St. Valentine’s Day is a challenge, because the symbols are so clear, but we are not. We can love someone and be afraid to show it. We can “show it” but not feel it. Most of all, Valentine’s Day is a challenge because we live in a great disconnect. We have roses and chocolates, but few role models of how to love.

As a spiritual leader, I keep learning from others who not only celebrate love but try to live it each and every day. And so, one of my ordinary teachers is our dog. Here are Abbey’s simple lessons:

It doesn’t matter what your conditions are, I will love you.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve neglected me, I’ll look for you again.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been angry, I’ll let it go.

It doesn’t matter how complicated you are, I want to make love simple:

I’ll look at you with big brown eyes. I’ll wag my tail. I’ll try to be near.

My understanding of human love says that we have paradoxical and sometimes conflicting feelings. We can give and take the gestures, but we don’t let the reality sink in. We don’t know how to feel that someone loves us, and when they try to do so in the present, we remember irritations from the past. It’s even more difficult for some of us to believe that God is love.

Once I finished my Ph.D., I had time for problems “of my heart.” To sort out my feelings about family, a therapist suggested that I go home for Christmas and just try to watch my parents without any judgment about whether or not they loved me. So, I went home but it was difficult to see my parents with fresh eyes. I saw them as I had interpreted years before.

For me and for others, judgments are automatic. We respond to tone of voice, gesture, eye contact, touch. We also respond in the present based on realities of the past--exclusion, anger, neglect all tell us we don’t matter. So, I wondered “If I don’t matter to my family--how could I matter to God?”

But, for forty years now, I have tried to learn from others who risk love.

One friend, Rev. Drew, taught me as a “victim” of M.S. He died this past year, but he tried to love each year. In spite of his incapacity, Drew welcomed everyone from his wheel-chair. He was the one who reached out first.

Another teacher, I’ll call Jim. He learned from A.A. that he can keep trying to love. He follows the Twelve Steps, and does an “inventory” each day to measure how he has forgiven others, cleaned up his own mess, and simply tried to help those who share their need.

And, I remember my dad who taught me that love is really being with someone. He would talk and walk and play with us. And, whether the game was poker or pinochle, he’d do his best to help us win. His undivided attention and sense of humor nourished our whole family.

Finally, I learn from my dentist because he is so patient with me.

He knows that love begins in God but must extend to understanding the reality of others’ needs.

I keep learning. And, I honor all kinds of teachers who let me know that love is not just for Valentine’s Day. So, I grow in celebrating, not just chocolate, but The Love which is “hidden in plain view.”

Sometimes, I feel the warmth of the sun.

Sometimes, I remember a kindness.

Sometimes, I see the beauty around me.

Sometimes, I feel I belong.

But, on Valentine’s Day and ordinary days,

I can keep on seeking the Love that does not go away.

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