Valentine’s Day is the time we set aside to remember those who love us and those we love. I’m sure you are aware that the day was named after Valentinus who would come to be known as Saint Valentine. Valentinus was a priest who chose to speak out for faith, hope and…….love. He made the conscious choice to marry people, especially soldiers, in direct defiance of a mandate from the emperor that soldiers should not be married. Valentinus also was very popular with local children because he would give candy and kind words to every child with whom he came into contact.
Valentinus was one of the first passionate leaders of the early church. He would not be controlled by the so-called rulers of the day. He stood up and spoke up and lived up to a higher calling. Eventually, he was arrested and sentenced to death. While he was waiting for execution, he was befriended by the jailer. Seeing the great education and wisdom and faith-commitment of Valentinus—the jailer asked if he might tutor his daughter. Valentinus agreed and began daily study with the jailer’s blind daughter. Through months of getting to know and learning to trust one another—Valentinus taught this young girl about faith and eventually led her in a prayer that restored her sight.
The love between them grew very strong. The night before St. Valentine would emerge, through his untimely death, as an immortal figure in Christianity, he wrote a note of love to his special friend. In the letter he vowed his love and encouraged her to keep her faith strong and to never give up. He signed the note, Love—Your Valentine.
Yes, the very first valentine sent from the man himself. How might you allow that story to touch you in this moment? Is there a person, a situation, a need that could be addressed by simply expressing your love and encouragement?
Here is one more story that will help us on our journey to find and to give true love. My mother shared it with me and I want to pass it along to you.
Mrs. Thompson, an elementary teacher stood in front of her 5th Grade class on the very first day of school, and told them a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.
Mrs. Thompson had watched teddy the year before and noticed that he didn’t play well with other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with bold “F’s.”
At the school where she taught, teachers were required to review each child’s past records. She put Teddy’s off until his was last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was surprised. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly, has good manners and is a joy to be around.” His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tried to do his best, but his father doesn’t show him much interest and his home life will soon affect him if steps are not taken.”
Teddy’s forth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class.”
By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and was ashamed of herself. She felt worse when her students brought Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful paper and bright ribbons, except Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy brown paper that he had gotten from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open Teddy’s present first. Some of the children started to laugh when she found the rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing and a bottle of perfume that was a quarter full. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrists.
Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smell just like my mom used to.” After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day she began to truly teach children.
Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class.
A year later, she found a note under her door from Teddy, telling her that she was the best teacher he had ever had. Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school third in his class and she was still his favorite teacher. Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough he’d stayed in school and would soon graduate from college with highest honors.
Four more years passed and Mrs. Thompson received an invitation to another graduation sent by Teddy. But now his name was a little bit longer—the invitation was signed by Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.
There was another letter that arrived the next Spring. Teddy had met this girl and he was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course Mrs. Thompson did, and guess what? She wore the bracelet, the one with the rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.
They hugged. Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you for believing in me and making me feel important and like I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson with tears in her aging eyes whispered back, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”
What a beautiful, heartfelt story. The greatest gift that God has given us is the gift of love. May you know that love this Valentine’s season and throughout the year.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, thank you for the loved ones that surround me. May we all feel your blessings of faith, hope and encouragement. And may we never lose sight of this love—your greatest gift ever in Jesus’ Name. Amen.