Memory is a wonderful gift. In a moment, we can return to a special event remembering not only what happened but our feelings as well. My husband was a born romantic, so Valentine's Day was his day. I remember candlelight dinners, funny cards, gifts and trips.
The most poignant valentine memory, however, is from a hospital room in Shelby, N.C., in 1957. My parents were living in Cherryville, N.C., a small town only 10 miles from Shelby. My father had retired because of a disability -- emphysema. He needed oxygen 24 hours a day. It was my mother about whom we were most concerned. For months she had not felt well, and we were worried about a recent enlargement of her abdomen.
Because of her need to care for my father, whom we all called Pop, she had refused to go for a checkup. She only agreed to it when we three children came home and were adamant. In the examination, a malignant ovarian tumor was discovered, and surgery was scheduled for Feb. 14.
That day we waited in her hospital room for the surgeon's report. He was kind but very direct: It was too late. Cancer filled most of her body. She would likely live four to six months.
We were stunned. My mother was in her 60s -- much too young to die. Also, I grieved that my children, ages 6 and 8, and my brother's even younger children would never have a strong memory of their grandmother. My sister's teenage children would have that blessing.
Since Mother was still dozing from the anesthesia, we decided to go eat dinner and try to process what we had heard. The others left, and I was alone in the room with my parents. "I'd like to have a little time with your mother alone," said my dad. I was barely in the hall when I heard my father sobbing. Then I heard these words: "Maude, I'm so sorry about all the wasted years."
I knew what he meant. He had been the source of emotional strength and love in our early family life. Then, during the Depression, he, along with thousands of others, lost all his money. He reacted by drinking too much and becoming an alcoholic. There were many unhappy years, but he had lived in sobriety during the past five.
I heard him say, "Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?" Quietly, she replied, "I have already forgiven you. Now, you need to forgive yourself."
Suddenly, I saw two things clearly: It was my mother's unconditional love and Christian faith that had kept our family together. Second, what she said echoed God's kind of love when we have "sinned and come short of the glory of God." From the moment we asked, God has forgiven us. Our job is to forgive ourselves and live for his glory. This is my favorite valentine memory. It still blesses my heart each time I remember.
Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.