E-Letter #155

Posted by on Feb 13, 2014 in Devotions | 0 comments


Friday is Valentine’s Day, and if the ice melts, our children will be back in the classroom exchanging cards with their classmates, eating strawberry cupcakes with vanilla frosting and red and pink sprinkles, and pocketing for later those little heart-shaped candies made by the Necco Company and stamped with cryptic messages, “Be Mine”, “ I Love You”, and I’m Yours”. Last Sunday we played a little Valentine’s Day Trivial Pursuit in our Sunday School assembly and learned that while it may be easy to fall head-over-heels in love with someone, in the end it can cost you your head! Legend has it that this holiday’s namesake, St. Valentine, met his death at the hands of Roman Emperor Claudius in 280 A.D. after being convicted and sentenced to death for the “crime” of secretly marrying couples so that the men would not have to go to war.


A week ago I spied an old friend from across the rain-drenched plaza steps of Grady Hospital as he hurriedly stepped out of the shadows of the hospital’s revolving doors to catch the bus. I first met him and his friend years ago while I was serving a church in downtown Atlanta.  The two of them were wheeled to the church’s homeless shelter on stretchers after being treated for injuries received in a mugging. They were Vietnam War veterans who forged an unlikely friendship decades earlier on the battlefield. True, they had much in common. Both men grew up in poverty in large extended families with deep roots in small towns in rural Georgia. Neither had travelled far from home before being drafted, and, once on foreign soil, both men turned to drugs and alcohol to assuage their fear, homesickness, and loneliness. After their tours of duty were completed, both men returned home addicted and plagued by their war memories. One man married, had children, and worked odd jobs to support his habit. The other went to college and graduate school and enjoyed a brief stint as an opera singer before accepting a position on the music faculty of a prestigious, historically-Black college. What brought these two wartime buddies together in the jungle and then the streets of Atlanta?  Color. Both of these Black men were “high yellow”, and it meant that they were shunned by nearly everyone. With their creamy skin coloring, light green eyes, and blonde-tinged nappy hair, they were the easy targets of derogatory comments, and, at times, acts of violence that landed them in the emergency rooms of local hospitals. As I hugged this old friend, it occurred to me that for some, Valentine’s Day is a poignant time to remember an improbable love with the power to keep friends safe under fire.


Before his death, the only wartime story shared by WWII veteran Hollis Lawrence was his account of meeting his future wife, Beverly, at a USO dance while stationed in New Orleans.  “From across the dance floor, our eyes met,” Hollis would wryly say over cups of coffee, “and she was smitten.” The memory most prized by this assistant to Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander-in-chief of the Pacific fleet, was a story about falling head of heels in love with a woman who would change his life forever. “Blessed, I’m blessed,” he would add while wiping his chapped lips with shaky hands, “by someone who saw me for who I was and still loved me.”  As I prayed over his cooling body lying still in a bed at Grady Hospital, it occurred to me that for some, Valentine’s Day is a poignant time to remember an implausible love with the power to bind spouses with eternal promises.


The prophet Isaiah tells us that love looks at the One who “had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” and sees “the fairest of the sons of men…anointed with the oil of gladness.”  Truly, Love opens the eyes of our hearts so that we can see what has been there all along, but which we have overlooked in our haste or indifference.  As we celebrate this holiday with bouquets of red roses, romantic dinners for two, lacy cards with sweet sentiments, shiny boxes of chocolate, and pink-frosted cupcakes, may we give thanks for the saint who saw life created by God for love!