February 2, 2018

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Love connects Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day this year

Patti Lamb“Oh, no!” I heard Margaret yell in a disturbed tone from the kitchen.

I didn’t hear anything break, but I went to check on her anyway. I never quite know what to expect with that one. I found her staring at our wall calendar, pointing to Feb. 14.

When I asked what the fuss was about, my 10-year-old shared her revelation.

“Valentine’s Day is on Ash Wednesday this year, and that is not good,” she said.

She went on to explain that Ash Wednesday meant going to church, ashes and—she gave a dramatic sigh—no Valentine’s Day party candy.

Margaret didn’t understand how a day “all about love and chocolate” could also be the first day of Lent.

“They just don’t go together,” she muttered, and she walked away.

I think Margaret meant that love shouldn’t be accompanied by any sort of discomfort.

She thinks that love should be all the good stuff, like tap-dancing unicorns and cupcakes with perfectly piped frosting.

The older she gets, the more she will come to realize that love—the real kind—isn’t always sugarcoated.

Authentic love can be downright unpretty. It’s trying to get tangles out of your child’s hair in the morning and franticly scrubbing the toothpaste off her sleeve before she boards the bus.

Love isn’t always easy. Love is spending an evening helping an impatient child understand a difficult math concept the night before a big quiz. It’s shoveling your neighbor’s driveway in subzero temperatures even though you’ll be late for work.

Love can be hard work. It’s forgiving a co-worker who treated you unkindly. It’s disciplining a child who needs to do a better job showing respect to others.

Love can also be dirty work—literally. Love is cleaning up after a child with the stomach bug, or scrubbing his new shoes after he walked through mud on his way home from school. It’s doing six loads of laundry on a Sunday so that everyone has clean towels, sheets and clothes.

Before bed that night, Margaret and I talked about what love really is. I asked her to share some examples. She talked about cleaning up after her dog (and her brother). She mentioned making a card for a sick friend instead of watching her favorite television show. Margaret also pointed out the time when she let her brother have the last ice cream bar even though that’s her favorite dessert. I pointed out that all of the examples she gave had something in common: sacrifice.

As I tucked her in, we determined that it’s fitting that Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, which leads us to Jesus’s sacrifice of death and his resurrection on Easter Sunday—all because of God’s love for us. God gave us his only Son and Jesus gave his life as ransom for our salvation. God’s love is the most important love to remember on Valentine’s Day or on any day.

One of my sisters gave me a great book called Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford. The book’s title is a sort of mantra to which the author repeatedly circles back. I’ve adopted my own Lenten mantra from one of the book’s passages, which says, “Today I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love next. I will choose love until it becomes my first response.”

May this Lent bring us all closer to divine love.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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