I don’t know about you, but the holidays with expectations attached to them can be really difficult.

Mother’s Day is like that for me.

And so is Valentine’s Day.

Because there are all these built in expectations that tend to morph into unspoken demands – this kind of desperate wishing for a fairytale of a day that’s almost impossible to live up to.

Because real life and real people are always both more than and less than what we hope they will be.

Real people and real love is much messier, much more beautiful and often way less ordinary on the surface than the commercials would have us think.

Because no one wakes up with perfectly tousled hair.

No one hits every perfect note in a day.

In real life people rarely run through airports to declare last minute love.

In real life people forget anniversaries and birthdays and sometimes sneak out in the wee hours of Valentine’s Day to find a leftover card at the Dollar Store because they know it matters to us.

Sometimes real love is too busy unclogging the toilet, working the late shift, nursing the baby around the clock to find time to write down all the ways they love you – they’re too busy living it.


The thing about love in all its ordinary glory is that it was never designed to demand.

Love doesn’t stamp its foot because it didn’t get roses.

Love doesn’t sigh because it feels let down by the card or the day or the man.

Love doesn’t huff and puff and compare and point fingers.

Love doesn’t demand.

There is an age old definition of love that I thumb my way back to on the days I feel all that expectation bubbling up in me. When I’m in danger of keeping score of what I did or didn’t get, of whether I was spoiled or celebrated sufficiently according to this weird and warped definition of love that has seeped into our culture.

On those days I flip back to the book that offers the most famously upside down definition of love:

Love never gives up.

Not when the baby has month after month of colic. Not when the teenagers won’t talk back. Not when the one you love is aching and breaking apart over that job, that terrible commute, all those night shifts, the dread of being laid off. Love never gives up hoping, believing, cheering, listening, crying alongside, and planning together in the nooks and crannies of the leftover parts of the day – planning together for tomorrow.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love packs lunches for decades for kids who can never understand how boring week after week of figuring out new ways to make sandwiches can be. Love moves in with its parents-in-law to take care of them, take up their burden and take back all the years they cared for you. Love remembers to get up early to change the laundry to the dryer. Love kisses boo-boos and helps bandage up broken hearts.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t demand that card or necklace or Kay’s Kiss or Ring or Diamond when love has all these legs and arms tangled in a bed and a shared saggy mattress that wakes up to sticky kisses from toddler lips. Love is satisfied with right now. Love isn’t always looking for something better than the man across the breakfast table who winks at you in your tired pajamas and still sees you through the memory of a twenty one year old’s eyes.

Love doesn’t strut,

It doesn’t show off or show up others. It leans into the lonely and the forgotten and love sees them. Love sees the people around its table, living next door, swallowed up by fear – love leans into them and away from its own accomplishments.

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t keep lists of all that its achieved, all that it wants, all that you did or didn’t do for it. Because love is too busy admiring all that wonder in the DNA of someone else – that aunt who beats cancer every morning when she wakes up and decides to live out loud today, in that husband who keeps fighting for work that will provide for his family, in that first grader who sweats his way to figuring out how to properly make the “S” sound. Love lives large through the victories of others.

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Love doesn’t stamp its foot or keep a list of everything it didn’t get or that didn’t go it’s way.

Isn’t always “me first,”

Love is about that tiny wisp of a baby, that temper-ridden toddler, that good man with his aching back. Love sees them through Jesus-colored lenses and believes the best.

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Love isn’t easily disappointed or viscously competitive. Love doesn’t compare what it has to what it wanted. Love doesn’t point out all the ways the ones it loves were late or selfish or stupid. Love takes a deep breath. Love always gives second, third, hundredth chances. Love is all about do-overs.

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Love doesn’t spiral into arguments that circle back to decades ago of disappointment. Love doesn’t say, “You forgot AGAIN.”

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

When he’s hurting or she’s so sorry for forgetting. Love listens. Tenderly.

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Love believes the best and receives the truth with both arms wide open ready for that hug, that gift of being nose-to-nose with the ones who make us whole.

Puts up with anything,

With burnt toast mornings and late shift nights. With imperfect cards, words, and offerings. With gifts that don’t live up to magazine standards of romantic and date nights that exist as stolen moments between the toddler’s bedtime and early morning wake up call.

Trusts God always,

That He will teach us how to love. And that He will surround us with love in every ordinary, nameless, faceless, Saturday that isn’t a special day on the calendar.

Always looks for the best,

In the man across the table and in the woman in front of us in the mirror. In the kids that frustrate us and in the day to day friendships that sometimes feel like they might break us. Love looks hard and long for the best.

Never looks back,

Not to the last fight, the last failure, the last forgotten holiday. Love only has eyes for today.

But keeps going to the end.

To the end of itself, the end of its expectations, love keeps walking its way home with the people who are the heart of its home.

I don’t know about you, but this is the definition of love I’m going to take into tomorrow – into Valentine’s Day and if I can remember, into all the other ordinary days that follow behind it.

I know I’ll get it wrong and there will be times I’m disappointed.

But I want to work hard at this love thing – I want to do love – every day.

And one of the most powerful ways I’ve found for avoiding the trap of expectation and entitlement is to focus on BEING the gift instead of GETTING the gift.

This is the gift I’m planning to BE this Valentine’s Day.

This is the love letter I’m writing.

This is the surprise I’m the most excited about planning.

A whole bunch of us are pledging $10/month for food and school supplies to a community of moms and kids in South Africa that we’ve been loving on for the past TWO YEARS – we’re called the TenDollarTribe. 150 people have already joined.

The crazy thing is it all started because I fell in love with some people I met on the Internet.

And the upside down thing is – that in GIVING away your own expectations of receiving and focusing on the joy of being the gift, there isn’t room left over for disappointment.

So if Valentine’s Day has a tendency to disappoint, you’re invited to CLICK HERE and be the gift this year instead of expecting a gift.

I promise it’s about the best kind of love I can think of. Me and my nine-year-old son, Jackson, are doing this for Valentine’s Day along with the rest of our crew. Won’t you join us?


And will you help us spread the word? Just click here to tweet this or feel free to share this post on Facebook:

How not to be disappointed this Valentine’s Day – join the #TenDollarTribe and spread the love instead!