(Sometimes I can’t help what comes into my head when I’m trying to title a blog post. Today it was this song.)
Every year for as long as I can remember, I have received a gift from my father on Valentine’s Day. One year it was a pair of rainbow-colored heart-shaped earrings. One year it was a wind suit (purple with a yellow and pink stripe). Twice it has been a tiny silver heart on a simple silver chain (two hearts, actually–one is his and the other is mine). The gifts kept coming all through college and even after I moved. The first Valentine’s Day that I was actually in a relationship, my dad sent me an ivory picture frame with the quote “I already have a prince, and his name is Daddy” printed inside. (My mom said he put it together himself). In a strange twist of events, last February two of my friends sent me long-distance flowers and three different men offered to take me out to dinner, which I ended up sharing with my mom, who was visiting from the Midwest. But typically it’s been my dad who has come through as the voice of affection when the roses and chocolates start filling up storefronts. His gifts are always accompanied by elaborate cards made for daughters and filled with long notes scrawled in his prescription-quality handwriting.
Some years the Daddy gifts were a bonus to the haul of candy and valentines that came home in my carefully-decorated red and pink shoe boxes. Some years they did little to alleviate my loneliness, or combat how much I longed for a man to choose to love me. Some years I lived for them, anticipating their arrival and longing for the message that I was worth that much care, that much thought, that much attention.
This is the first year that there hasn’t been one.
Maybe because of the chaos of my life over the past two weeks. Maybe because my parents are getting ready to welcome grandbaby number three. Maybe because it’s a holiday weekend and the mail is slow and postage is high. Whatever the reason, the day came and went with no gift from home.
Any you know what? It was fine. Absolutely, no doubt about it, 100% fine.
I’d made other plans for Valentine’s Day, with another love in my life.
Now before you go and roll your eyes (which is what I often want to do when people get all gushy about God), let me give you a very short background on this topic: I was raised by a Christian family and grew up in the church. I’ve always been told (and for the most part believed) that God created and loved me. We used phrases like “personal relationship with God” and “falling in love with Jesus.” Sometimes I thought that sounded pretty great and other times those notions seemed super weird. I have been a committed Christian and a casual one, and my concept and understanding of God has been all over the map in the past decade. At this point I don’t feel particularly compelled to publicly proclaim my faith or defend my beliefs to people who don’t really care, but I will share my experiences, and that’s what I aim to do here.
It’s been unseasonably warm in the Bay Area recently. Like 70 degrees in SF sort of warm. Early in the week, I blocked out last Saturday morning, deciding that I would take myself to the beach and spend Valentine’s there. The sun and the sand and the seagulls are nice, but the real reason I go is to be with the water.
I have been in love with the ocean for most of my life, at least since I was seven years old (even before we met in person). The ocean is so vast and powerful and mysterious and beautiful. For me, it has always been unequivocally linked with God, and so a love of one is a love of them both.
I meant to see the sun rise, but didn’t leave home until just after seven. I made coffee and packed a lunch, brought water and a thermos and blankets and books. I packed clothes for any occasion and took tennis shoes for hiking. I didn’t know what the day would bring, but I was eager, strangely excited to be spending the day alone, and yet not ever feeling alone at all. I stopped several times on the way to my destination–once to walk along Half Moon Bay, a few times to snap photos, and twice just to breathe.
I don’t know how often you’ve gotten up early to set off on the road, but I tend to start really excited and then I hit this wave of sleep-deprived coma. It is the perfect state to be in when you need to listen and not say anything. It is the perfect state to be in when you want to observe without analyzing. It was the perfect state to be in while I was walking along Pescadero State Beach, the entire span of sand empty at nine in the morning. I walked and I listened and I read and I listened, I felt the sun warming my hair and watched the waves fall on top of each other. It was after 11 by the time I reached my destination, a beach that I have hunted for and mistaken and missed and loved and shared and written about and revisited.
I read a book on prayer that I was just receptive enough to read and spent time with the ocean (which, for me, is the same as spending time with divinity). I gave it my fears and my hopes, told it all of the things I have told it before and some of the things I had only just learned. I ate my lunch on a towel beside a cliff and slept in rays of the sun.
There were no hearts and no flowers and no red boxes of chocolate. There were no cards and no kisses, no hand reaching under the table. But there was love. Really, there was. And there was a peace I’ve seldom held. God did not give me a necklace or a keychain or a pair of heart-shaped earrings. But he gave me a gift. God gave me Godself, and that is enough to affirm and assure me, no matter what else I might face, no matter who else seems to know.
[I should also add that I spent Saturday evening making and sharing dinner with my very dear friend Deborah, who I see so often and whose company I cherish so much that we didn’t even think to take a picture. And God was there too, somewhere in the roasted brussels sprouts and rosemary sweet potatoes, or possibly in the dark chocolate ice cream and fresh-picked raspberries, but I’m certain God was there for supper.]