50 years ago I bought my first little heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day candy, walked across the Florida College campus from “C Dorm” to Sutton Hall and said “Happy Valentine’s Day” to a young lady I had only been dating a short time.
By the next Valentine’s Day, Norma Jean and I were talking marriage. By our third one together we were married. Over the years we’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day where ever our ministry has taken us. Ohio. Kentucky. Tennessee. Back in Florida, twice. Missouri. And now Texas.
However, for the first time in 50 years we’re not together on Valentine’s Day. The passing of Norma Jean’s Aunt Selma dictated that it made more sense for her to remain in Florida, while I returned to Texas. We would rather be together. But sometimes love makes sacrifices.
Later in the week I’ll return to Florida for the funeral, then we’ll both come home. And have our own “Valentine’s Day” celebration next week. Hopefully, the flowers and card she received will do for now.
All of this has caused me to turn a bit melancholy, as I reflect on our lives together. Our marriage. Our love. And our ups and downs along the way.
Marriage, God’s way, is great. But it’s work. Hard work. The world has a different perspective on what love and marriage is. In fact, marriage has often been discarded with the mantra, “If we love each other, what’s a piece of paper got to do with it?”
In the 50 years we’ve been married, there has been a social experiment to redefine love, marriage and the family. In 1968, when we were married, The Doors released a song written by Jim Morrison with these opening lines. “Hello I love you. Won’t you tell me your name?”
Four years later Luther Ingram sang, “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” Then, of course, there was Tina Turner’s #1 hit, “What’s love got to do it?” In it she calls love “a second hand emotion.”
Those attitudes reduce love to a carnal feeling. A temporary infatuation. A lustful look. They speak to the pursuit of pleasure. Of feeling good. Of seeking happiness. Norma Jean and I know better.
Love, real love, is deeper. Greater. Broader. It lasts a lifetime because it’s composed of spiritual values that provide permanence. Give direction. And call for unselfish devotion. Paul’s treatise in 1 Corinthians 13 offers this divine definition of love.
“This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.”
“Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails.”
“Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8, J. B. Phillips Translation)
Norma Jean and I can tell you that to make it to your 50th Valentine’s Day, it takes a lot patience! Persistence. And perseverance. It requires self-discipline. Self-sacrifice. And self-denial.
A couple of years into our marriage, we went to a movie, Love Story, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. I honestly don’t remember much about the movie, but I’ve never forgotten the memorable line that’s been repeated many times since. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Really?
We’ve actually learned that love is willing to say, “I’m sorry.” “I was wrong.” “Will you forgive me?” And love listens. Forgives. And doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.
Love is not mawkish sentimentality. It’s greater than romance. And it more than passion. Love is bigger than you are. You cannot command it. And you cannot demand it.
To really understand love, one must know God. Because “God is love.” He defines love. Explains love. And epitomizes love. A relationship based on God’s love will last a lifetime.
Love is a journey. But I must confess after 50 years, I don’t feel like I’m there yet. However, if Norma Jean, and the Lord, will give me more time, I promise to stay the course.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetie. I’ll see you soon.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman