Valentine’s Day isn’t about romance or passion to me. Instead, it’s a blur of fizzy affections tethered first to grade school then later to a woman of valor.
I grew up in a Mayberry-esque town before the internet or big box craft stores were born.
They were halcyon days, when a teacher would hand out construction paper, scissors, glitter and glue, then light a creative match and set our imaginations on fire.
We’d transform our cereal or shoe boxes into treasure boxes. Then, we’d snake up and down the rows of desks, slipping our Valentines into bedazzled boxes, eager to sift and analyze our own.
When I got older there was a season when Valentine’s Day took on a shroud of romance, but even when I started dating the man who would become my husband, I never liked the idea of a retail-imposed, gift-giving mandate. Except that one time in college, under Valentine’s Day pressure but totally broke he came up with my favorite gift of all time — that was true love.
When my firstborn was three years old, Valentine’s Day changed. It happened when my mother-in-
lawlove (MIL) asked if we could have a Valentine Tea. My husband is one of four boys and my in-laws had been waiting for a granddaughter for almost 30 years. They had ideas.
Our mother-daughter tea evolved over time. Initially I hosted the tea. Our menu: heart-shaped PB&Js, strawberry Jello Jigglers, and Valentine M&Ms. For the moms: chicken salad and strawberry cream puffs. In those early years we’d make a craft, plus a card for the dads, and read a special book.
Our Valentine Tea Party became a much-anticipated annual event growing larger each year. When it outgrew our dining room, I raised the white flag. That was the year we moved it to my mother-in-law’s house and it became a family event — the four girl cousins inviting their very best friend (and her mom), my sisters-in-law, my MIL and her best friend.
We’d sit around the dining room table for hours, three generations at school in a sacred space, no one in a hurry to leave.
Three constants remained over the 16 years we hosted our Valentine Tea: a darling invitation, Noni’s famous butter mints and surcies for the girls and their mamas.
When we had our Valentine Tea in 2012 — a little late because it was the year I was living abroad — I had no idea it would be our last.
My mother-in-law is a marvel. It’s doubtful I fully realize the breadth and depth of her impact in my life, but I know it’s substantial.
What’s important to know is she didn’t go into our relationship with a grand plan of showing me how I’m supposed to live; she simply lived her own life before me.
She taught me . . .
- not to just use my china and silver but to enjoy it, by delighting in her own.
- the value of friendship by spending time with her friends.
- to be generous by her generosity.
- how to cook by sharing her recipes.
- the importance of tradition by helping me create my own.
Because I know she prayed for her sons’ future mates, I learned to pray for my own children’s future mates.
Her values were clear . . .
- faith, evidenced by her esteem of the Word.
- marriage, marked by whole-hearted devotion and affections for her husband.
- service, by how she spent her time.
- family, the way she showed interest in her children and grands.
Without drawing attention to herself, she has shown me what it looks like to be a Proverbs 31 woman, the one for whom it can be said:
“Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
‘Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.'”
To know Sarah is to love her.
It has been three years since our last Valentine Tea, the reality of coordinating five busy families and health concerns finally proving too great a challenge to continue our tradition. The past two Valentine’s have been marked with a twinge of sadness.
This year it hit me that traditions can evolve. Just like when our Valentine Tea Party got too crazy for our house and it had to move and change, maybe it’s time for a new iteration.
My in-laws are with us this weekend, and while I don’t know the specifics of how we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day (I’m writing in advance . . .), I’m sure about a few things.
- I will serve because I’ve been taught how to serve.
- I will use my china and silver because I know it will speak blessing and honor.
- I will love well because I have been loved well.
Eshet chayil to all the Kingdom women
who shape their daughters — by birth or by love — by simply living their lives before us.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Oh how I remember those days in elementary school…the excitement and creativity that went into making our Valentine boxes. Then came the distribution ritual followed by the giddy delving into our own box of goodies. Even at an early age, the desire to be loved and noticed is there. I don’t care for the mandate holiday either, but instead choose to focus on God’s love for us and love within our family. I adore your tradition of the Valentine tea (I have also learned to use my china often vs. letting it collect dust in the china cabinet). What a lovely tradition your MIL started through you. I pray that it will morph and continue in your family. Thank you for your encouragement to be a woman of valor. That is truly God’s will for us.
Robin Dance says
Ah…Bev, it sounds like you get me from the inside out :). Just thinkin’ about my school days brought such a sweet pile of memories.
My in-laws are here and my FIL wept when I read him my post :). I’ve yet to share it with my MIL, saving for Tea Time this afternoon. I cannot wait!!
Melanie Vanlaningham says
Robin, As always your post has resonated with my heart and my spirit. Your story fills my soul with an excitement and inspires me to find a way to create traditions with family and friends and especially with my precious granddaughter who arrived this past Christmas! Valentine’s Day has been about loving ALL in my life not just my sweetheart of 33 years. Praying for you this day as your tradition takes a new shape! I’m certain it will be gloriously filled with a preciousness of Christ living in you.
