I awoke in my upstairs bedroom but lay there with my eyes still shut, wishing it was any other day but this one. I took some deep breaths, and willed myself to believe that today was no big deal. I would be fine. Really.
My resolve to ignore my emotions wasn’t working very well and a trickle of tears began to slip down my cheeks, pooling in my ears before spilling over and sliding down the back of my neck. I clamped my eyes tighter, but it was futile. I finally gave in to the sadness welling up inside me and pulled the covers over my face to muffle my sobbing and soak up the avalanche that was now puddling on my pillow. Try as I might, I could not stem the tide that kept sucking me down into a pit of sorrow.
This was Valentine’s Day, and I was drowning in a loveless marriage.
After the worst sort of betrayal, after giving forgiveness my best shot, after I had done everything I knew to make it work, it still looked hopeless. I didn’t feel love, nor did I feel loved in return. I hadn’t felt loved in years. I only felt the strain and struggle. Nothing was the way it was “supposed to be.”
I knew I would walk downstairs and find the perfunctory rose. It would look good for the sake of the kids; nearly everything was for the sake of the kids. As for my part, I would probably bake a pie or a cake, plaster a smile on my face, and do my best to convince the kids that all was well. I would say “I love you” while feeling as cold and lumpy as a can of refrigerator biscuits. I wasn’t trying to live a lie; I was trying to be okay. I kept telling myself that if I said the words, the feelings would follow.
“God, I don’t feel loved today,” I prayed silently. “I’m holding on to you. I know in my head that that’s supposed to be enough, but I’m having a hard time believing it in my heart. I feel like there’s no way out of the mess, and I’m drowning. I’m being crushed by the despair. Help me swallow my disappointment and find the strength to climb out of this bed and keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know your love is steadfast. I don’t deserve it but you give it anyway. Don’t let me believe a lie that I need something more in order to be happy. I don’t know how I would survive this life if you weren’t holding me close. Today, could you help me experience your love and somehow know that I matter?”
I took a deep breath and felt a measure of peace fill my heart. I dried my tears on the sheet, peeled back the covers and squinted against the early rays of sunlight flooding my room.
That’s when I saw it.
Directly above my head, in perfect formation, was the reflection of a giant heart on my ceiling. My friend, I sobbed when I realized what God had done. He had plastered an oversized Valentine where I couldn’t miss it. This heart was massive and unmistakable. I wasn’t attempting to conjure up something out of a fuzzy-edged, misshapen image; a sort of “I think I can make out a shape in the clouds” moment.
No, it was distinct; and I knew it was distinctly for me.
My bedroom was an attic-style, with a ceiling that slanted on both sides and peaked in the middle. At the foot of my bed I had an oval mirror that tilted and faced the window across the hallway. The sun’s rays were streaming in and bouncing off the mirror, bending to form a conspicuous heart at the exact summit over my pillow. At that moment I didn’t try to analyze it. Instead, I basked in the knowledge that God had orchestrated a Valentine just for me. I was overwhelmed by his love and personal attention. He didn’t have to prove anything, but he showed up in the sweetest and most unexpected way when I was at a low, dangerous place.
Every day, for weeks following, I looked for another heart. I awoke earlier, tried lying in bed longer, and tilted my mirror at varying degrees in an attempt to manipulate the shapes reflected on my ceiling. The heart was never again replicated; I was only able to tease a few circles out of the ovals, but not so much as a hint of a heart emerged. I had received only one heart in one dire moment of need.
Life continued to get harder after that day, and my marriage crumbled like a tower of Jenga blocks, but God had shown up and I knew I wasn’t alone. I would draw strength from that love when things became impossible to bear.
God is not too big for our meager needs, too distant from our hard places, nor afraid of our hard questions. He will go to great lengths to help each of us know him and experience the depths of his love. Human love may disappoint and fail, but God owns the whisper of the sweetest lover.