The Gift of Love

by Christie Shumate McElwee

It’s a frigid Valentine’s Day here in the Midwest, and most of us are hunkered down under heavy blankets trying to keep warm. Me? I am sipping hot coffee while pondering the perplexities of this thing called love. I have many questions and no real definitive answers. Billions of words have been written over the centuries on the subject. Poets, philosophers, and scientists have studied the heart, how it works and the countless ways it breaks. We humans claim to know love, but we continue to stomp on each other in the name of it. It’s staggeringly complicated and stunningly simple, this love of ours. All I know of it is that I am still learning, still practicing, and still offering up love. It is a journey I hope to never relinquish.

The dictionary definition of love mentions words like tender, passionate, attachment, and affection. Phrases like “Love wins” and “All we need is love” are often glib testaments to our total confusion of the meaning of the word. If only it were as simple as loving one another. Wars would end. Guns would be stored away. Hate would return to its grave. But, because we do not understand love, we stumble blindly through life, hanging onto jealously, fear, regrets, and pain. Those we understand. Those we can keep close. They are our identity, our stories. Love, though, is often hazy in its message. Do we want to be loved or do we want to love? Is it selfish or selfless? Do we set contingencies on love or do we offer it up unconditionally? Do we love naturally or does it require daily practice?

All I know is this…love is a mystery worth knowing. It is a feeling, a presence, a pricking at the heart. It’s worried days and sleepless nights. It is the infinite stars we can never count. It can break us into a billion fragments and sloppily repair our damaged souls with crooked stitches and sticky glue. Love is believing in our brokenness, and not surrendering to hopelessness, to cynicism, to despair. Love is an impossible puzzle with missing pieces and no instructions. It is a simple gesture, a hand to hold, a wish before blowing out the candles.

Love, in all its crazy incarnations, is the reason we are here. It offers us hope. It serves up joy. It is all we hold in our hands when the sun sets, this love of ours.

Love is a gift, both given and received. And as the years pass, I hold this precious love close to my imperfect heart, knowing it is all worth it.

The Gift

by Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.

Earth and heaven are both still watching

though time is draining from the clock

and your walk, that was confident and quick,

has become slow.

so, be slow if you must, but let

the heart still play its true part.

Love still as once you loved, deeply

and without patience. Let God and the world

know you are grateful.

That the gift has been given.

A peek at my collections of hearts and books. Love is often scattered across pages, years, and memories. It is both comedy and tragedy, fire and water, and lost and found. I find love everywhere, if I bother to look up.

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Cinnamon Hearts and Candy Corn

Every year around this time my husband goes on a search for cinnamon hearts or Red Hots. He knows how much I adore them, so it’s his mission to find some for me. In the fall, I am always on the hunt for candy corn for him, and not just any candy corn. It must be Brach’s, because it’s the best. It is what we do for each other. Our love for each other is wrapped up in holiday sweets.

This is true love. It’s the little gestures, the things we give each other without demands. 

It is how he takes my hand as we cross a busy street.

It’s the look I give him when he makes up a word.

It is our Saturday night meals filled with great food, good wine, and fine tunes.

It is our weekly trips to the grocery store. He guides the cart as I double check the list.

It is how he has kept me sane and upright during tough times.

It’s the pat he always gives my rear as I exit the car.

It’s the understanding and acceptance of each other’s quirks.

It is the undeniable fact that we are each other’s biggest fan.

It is the understanding of our past mistakes and how they have shaped us.

It is the quiet times.

It is the look he gives me from across a crowded room.

It’s our hands intertwined. 

It is cinnamon hearts and candy corn.

Never settle for less than cinnamon hearts and candy corn.

“Sweet like candy to my soul,

sweet you rock, 

and sweet you roll.

Lost for you

I’m so lost for you.”

Dave Matthews