Sunday, February 13, 2005

for valentine's day

If only every day could be like our wedding day! We had an absolute blast! Heather spent the early part of the day joyfully preparing for the ceremony with her loving friend Kathy. I spent the morning with my best man. We had a one-armed photographer named Bryce who was unobtrusive even though his arm was in a sling. My aunt played the organ, and for our wedding march we used the music from the wedding scene in “The Sound of Music” (Heather’s favorite movie). The ceremony was led by a wonderful professor from our college who had counseled us with wisdom before the wedding. I sang a solo to Heather. I was off-key in several places, but I sang it with joy and heartfelt commitment, just the same. Our reception was informal and comfortable and filled with laughter. Our cake was made by a dearly loved friend. After the reception, Heather’s dad loaned us his car for our honeymoon—a vast improvement over the car we normally drove. We arrived in the late afternoon at the place we would spend our first night of married life: the St. Paul Hotel, a rather fancy old establishment right in the heart of quaint downtown St. Paul. We weren’t used to such sophisticated surroundings so I think we asked ourselves on more than one occasion the inevitable question: “Were we supposed to tip that guy?” Upon arrival in our room, we looked out the window. The sky was golden and clear. A hush seemed to settle over our little patch of earth.

Roughly 7 years after our wedding, we moved to Barcelona. There, I’m sorry to say, I really learned that marriage did not turn out the way I thought it would. We were going through some tough times in our work, Nicolas had just been born (which meant Heather was suffering from sleep deprivation) and, I must confess, I became quite self-centered. I hardly talked to Heather, I wasn’t gentle with her, I didn’t pay much attention to the kids. Before long, I had unwittingly put a distance between Heather and myself. We were living together alone. When I came to grips with what I had done, I thanked God that it wasn’t too late to put things right. I realized that I was leaving out the essential ingredients of a loving, healthy marriage and even (simply) a loving, healthy life.

I read a story about “the essentials” recently. It’s a poignant reminder of what really matters.

Ben Patterson writes: “I have a theory about old age…I believe that when life has whittled us down, when joints have failed and skin has wrinkled and capillaries have clogged and hardened, what is left of us will be what we were all along, in our essence.

Exhibit A is a distant uncle…All his life he did nothing but find new ways to get rich…He spent his latter years very comfortably, drooling and babbling constantly about the money he had made…When life whittled him down to his essence, all there was left was raw greed. This is what he had cultivated in a thousand little ways over a lifetime.

Exhibit B is my wife’s grandmother…When she died in her mid-eighties, she had already been senile for several years. What did this lady talk about? The best example I can think of was when we asked her to pray before dinner. She would reach out and hold the hands of those sitting beside her, a broad, beatific smile would spread across her face, her dim eyes would fill with tears as she looked up to heaven, and her chin would quaver as she poured out her love to Jesus. That was Edna in a nutshell. She loved Jesus and she loved people. She couldn’t remember our names, but she couldn’t keep her hands from patting us lovingly whenever we got near her.

When life whittled her down to her essence, all there was left was love: love for God and love for people.” (from “The Grand Essentials”)

I love the simplicity of how Socrates puts it: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: that word is love.”

But, if Socrates boils life down to one thing, this story rightly reminds us that love comes in at least two essential forms: our love for people and our love for God. I would hasten to add a third: God’s love for us. Without that, I’d be nothing.

There’s another story that beautifully illustrates why I think so:

Once there was a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The doctor had explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

“Would you give your blood to Mary?” the doctor asked.

Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”

Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room—Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.

As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence. “Doctor, when do I die?”

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he’d agreed to donate his blood. He’d thought giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. In that brief moment, he’d made his great decision. (from “Written in Blood” by Robert Coleman)

Without Johnny’s sacrificial love, Mary would have died. In the same way, without God’s sacrificial love, we would die.

Once someone said: “We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”

There are three essentials in life: our love for people, our love for God, and (most importantly) God’s love for us. Without that, we’d be nothing.

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