Valentine’s Day isn’t about romance or passion to me. Instead, it’s a blur of fizzy affections tethered first to grade school then later to a woman of valor.
I grew up in a Mayberry-esque town before the internet or big box craft stores were born.
They were halcyon days, when a teacher would hand out construction paper, scissors, glitter and glue, then light a creative match and set our imaginations on fire.
We’d transform our cereal or shoe boxes into treasure boxes. Then, we’d snake up and down the rows of desks, slipping our Valentines into bedazzled boxes, eager to sift and analyze our own.
When I got older there was a season when Valentine’s Day took on a shroud of romance, but even when I started dating the man who would become my husband, I never liked the idea of a retail-imposed, gift-giving mandate. Except that one time in college, under Valentine’s Day pressure but totally broke he came up with my favorite gift of all time — that was true love.
When my firstborn was three years old, Valentine’s Day changed. It happened when my mother-in-
lawlove (MIL) asked if we could have a Valentine Tea. My husband is one of four boys and my in-laws had been waiting for a granddaughter for almost 30 years. They had ideas.
Our mother-daughter tea evolved over time. Initially I hosted the tea. Our menu: heart-shaped PB&Js, strawberry Jello Jigglers, and Valentine M&Ms. For the moms: chicken salad and strawberry cream puffs. In those early years we’d make a craft, plus a card for the dads, and read a special book.
Our Valentine Tea Party became a much-anticipated annual event growing larger each year. When it outgrew our dining room, I raised the white flag. That was the year we moved it to my mother-in-law’s house and it became a family event — the four girl cousins inviting their very best friend (and her mom), my sisters-in-law, my MIL and her best friend.
We’d sit around the dining room table for hours, three generations at school in a sacred space, no one in a hurry to leave.
When we had our Valentine Tea in 2012 — a little late because it was the year I was living abroad — I had no idea it would be our last.
My mother-in-law is a marvel. It’s doubtful I fully realize the breadth and depth of her impact in my life, but I know it’s substantial.
What’s important to know is she didn’t go into our relationship with a grand plan of showing me how I’m supposed to live; she simply lived her own life before me.
She taught me . . .
- not to just use my china and silver but to enjoy it, by delighting in her own.
- the value of friendship by spending time with her friends.
- to be generous by her generosity.
- how to cook by sharing her recipes.
- the importance of tradition by helping me create my own.
Because I know she prayed for her sons’ future mates, I learned to pray for my own children’s future mates.
Her values were clear . . .
- faith, evidenced by her esteem of the Word.
- marriage, marked by whole-hearted devotion and affections for her husband.
- service, by how she spent her time.
- family, the way she showed interest in her children and grands.
Without drawing attention to herself, she has shown me what it looks like to be a Proverbs 31 woman, the one for whom it can be said:
“Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
‘Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.'”
To know Sarah is to love her.
It has been three years since our last Valentine Tea, the reality of coordinating five busy families and health concerns finally proving too great a challenge to continue our tradition. The past two Valentine’s have been marked with a twinge of sadness.
This year it hit me that traditions can evolve. Just like when our Valentine Tea Party got too crazy for our house and it had to move and change, maybe it’s time for a new iteration.
My in-laws are with us this weekend, and while I don’t know the specifics of how we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day (I’m writing in advance . . .), I’m sure about a few things.
- I will serve because I’ve been taught how to serve.
- I will use my china and silver because I know it will speak blessing and honor.
- I will love well because I have been loved well.
Eshet chayil to all the Kingdom women
who shape their daughters — by birth or by love — by simply living their lives before us.