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A Day of Grace

A Day of Grace

Every year on Valentine’s Day when I was growing up, Aunt Ginny sent a card and a heart-shaped box of Russell Stover candy. 

Mom, having recovered from Christmas, went overboard again, buying stuffed animals, trinkets, whatever she saw that made her laugh – hugging monkeys, big stuffed animal dog puppet things that we never quite figured out how to use, bean bags.  In college, she would send a box of cookies with pink and red M&Ms in them, Hershey’s Kisses, a mini Precious Moments doll holding a heart with “Be mine” embroidered on the front.

Instead of despising the holiday altogether (what fun is that, even if it was created by the card companies to make people spend money or feel bad about not being in a relationship?), I’ve carried on the family tradition and started using Valentine’s Day as an excuse to buy a little something for myself.  One year, it was a gorgeous red coffee mug from Starbucks.  Normally I wouldn’t have splurged on something like that (I have a talent for being tight), but that $20 was well spent and I loved it more because it symbolized Valentine’s Day and fun and independence all at the same time.  I used it until my brother borrowed it and managed to drop it into a D.C. gutter; he caught it with his toes (wrenching his back in the process), but it was never quite the same.  Another year it was a thick pink cotton robe that means comfort and home to me.

This year, it will probably be a huge bouquet of flowers, which I’ll wait to buy until after Valentine’s Day when they’re cheaper, and talk my friend Bev into helping me arrange so they look far more expensive than they are.

I  have a hard time taking a break from budgets and to-do lists in order to just be good to myself.  I’m a perfectionist.  I’m plagued by guilt.  Show me a take-out meal and I’ll show you something that would have cost 75 percent less to make at home if I’d had my act together enough to get the groceries on the weekend and taken thirty minutes to make it.

Four years of working fulltime, writing on the side, and being hounded by lingering mono-induced fatigue got me into the position of finding every moment possible full of purpose and action.  Work was intense – physically and emotionally draining – and then my project list started over again when I got home.  There were weeks when I didn’t have the energy to do anything but sit on the couch after work and wanted to go to bed at 8:30 p.m.  But still, there were deadlines, books to read, reviews to write, Web sites to re-do, speaking engagements to prepare for. 

I was so much in work mode that I wondered how my roommate could take time to make a cup of tea.  I wasn’t judging her, I was genuinely puzzled about how her pace of life allowed her to boil the water and let the tea brew, to enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it and not because it was merely functional.  (I know, I’m certifiable.)

I’m moving into a new era.  I’m taking the lesson of Valentine’s Day and extending it into the rest of my life.  I’ve long believed that I was incredibly, deeply, fiercely loved by God, but I’m not sure I actually believed in that love wholly in my daily activities. I’m learning to live with grace in addition to just believing it – to extend it to myself and others not just for big salvation sorts of things but for daily failures.  I’m learning that perhaps grace extends not just to cover sin, but to the pile of laundry on the bathroom floor and the dishes in the sink, to the awkward moment when I said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time.

This year, I’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day as a day of grace.

Perhaps my challenges are different than yours, but this is one of the classic struggles of being single.  There’s no one to spoil you with Christmas gifts or birthday gifts or Valentine’s Day flowers (though friends and family may fill the gap).  When there’s no one to take care of you, how do you take care of yourself?  What does that say about how you view God’s grace and esteem your value in his eyes?

This Valentine’s Day, take a moment to reflect on the “everlasting love” that follows you everywhere you go, that doesn’t require you to earn it.  Be good to yourself and give yourself grace.  Buy flowers or take-out or that box of chocolates you can finish on the way home.  You can’t let the card companies have all the fun, after all.

Lori Smith is the author of "The Single Truth."  She lives in northern Virginia where her townhouse has nary a Christmas decoration this year.  Find more of her writing and preview "The Single Truth" at