“With loving thoughts and words and looks we can, as it were, twist the threads of our lives with the lives of others. . . that we may help each other to be strong, like the little strands of wool help each other, and so we shall grow fit for God to use us.” Heavenly Light on Daily Life
Its been several decades, now, since I abandoned my self-designated role of Valentine Lady. Still, when February rolls around (January, really!) with its tempting displays of heart-shaped cards and flowers and candy, I must admit to a little relapse. Out come my valentines (antique and facsimile) to be placed strategically around the house. Books about love and, yes, valentines (!) fill inviting spaces. Pink cyclamen and bulb flowers lure me as I go about routine grocery shopping, a pot of pink tulips invariably landing center stage on my dining room table. Finally, as a finishing (over-the-top) touch, I add paper frills to the base of the eight candles on the candelabra that crowns the dining room table then shamelessly tie a pink satin bow from the center, long ribbons fluttering.
It all began innocently enough, nobly, I might add. My inability to get it together at Christmas to recognize our neighbors, most elderly, resulted in a delayed but well-intentioned Valentine tribute. Searching antique shops for old valentines, I’d send our young children (accompanied by their long-suffering father) to deliver these valentines along with loving wishes to our neighbors. They returned home blessed by the grateful recipient (and hands full of goodies as people came to anticipate their visit) for our own valentine party with yes, a pink heart-shaped cake.
Well, “old” is rare and as my supply of antique valentines diminished, I did the next best thing: I made facsimile editions using the originals as patterns. (This after an all-out rebellion from our two sons who just didn’t go along with my dream of child-constructed Valentines.)
And this is when, I believe, things got completely out-of-hand. I began to seek out antique paper lace, die-cuts, gold and silver Dresden’s – before the age of search engines. It was nothing less than an obsession: scouring catalogues and antique shops, paper stores and ribbon outlets. I even discovered that there was a National Confederation of Valentine Collectors (which I’m proud to say I didn’t join – well, not for long). I found myself supplying area gift shops with neatly packaged (and named) valentines, “Antique Appliques,” I believe. Things probably reached their feverish pitch when I taught a workshop on the same at the Historic Plant Museum in Tampa!
There was an awkward bit of timing. Our annual Missions festival was scheduled to hit the peak of my crafting season – or should I say frenzy? The long table laden with my supplies – ribbons, paper lace, doilies, buttons, die-cuts, pretty papers, patterns, scissors, paste – was pushed up against the wall in the dining room, the same room in which we hosted missionaries after the evening services. Needless to say, my bits of nostalgic whimsy stood in sharp juxtaposition to their stories of hardship and sacrifice! Superficial sentimentality vs. incarnational love!
I’m happy to say that I have been fundamentally weaned from my addiction. Yet I still find Valentine’s Day an occasion to celebrate family and friendship with small tokens of affection – capitalizing on a day designated to say: “I love you.”
What is love? Webster defines it as “a strong liking for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons.” Books have been written to explain it, songs to exalt it, and poems to distill it. Scripture identifies different kinds of love – romantic, friendship, Divine – distinguished by their respective Greek root: eros, philia, agape. Perhaps the most comprehensive definition is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth where he ticks off a list of what love is or isn’t – mainly in the form of action verbs.
When I checked Lilias sources for wise words about love, I was surprised to discover that they were few and essentially unquotable being implicitly about individuals with whom she lived and worked. Yet she lived love – and everyone took note of the fact – street urchins, young mothers who came to her for help “because she loves us,” Sufi Mystics who invited her into their fraternities, an Oxford don, not an adherent to the faith, who observed “I shall never forget the impression I received when I first met her; the mere look on her face and touch of her hand-made one feel that she was spiritually apart from the ordinary run of people one meets.”
She did, however, offer “a lesson about living together in love” in a little booklet written for Arab women, Heavenly Light on Daily Life. (see Unpublished Manuscripts) She observes their common activity of spinning the wool they have purchased at market. “You take the Kerdash, pass it through patiently till every knot and tangle is cleared, and it is as soft as a cloud, and then you take the spindle and twist the threads firmly together and each little strand helps the other to hold fast till they take their place in the garment you are weaving.”
She goes on to observe, “Loving thoughts and words and looks. . . . twist the threads of our lives with the lives of others that we may help each other to be strong, like the little strands of wool help each other and so we shall grow fit for God to use us.”
Love is, at the end of the day, easier to observe than to describe. Perhaps one of the most memorable demonstrations of love was observed by our family several decades ago at our church Missions Festival. Robertson McQuilken, President of Columbia Bible College, was our keynote speaker. It became evident to all involved that his sweet-faced wife was totally dependent on him. Whenever he was out of her sight for even a moment she would ask, “Where’s Robertson? Where’s Robertson?” The final evening she left her seat in the congregation “to look for Robertson” who must have momentarily been blocked from her view. He later expressed his concern adding, “This was a first.”
We learned that soon afterwards he had stepped down from his presidency, writing the following in a letter to his constituency: “. . . recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just ‘discontent.’ She is filled with fear – even terror – that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time. . . The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel ‘in sickness and in health. . . till death do us part.’ So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of her debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more: I love Muriel. She is a delight to me. . . I don’t have to care for her. I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.”
Love is an attitude that results in action. It can sometimes lead to devoting ones entire life to a person or a cause that God has laid on our hearts. But whatever love asks of us – radical or trivial – it likewise can be manifest daily in countless ways with “loving thoughts and works and looks” for the people with whom we live and work. And, as the “threads of our lives” are twisted together in love, we all become stronger. We grow ever more fit for God’s use.
What is love? We know it when we see it. We know it when we experience it. Let us love others who touch our lives as we ourselves long to be loved!
”Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. . .
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
(From Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
Painting: 1893 Journal