Thursday, February 13, 2014

With All Your Heart - A Valentine's Reflection

Valentine's day is one of those holidays. It's supposed to be a happy day when we celebrate love, but what the media and the greeting card companies promote has little to do with love.  As a result, many people end up feeling empty and lonely on "love day," because in the final analysis, what the modern celebration of Valentine's Day does is polarize the world into the 'haves' and the 'have nots.'

Do you remember making a shoe-box valentine mailbox for school, and carefully crafting and filling out cards for your classmates?  Perhaps you were the one whose box was full to overflowing at the end of the party, or maybe you were the one looking on after receiving a few obviously obligatory cards with a name scrawled at the bottom.

It is the same way in the nursing home - at the other end of life. The residents with families and attentive friends get cards, flowers, balloons, candy, or even that most coveted of surprises - a visit.  And the others...well, they watch.  Sometimes community groups will drop off a box of generic valentines for the Activities Department to pass out, possibly with packets of conversation hearts, and the organization's name at the bottom. From your friends at the Library Council.  That sort of thing. This is not a bad idea, certainly, and more organizations should consider doing that.  But still, to our precious brothers and sisters in the nursing homes, receiving Valentines that talk about love, with a stranger's name at the bottom, can just reinforce the idea that their own no longer care about them.  

Definitely, the residents enjoy getting cards and notes from people they know; people who demonstrably care about them.  Cards from their visitors and the chaplain are always appreciated.

When I took over leadership of the CARE Ministry, I made a commitment that all the residents who regularly attend our services, plus some others that I visit with myself, would receive special valentines. But have you SEEN the Valentine's cards in the stores?  Yikes.  What sort of cards should I send, then? I decided to take a lesson from those early elementary school Valentines parties and make some of my own.  Here is a photo of the process:
As you can see, they're very simple.  A $6.99 box of 100 flat note cards and a bottle of glue were the only materials.  But instead of the usual "Be Mine" sentiments, each card has a Scripture that talks about love or the heart, to give God's perspective on love.  Some of the Scriptures included:
  • For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16)
  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and Strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. (Joshua 23:14)
  • My Heart rejoices in the Lord (1 Samuel 2:1)
  • My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart (Psalm 7:10)
  • But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation (Psalm 13:5)
  • A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17)
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)
  • A cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22)
And a particularly appropriate one for the pastor-resident who prays for me and encourages me each week: 

  • Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.  (Philemon 1:7)
Last year 17 of these valentines were distributed as a sort of a trial run, and they were enjoyed for a very long time. Some are still hanging in the rooms; some have been pressed into service as Bible bookmarks; a couple have gone home with families of deceased residents.  This year I was blessed to hand off almost 40 of them to Activities, to be distributed on Valentine's Day, each one with a Scripture chosen for the recipient personally, and a warm message on the back. 

It's a small gesture. But that's the great beauty of this ministry; small gestures can make all the difference. Because when the residents see that someone who is not even a relative shows an interest in them; cares about them; loves them; suddenly it becomes easier for them to believe that God could love them as well. 
And after all, our goal is that they be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.


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