentine's Day, as my heart swells with love that goes far beyond my little nuclear family: for my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my in-laws, my friends, new and old, and a little church in western Minnesota that has filled me with Grace ... I'm also praying that I can teach myself to love anew.

In exhaustion or worry, often over the past year I've turned to tactile and tasty love: a dark chocolate before bed, a glass of relief in red wine, a bag of chips eaten methodically to quell my wide-ranging desires and hopes and fears. I've loved tightly, sometimes fearfully, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes timidly, with the sting of having loved and lost in 2019 and before.

I've put love on a to-do list, after laundry and work and writing and promotion, and vacuuming and brushing my teeth, and scheduling appointments.

The list gets long for giving and receiving love, and even though I need it like the air I breathe - I find myself stealing love in moments: putting on Josh's shoes as he walks into preschool three days a week; rubbing Aquaphor on Jacob's chapped winter lips, touching Ben's arm next to me as we drift off to sleep before beginning life as parents again.

There's a beautiful song I've been listening to on repeat the last few days, and it has a verse about love:

If we want a garden
We're gonna have to sow the seed
Plant a little happiness
Let the roots run deep
If it's love that we give
Then it's love that we reap
If we want a garden
We're gonna have to sow the seed

- from Crowded Table, by the Highwomen. I recommend the whole album!

I want a garden. Not just this spring, when the snow finally melts and the North comes alive again. But I want a garden that's filled with love, that I'll plant and tend and grow as much as I plant and tend and grow my work and my finances and my chores and duties.

I like too that the song says "we." That love is something we build together, not just as couples or as families but as entire societies.

I haven't mentioned American politics in this blog yet, but in my work around Red State Christians, I'm talking and thinking about America's political soul all the time, and how it coexists with an American Christian tradition that's hungry for power but searching for Jesus.

I find, when I talk to people all over America from varying political backgrounds, that we are a nation hungry too, for love. We've gotta sow it together.

Happy Valentine's Day.



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