A Married Valentine’s Day

Hello all,

I’m working on a series about gaming (board games as well as video games) but it needs more time to come together. I’ve been poking my brain for a few days to see what, in the way of blog post topics, might fall out. Lots of things did. Almost all related to books (recently covered) and games (the series grows longer).

I wanted to write something relevant to Valentine’s Day and…I didn’t really come up with anything cute or stirring. Just…I like Valentine’s Day. Always have, even pre-relationship when I spent every Valentine’s Day fending off people’s pitying looks and watching movies while eating ice cream and chocolate and cheesecake.

Red was my favorite color for most of my life (jury’s still out for my current favorite color). My mom used to make cupcakes on Valentine’s Day every year. I enjoy a focus on showing affection for others, enjoying flowers, demonstrating love for others even if you don’t tend to on other days of the year. Plus, any excuse to eat sweets is a good one in my book. I also love romance stories, romantic mysteries, romantic comedies. I love hanging out with my friends. I got to do all of these on Valentine’s Day.

This year is Tyler’s and my first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. But there doesn’t feel like much to report.

Last night we went out to our favorite Thai restaurant, Ladda Bistro, preempting the Thursday-night crowds. He got crispy duck, I got Pad See Ew; his was better, but mine was also very good. The pork dumplings were excellent, and we loved the mango sticky rice dessert. I had bought us 2 cupcakes from Smallcakes earlier that day, so we each had half for a second dessert right before bed.

On Valentine’s Day, we’ll probably cook dinner and play a board game, as Thursdays are our board game night. Tyler plans to buy me flowers. He already gave me a mug that says “girlfriend, fiancee, wife.” I ordered him a gift in a similar vein that hasn’t arrived yet. We might cut into the top tier of our wedding cake, which my bridesmaid Nicole has been saving for us in her freezer.

It’s probably because we’re newlyweds and at least a little obnoxious to everyone else right now (sorry, we don’t mean to be), but Valentine’s Day doesn’t feel like as much of a big deal as in felt in years past. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m perfectly fine with every day being a little more romantic and sweet than I’m used to. I’m glad that I’m thinking about better ways to love Tyler every day. But I have really enjoyed wearing my Valentine’s Day socks this week.

What are you doing for Valentine’s Day this year? Any good restaurant recommendations?

Why Lent?

I don’t feel qualified to answer this. I didn’t grow up in a church that observed Lent and I don’t have a degree in Biblical studies or Old Testament or New Testament or divinity or anything similar. As a kid, the most notice I generally had to Easter’s arrival was Palm Sunday. I heard reference to Lent but was under the impression that Catholic people observed it, and no others. Ash Wednesday was a Catholic observance; Mardi Gras was for New Orleans and a few predominantly Catholic countries.

As a high schooler, I had tried to observe Holy Week, in that I reminded myself it was Holy Week, read Scripture passages set during the week before Christ’s crucifixion, and wore black on Good Friday. This limited but well-meaning personal observance sparked during the spring break of my junior year. I was on a school trip to Madrid when I, two friends, and a chaperone observed a parade for “Holy Thursday”. Candles, marchers in hoods resembling KKK hoods, rugby-built men carrying a platform on their shoulders strewn with red roses, depicting Christ in a crimson robe and wearing a crown of thorns. The platform which followed carried a much larger, more elaborate representation of Christ’s mother, with painted tears, gold filigree crown, a green veil, and white roses placed around her robe. People rushed to this one to try to touch a petal, her robe, the platform itself.

Although I disagreed with the elaborate recognition of Mary in contrast to the stern, strained reaction to Jesus (although, it might have been appropriate considering that the procession mimicked Christ’s walk from Gethsemane to his trial), the observance and event made a deep impression on me. I recognized that Holy Week is honored and kept by Christians worldwide, and I wished to better observe it as well. I didn’t hear “Maundy Thursday” until I started working at the Christian publishing company where I work now.

So what is Lent? As best I understand, Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Good Friday. It mimics Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness and begins with Ash Wednesday, on which we remember that we are sinful people with no hope of redemption outside of Christ. That’s why people (not just Catholic people) get ashes put on their forehead in the shape of a cross, to remind us that we are dust, that we came from ashes and will likewise return to them. That’s what Lent is designed for, to remind us how miraculous and needed and holy and generous Easter is. Lent also helps us consider what it must have been like to be Jesus, every step on his journey to Jerusalem taking him closer to false accusation, torture, abandonment, and death. We know Easter will come, just as Jesus knew it, but that doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t incredibly hard.

Traditionally, people give up something—like sweets or social media—during Lent for a similar reason. To make the journey harder. To simplify your life so you can appreciate what you have year round. To remind us of Christ’s struggle to remain sinless in the wilderness, when he fasted and prayed. You’re supposed to make a change that costs something, and most people fast from something (obstain from something), but others add something. I’ve done both.

In the four years since I started working here, I have observed this aspect of Lent 3 times. One year I fasted from food every Wednesday. One year I got up early and watched a new video in a devotional series every morning. One year I gave up sweets except on Sundays. (Traditionally, Christians do not fast on Sundays because Sundays are the days set apart to remember Christ’s resurrection, which freed Christians from the hopelessness of sinful life.)

I noticed that the Lent I got up early to watch the devotional videos, my life didn’t become simpler as it was meant to. I enjoyed the practice, the discipline, and the videos themselves. But I was mostly lying in bed listening to other people worship and pray, trying not to doze off again. The videos become something else on my to-do list, and the mental weight of that left my insides more jangled than before. And jangled is not the point of Lent. Not as I understand it.

