The Real Valentine
One of my favorite songs from my many years at summer camp was called “Unconditional Love,” and it went something like this:
Give me your unconditional love
The kind of love I deserve
The kind I want to return [optional shouting here of “Uh oh, uh oh oh oh!”]
We know a place where God’s people can run free
A new kind of love, and they call it agape
Don’t take too long to find
True love transcends all time
[at this point you were encouraged to start yelling the words instead of singing, and jumping up and down]
IN NON-REACTING, EVERLASTING LOVE!
Little did I know at age 9 that this was a Donna Summers song (you can watch a very entertaining, very 1980s YouTube video of her version). And I was mostly in it for the boisterous jumping up and down and shouting, and the accompanying hand motions. But of all the camp song lyrics to stick with me for over two decades, these are pretty good ones.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, which has its origins as the feast day of Saint Valentine – a fact that’s easy to forget amidst the haze of chocolate and roses and prix fixe menus. According to Catholic Online, in addition to being the saint associated with love and happy marriages and engagements, Valentine is the patron saint of bee keepers, epilepsy, fainting, and plague.
We actually don’t know a lot about Saint Valentine. He’s one of those very early saints where we know more legends about him than historical facts. Most of those early stories are about the saint’s care for others, and one of the most beloved stories that stuck around is about his healing of a young girl, restoring her sight.
But we know with certainty that, like most of the early saints, Valentine was a martyr.
He was publicly executed (perhaps on this day in the year 269 C.E.) because he refused to renounce his faith in the Christian God. He died defending his devotion to the God who had died for him. He died trying to let his love for God mirror God’s love for him. For Saint Valentine, love was something that didn’t change, even when his life was at stake, especially when his life was at stake. Unconditional love.
At this time last year, Chris and I were still in the middle of the course that SF Human Services Agency offers for foster families, which focused heavily on childhood trauma and the way trauma manifests itself in the behavior of foster youth and anyone who has experienced significant loss. One of the teachers of that course was a long-time foster parent, who told a number of stories from her own experience. I often share one of these stories in our mentor training.
This long-time foster parent has had two foster children, a brother and sister, in her care for several years. She told us rather matter-of-factly that every few months she has to go to the Goodwill store to buy a new set of dishes, because every so often one of the children she’s caring for has to break all the dishes in the house. Instead of sending them packing to another placement, as most foster families would do, she just goes to buy more dishes, because she understands trauma, and because those children are more important to her than any possession ever would be. It’s the best story I’ve ever heard about non-reacting, everlasting love.
When I told this story to someone recently, her reply was: “Unconditional love is so hard.”
Unconditional love IS hard. But it’s what we’re about at Braid, because we worship the same God that Saint Valentine did and – like him – we believe that it is God’s unconditional love, working through us, that can restore a child’s vision of the world and change their life. We also know for a fact that you don’t have to be a saint (or a martyr) to be a channel of that love.
Unconditional love is still worth jumping up and down about and yelling about at the top of your lungs. As recipients of true love that transcends all time, the best valentine we can give to each other is to mirror that love to someone else.