My Valentine’s Day failures started with my fourth-grade girlfriend. By “girlfriend,” I’m loosely referring to the pretty girl I bounced with on the trampoline after school every day but otherwise never had the nerve to touch or even talk to.

Still, she called it “going steady,” which I assumed meant she was expecting something from me on this special day. So I bought her a teddy bear and some chocolates.

She broke up with me later that same day. A young Romeo I wasn’t.

And that remains true to this day. With more than two decades of marriage under my belt now, I’ve been known to take the Walgreens walk of shame a time or 20.

You know the routine. It’s February 14 at 5:50 p.m., and you still haven’t bought a single thing for your wife. So you hit the card aisle on your way home from work and find a band of brothers in the same predicament. Everyone avoids eye contact as if to say, “No, of course I didn’t wait until the last second. I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. The other stuff is in the car. I’m just here to snag a few final tokens.”

For me, even when I did plan ahead I just couldn’t seem to get it right. The card was never quite perfect. I tried buying flowers, but my wife preferred I save the money for something more practical. And don’t get me started on the trouble I had picking jewelry.

I guess you could say that the season of love had a unique way of shining a bright rose-colored spotlight on all of my guy floundering. At least it did until about seven years ago, when I had a game-changer idea that took me from zero to hero.

My idea: The Mitchell Family Love Feast

I know, awesome right? Dripping with glorious cheesiness. Go ahead, take it in and have yourself a good chuckle. Honestly, I get it. I can’t even say the phrase “Mitchell Family Love Feast” to another guy without embarrassment. It sounds like some kind of weird singing group in Branson, with mom and dad flanked by smiling kids arranged tallest to shortest like Russian nesting dolls.

But hear me out, guys—you may just find your biggest win of the year and start a tradition that will reward you more as time passes.

I had the idea of a love feast after reading about it in the Bible. Different than the Lord’s Supper of bread and wine, this was apparently a full meal where everyone gathered, enjoyed the food, and shared a sense of togetherness.

So I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe that could work for us!” I made quick invitations—nothing special, just hand-written notes on simple slips of paper—inviting each family member to a meal on Valentine’s Day. Our first Mitchell family love feast.

And guess who didn’t laugh at my cheesy idea? My family.

Quite the opposite, in fact. My kids got excited and immediately wanted to know, “What’s a love feast, Daddy?” My careful wife was curious and asked, “What exactly do you have planned?”

I hadn’t actually thought it all through yet, so I told them they’d have to wait. But anticipation was already building. Most important, just the thought itself seemed to be counting for something, which already felt like a win.

Of course, now I had to deliver a love feast. I decided on three simple components.

Food. Gifts. Love letters.

That’s it. I’ve repeated these same components every year since. The trick has been to keep the first two components simple and go all in on the third.

For the meal I’ve tried to stay flexible. That first year we went to a local burger place my son had picked. Not the most romantic choice (he seems to have inherited my knack for Valentine’s Day), but the girls rolled with it and we had a blast. Another year we didn’t feel like going out, so we ordered pizza at home. That worked fine, too.

Same thing with the gifts. I never go crazy. Just a selection of their favorite candies and maybe one or two small items I think they will enjoy. I don’t strive for perfection here. Just a sense of “I saw this and thought of you” is more than enough.

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Which brings me to the best part every single year, the thing my wife and kids look forward to the most—love letters, written by me, read out loud for all to hear.

It’s hard to describe this experience and the bond it creates. The heart connection with my daughter as she hears my words of affection always makes us both cry. The eye contact from my son as he drinks in my words of affirmation strengthens us man-to-man. And of course the renewed softness with my wife as I reflect on our happily-ever-after story has yielded its own benefits.

And what’s even better is how everyone seems to enjoy hearing the other people’s letters even more than their own. This has made Valentine’s Day both magical and inexplicably rewarding. Quite a turnaround from my earlier blunders.

A surprising bonus just for me

Now, after seven years of doing this, when I sit down to write a new batch of love letters, an unexpected moment of joy greets me at my desk. Do you know what it is? Reviewing all those previous letters. My mind floods with memories from prior years and all the standout experiences from life at that time.

This private moment of reminiscing warms my heart and reminds me of God’s goodness. And with every passing year, new letters of His goodness are added.

Now before you get nervous and say, “Okay, I can order pizza and pick out candy, but I’m really not the love letter writing type,” let me reassure you. It doesn’t take a poet to pull this off. It’s way easier than you think.  All you’re really striving for are some simple thoughts or memories written from the heart and read with love.

Here are a few writing prompts to help get you started:

  • I love how you . . .
  • Over the past year you have . . .
  • Something that’s always been true of you and is only getting stronger is . . .
  • One feeling I have when I think about you is . . .
  • It takes my breath away when you . . .
  • You probably don’t realize this, but . . .
  • Something I’ve never told you is . . .
  • Do you know why I love you? Because . . .

Trust me, anything you say after those phrases, they’ll be all ears.

Your own “love feast”

So get out of your comfort zone this Valentine’s Day and throw your own love feast. Eat your favorite foods together. Give gifts that are sweet and simple. And write love letters tailored for each person. Then read them out loud for all to hear.

Your wife will love your letters to the kids. Your kids will love your letter to their mom. And you might just find your biggest win of the year.

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