You can't walk through the grocery store this time of year without being bombarded with trinkets of "love" — gaudy foiled chocolates peeking out from brightly decorated bags, red and pink mugs declaring undying commitment and sarcastic cards propositioning things that the children wandering in the cookie aisle ten feet over should never hear about. Yup. Valentine's Day is right around the corner.
You'd think, judging by the elaborate way we celebrate the day, that our society would value true love and commitment. It doesn't. In fact, according to recent statistics, more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Abortion is rampant in America, and according to Child Help, a national organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse, three million cases of child abuse are reported every year. No, we as a society don't know how to love. But some individuals in our society do.
And this is what I was thinking as I passed by some Valentine's Day candy in the grocery store. I thought of fake love. I thought of no love. I thought of true love. And then I thought of "Pearl."
Pearl was a young, slender, attractive, red-headed, single social worker living in California. She fought for her young clients who were often abandoned, neglected and taken from their natural homes for their own safety. Coworkers considered Pearl a "fireball" whose zeal for her work was unmatched. Her idealism paired with her practical, no-nonsense judgment gave her an edge in the fast-paced environment in which she worked.
Pearl worked with a young adolescent boy who was being bounced from home to home. His future looked bleak because he was deemed "un-adoptable." His age put him at his first disadvantage, and she discovered that his skin was considered too black for the adoptive families who might otherwise consider him. His troubled past further reduced his chances of being welcomed into a permanent home. Pearl knew what kind of future the young man would have as a ward of the state. She also liked this young boy. She noticed his good qualities. We all might recognize the same in a child, in a situation such as this. But Pearl went a step farther. She did something that not many of us would ever have the courage to do. She adopted him.
Pearl's friends and family were skeptical. Why, she was barely 12 years older than her son! How could she raise this child, with three strikes against him to begin with, without the support of a husband? What would people say? Pearl wasn't sure about the particulars. She just forged ahead with the best interests of another human being at heart.
When Pearl adopted her son, she gave him boundaries. She gave him discipline. And she gave him dedicated, powerful, committed love. True love. Not sappy, sentimental, "I-pity-your-situation-you-poor- child-I'll-rescue-you" love, but "I-care-about-you-want-what's-best-for-you-and-am-willing-to-sacrifice-for-it-despite- your-objections" type love. Not the stuff of Hallmark cards. Better. Two years later when her son's biological brother also needed a home, this single white woman in her mid-twenties chose love again when she adopted him, too.
Pearl enrolled her children in school. She worked evenings to bring them up to grade level. She signed them up for football and track, to give them an outlet for their energy. Then, to escape some negative influences on her children and to position them in the same town as supportive family, Pearl left her career and home, and moved with her boys almost 2000 miles away, to Indiana.
Was it a bed of roses, as they say? No. Typical teenage boys bring up typical teenage issues, and typical worried mothers typically overreact. Thank God things were normal.
The older went to college. The younger, caught up to grade level by now, was enrolled in a Catholic high school and excelled on the school's football team. He was funny and smart, polite and easygoing. You'd pick him out of a crowd as confident and a leader. And when this young man graduated from high school (at 17, by the way), he had earned a scholarship for college. Pearl is now an empty nester — in her early 30s.
Pearl sees how her sacrifices were worth it. And while she was not seeking anything for herself, she did gain two fine sons. That's the funny thing about love. You give generously but then receive tenfold in return.
This Valentine's Day, amidst the pink and red trinkets of the holiday, I am thinking of my husband, yes. I am tossing some candy kisses into my grocery cart for my kids too. But I am also thinking of another true love. I am also thinking of Pearl.