It is Valentine's Day, and (like everybody else), I have love on the brain. The thing is, in more recent years, with handmade paper Valentine's becoming more important to me and days of wine and roses fewer and farther between (though, if you are reading this, Brian, I still like wine and roses, and chocolate, and jewelry...), I think about love more in the context of my entire family, less as a solitary couple.
When I think about love, I am also reminded of this biblical verse (1 Corinthians 13:4) read as a part of our wedding ceremony, almost thirteen years ago:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
At the time, we read it simply because it is what you read at Christian weddings. I honestly don't think I have ever been to one and not heard this verse. It is pretty, it talks about love, it bears a hopeful sentiment for a lifetime of uninterrupted marital bliss.
However, like most couples, I learned early on that there is no such thing as uninterrupted marital bliss. There are plenty of interruptions. There are irritable moments, rude moments, and many times when you keep record of who did what (and maybe even boasted about it).
After a few years (probably after hearing it again at someone else's wedding), I started to think that maybe that verse had it wrong. I mean, really, what did an ancient guy named Paul know about marriage? I don't remember him talking about his wife (or even a girlfriend) anywhere in the text. He never once mentioned that time he promised not to leave his toga on the floor without being snarky about it. Maybe, I thought, like the priest that had given us "pre cana" marriage counseling, he meant well but had never experienced the reality.
Real love, I found, is messy stuff. And, when we had our first child, it got messier (literally). There was much record taking (I did the last 2 diapers, thankyouverymuch), and maybe even a little rejoicing in injustice (thank goodness I wasn't home when that diaper exploded). When we had the second child, it got even messier. When we heard the terms stroke, and brain damage, and hemiplegia, and unknown outcomes... we lost faith. It seemed that we had encountered more than we could endure.
Bad news, surgery, sleepless nights, fear, anger, and anxiety came and demanded its own way. We lost track of the record. We held onto each other until we cried, we cried until we fought, we fought until we talked, and we talked until we finally learned how to really support one another.
From Simon's infancy, each developmental milestone slowly missed, then eventually met; through our encouragement and his unflappable determination, taught us that love really needs to be patient. It learns to be. The prayers, help, cheers, and support, of therapists, doctors, teachers, family, friends, and even people we don't know, has taught us over the years that love really can be kind. It finds a way to be.
Perhaps a just little to our surprise, Simon's sister showed us that love doesn't have to be jealous. From the beginning, Livy embraced him without complaining about the extra time he gets, or attention he receives. Instead, she chose to help take care of him with us. She protects him against injustices (like when she thinks her parents are being too tough on him), she teaches him things (like how to play her DS games, and get his own goldfish crackers), and she parties on with his triumphs.
Of faithfulness, Simon himself is absolute proof. He never gives up, it has never occured to him to lose hope. At the center of his being, it is his complete faith in us, in the love of our family, that will always endure through every circumstance. Simply by being himself, Simon has taught me what love is.
Maybe, after all, that old guy Paul had it right.