Why Lent? Because my heart needs to get quiet. I need to reach out for God, lean on God, rest in God, in an organized way. I used to be incredibly disciplined and focused in more-or-less every area of my life. Now, not so much. I was also very pharisaic in those days, exerting control over everything possible to help me cope with my many anxieties. So I want to recapture the good of my once prayer life—the devotion, the discipline—without also lashing in the bad—lack of understanding, inability to let go of control. But adding a new item to the list is the last thing I need.

This year, Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day. It’s weird in the sense that a lot of people will be fasting from sweets or carbonated beverages on Valentine’s Day, a day hyper focused on both. Also, it’s a day hyper focused on romantic love. But in the sense of this being a day devoted to celebrating love more broadly, Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to celebrate Ash Wednesday and to begin simplifying and resetting our lives. I’m picturing couples at quiet dinners, dressed up, leaning toward one another with ashes on their foreheads. I’m imagining people with roses in vases, dancing to music and cleaning out their closets. I’m picturing people nibbling on chocolate as they clean off their desks and lay their Bibles in the center. I see people circling April Fool’s Day on the calendar and writing “Easter” inside.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, only Christ’s love for us can offer us forgiveness and hope. But for those of us who want to be in God’s community, who believe Jesus is both human and God, who have promised Jesus they will try to follow his example, Lent is a great time to reset our perspectives and lifestyles and motivations. It’s 40 days to make a change, to build your life differently, to learn to pray constantly. I hope the Lent can be that for you.

Here are a few ideas if you want to observe Lent this year but are nervous because it literally starts tomorrow:
-Do something creative every day while praying. Color, knit, fold paper swans, write new a poem one stanza at a time.
-Make Saturdays and Sundays social media free.
-Plan a special trip to help you get away, rest, and reconnect with God.
-Commit to studying a new psalm every day.
-Sit in a different place at church every week.
-Meet with friends every Tuesday to journal about Bible passages and write prayers.
-Fast from food once a week to remind you to rely on God for sustenance.
-Memorize one new Bible verse every week.
-Turn off your radio during your commute. Pray for strangers you see nearby or worship with just your own voice.
-Attend a different worship service during Lent than your usual.
-Pick a local organization to bless in a different way each week. (If you aren’t sure how, call their offices to ask for suggestions.)
-Fast from complaining, gossip, or another language-oriented sin.
-Bless each of your neighbors with a meal, yard work, or good conversation.
-Only read books by authors of a gender, race, or other identity not like your own.
-Send one encouraging message every day to someone who won’t expect it.

A Single Woman’s Valentine’s Day

If you’re a single woman, Valentine’s Day probably goes something like this.

Wake up, wear red or pink. It usually doesn’t matter what you wear, but you want to be festive. Plus, you don’t want people to think you’re bitter or lonely or pining (especially if you are). I remember the Vtines day in high school when I accidentally wore black. I wear black all the time, but that day my outfit got looks and questions. Thankfully, I’m an adult now, but it’s still the sort of thing people notice and read in to.

Go to work. It’s a normal day, after all. When someone asks your married and dating coworkers what their plans are for the day, the married usually shrug and mention going out to dinner. They might talk about the Daddy-Daughter dance at church. The dating are more likely to have elaborate plans. They may or may not ask you about your plans, because you are single, and everyone around you seems to feel a little uncomfortable with that today.

The thing is, you do have plans. You are a single woman on Single Awareness Day. You are cooking your favorite chicken marsala or marathoning Jane Austen movies or getting together with your cohort of single female friends for excessive amounts of ice cream. One year, my roommate and I watched Fried Green Tomatoes with the biggest sundaes Baskin Robbins offered. The next day, we took a day trip to Juliette, where the movie had been filmed, for antiquing and lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Another year, I babysat friends’ small children so they could go out. But you, like I, definitely have plans.

On your lunch break, you may buy yourself flowers or a new candle and stock up on cheesecake and cookie dough. You’ll come in for the half-priced candy tomorrow, but you need a plan for your break, too. So you go shopping. Or meet a friend at Panera. Or start a new book, something sweet and swoony or maybe a murder mystery. You do not scroll through your ex’s timeline. Not even once.

When work is over, you refuse to look at Facebook or Insta or Snapchat. You might even turn off notifications before your feeds are taken over by people live-tweeting their fancy dinners and snapping kissing selfies. A swath of big-rocked rings will appear before midnight. You’ll have to say something nice about those—and you are happy for those couples—but you can do that tomorrow. Tonight, it’s you and your plan of choice, which you embrace with gusto.

It’s not a sad day, but it is kind of an eggshell day. And the hardest part is bedtime. You laughed so hard during your marathon of The Good Place, or your chest broke open during A Walk to Remember, and all those emotions have exhausted you. Maybe you were comforted by the kids (or girl friends) who cuddled with you on the couch. And now it’s quiet. Your friends aren’t here. And no matter how worn out you are, no matter how much fun you had, it’s still Valentine’s Day. And you still didn’t have the kind of day you’re supposed to have, whether or not you even want that kind of day.

It’s hard. It’s not the hardest thing, but don’t beat yourself up for feeling lonely or annoyed or angry. Try to be generous, with yourself and others. Try to have fun. But remember: you aren’t “sad” for not having a romantic partner today and you aren’t “pathetic” for not having a gaggle of friends to spend it with, either. You’re having the best day you can, and you are awesome.