Thank you, sweet sister, for the gifts you share!
Robin Dance says
You DO know that you have the gift of encouragement, right? THAT is no small thing, friend. Thank you for sharing that with me today :).
I was up early to see my son off on a ski trip this morning, and my in-loves and I have already had the sweetest visit. Today the sun is shining, the skies are blue and my heart is already full. I pray these things for you, whether literally or figuratively :).
Just this week I was blessed to host a luncheon of love, a gift to my sweet momma. She is taking chemo, for breast cancer that has moved to her bones. And her friends, facing their own aging issues, came in wheelchairs and on walkers, brought by caregivers. Their loving and supportive conversations have only been by phone for over 2 years, their time of being physically together cut short by so many things. With her best china, beautiful flowers, and not one but 2 “surcies” in place for everyone … my Mom hosted those who have walked her through the trials and joys of her married life. I was honored to be the hands that served them. And pray, with all my heart, that I can age with women of equal strength and love for me.
Jamie, what a blessing you are to your Mum. And what a treasure this must have been to all present. May God bless you for being His hands and His feet.
Beth Williams says
What a sweet blessing it must have been! You are a treasured daughter to your mother. May God richly bless you for your sweet acts of kindness!
Prayers for you mother. May God give you all the strength you need to endure these trials!
Robin Dance says
Oh…Jamie…THIS is pure and undefiled religion. THIS is love and blessing and honor!
I lost my own mother to cancer when I was nine, so I have a tender spot when I hear those two words together. Your mother sounds amazing, and YOU sound like you’ve been taught beautifully by a woman who has lived her life well! What a precious testimony to her and you and God’s goodness and friendship and–I could go on and on! I’m praying over you and her coming days, expectant for how God will work in and through you.
Beth Werner Lee says
Robin, I thought you were going to write it was your last because your MIL had died! So glad they are with you today, that you will still do something. Thank you for the link to Eshet Chayil, too.
Our tradition is a Sunday night chocolate fondue to which all are invited: singles, families, couples.
My husband comes from a pretty strong male oriented family and we were in grad school for way too long, so it took a while and surviving a wildfire for me to say to myself, “Use the pretty things, don’t just store them in case they would break. By rights they’re on their second life already, having not got lost in the fire.” It’s freeing, and the beauty restores something in our hearts, yes?
Robin Dance says
You know what, Beth? I noticed in one place I had written “My MIL WAS (not “is”); I don’t know why I would have written it like that (a typo???); anyway, it sounded like she might have died, so you aren’t crazy (I fixed it 😉 ).
Your Sunday night tradition is delicious–both in its significance and I’m sure its tastiness :). FUN for everyone, yes?
Beauty is found in simple things…and it is blessing to all. xo
What a beautiful tribute to your MIL and to the love of Christ within her. Thank you for sharing this.
Beth Williams says
first off Robin–that was a beautiful card your sweet boyfriend made for you. After reading that how can one not fall absolutely in love with him?! 🙂
Great tribute to your MIL. It is true that parents, relatives and older people can teach us things. We need to learn to use our good stuff and not save it for “some day” as some day might not come. We also need to have values, traditions and pass those along to our children.
I want to be thought of as a Proverbs 31 woman. A woman of integrity, who works hard & diligently. One who is noble of character and is blessed by her husband and children.
Robin Dance says
Ha! My husband is a lot of things but not typically referred to as “sweet” (it’s a running joke, not an insult). BUT, yes, that card WAS sweet and to this day, I LOVE it big!
Yes, to be known not as a superwoman but as a Godly woman….that is lofty ambition :).
Louise Ferguson says
Robin, Grace and I always looked forward to Rachel’s teas! Thank you for sharing the origins of this tradition. Happy Valentines Day and don’t forget to bake sourdough bread. I bet your kids remember that aroma of home.
Robin Dance says
Louise!!! Yes!!! Little Grace (who I guess is as big as little Rachel now…). I LOVE that you happened to see this post :).
I’ve only recently begun making sourdough bread but I DID bake it over the weekend! And now that I’m not strictly adhering to WHOLE30 I can eat a little. YUM–wish I could share with YOU!
It would remind us of sweet Anne Sanford. I gave Shelton my recipe in Anne’s handwriting. He could not wait to give it to Connie. Your house always smelled so good.
Angie Ryg says
“…she simply lived her own life before me.”
Such encouragement to live with such intentional goodness, such planned love!
What a beautiful tradition and example of passing on what matters.
I adore this. And you!
Robin Dance says
SO happy to see your face over ‘here”–thank you for encouraging me with your comment and kind words. LOVE to you!
Nancy Ruegg says
Thank you, Robin, for sharing about your exemplary MIL. She is an inspiration for us to live our faith-enhanced lives before the young women around us. Too often we’re not even aware that passing comments and small actions can leave a memorable impact.