I’ve been worried all weekend. The sort of worry that hangs above you like an oppressive cloud, weighing heavily down; ominous, but never letting out its rain. If only the rain would come forth and spill over, then things might be washed afresh, and that beautiful smell that accompanies rainfall would come. But this cloud isn’t ready to offer any cleansing; it is choosing to hang over, as I anxiously hold onto my umbrella. Anticipating a storm.
Amidst this worry and waiting, my life goes on. (Isn’t it wretched how life expects you to carry on when you just need the world to hold still for a moment?) Children are at my feet, needing a brave face and hands ready to help; so, I continue. Valentine’s Day is approaching, which, at this stage in my life, means school parties and Pinterest-induced mayhem. Here I have found myself, needing to help create tokens of love when I am weary; when I don’t have much love to give.
Moreover, my 6-year-old has decided that Pinterest won’t do (thank God), but store-bought sentiments won’t make the cut, either (fabulous). No, he has his heart set upon hand-cut, hand-written, hand-painted hearts. “Will you help me make them, Mom?” he asks, earnestly. How could I say no?
I begrudgingly began to cut out the hearts as we sat together in the afternoon sun, stacking them in a neat pile, ready for my son to write a greeting and sign his name. Painting would be the final, (messy) touch, he had decided. Lost in my mind, I cut using his child’s scissors, until I noticed him bent over the table, his lips moving in concentration as he wrote, “I love you from Phoenix.” Over and over again he wrote, “I love you.” My own heart began to flutter with nervousness, fearful of this “love” he was so willingly giving away. Shouldn’t this love be reserved for his little brother and sister, or grandparents, or very best friends? Because he is in a homeschool cooperative group, these little hearts would find their way into the hands of big boys; twelve-year-olds, who have learned to guard their love, and sixteen-year-olds, who have learned to give it away sparingly. What if his cards, so carefully crafted, were met with ridicule?
Protective instincts flooding in, I gently suggested, “Are you sure you want to write ‘I love you’ on all of them? I mean, some of the kids you don’t really know too well, right?” His pencil dropped down onto the table as his eyes darted up, meeting mine. Immediately I knew I had come from that jaded, adult place of misunderstanding; that look always means that he is about to say something which will challenge everything I believe.
“MOM, I mean some of them I don’t know, some of them I don’t really even like because we get into arguments, but I don’t want any of them to feel left out. I want them all to feel my love. So, they all have to look exactly the same.”
I should have known to keep my anxieties to myself. This is the kid who, during our nightly gratitude sessions, says that he is thankful for, “My family and friends and all the people in the world, even the ones I haven’t met yet.” For months, it has remained unchanged; this open, grateful, sincere thanks.
Under his outpouring of love, I began to remember how it feels to love in that way. I saw myself sprawled across my mom’s bedroom floor, construction paper and scissors and glue scattered around me, as I thought of twenty-five original (cheesy) jokes to write on my classmate’s valentines. I can vividly recall how important it was to me for each joke to be unique, because I needed to make all twenty-five kids laugh, even the kids I didn’t really like that much. It took me hours to complete.
What happens along the way? What causes these beautiful, juvenile hearts to become so guarded over the years? What in the world has occurred that would cause a grown woman to try and dissuade a child from telling everyone he knows that they are loved?
I know exactly what it is. It is pain. It is worry. It is loss. It is fear of rejection. It is life.
It is the rain clouds that come and hang over and wash the joy and trust away in their floodwaters.
Does it have to be that way? What might the world look like if we all carried that unrestrained love within us, forever?
How would it feel to let that love build and swell until we could no longer keep it in, until we had no other option but to let it pour out and share it, saying, “I love you. I just needed you to feel my love.”
What if we recognized the urgency in spreading our love equally, so that no one would feel left out?
Most importantly, is there anything that can be done when that open-hearted love has abandoned us?
Yes. Yes. Yes, because as restorative as love can be to an aching heart, by some amazing grace, it is just as regenerative. Yes, because love can grow in the most barren of places.
Right there in my kitchen, love grew. Up from my broken heart, the love grew. Love grew as the paint splattered across the table where we would soon be eating dinner — the dinner I had not even cooked, yet. But I didn’t care. It could wait. The laundry stack on the couch could wait as the love grew. The fear under my skin and the sleepless nights and the uncertainty and the big, black storm cloud lingering above me, it all could wait. The love would grow; the worry would wait.
I do not know if the big kids are going to laugh off my son’s love notes. I do not know how much longer I have to spend with him in this pure and innocent space, before life comes along and breaks a bit of his trust, too. I do not know if everything is going to be alright, but I do know that as broken-to-pieces as things might fall, the love will still find a way to grow.
The afternoon spent making valentines was the most comforted I had felt in days. I was able to let go of my grip on my umbrella. I was sheltered by the sunlight and the shimmer in the paint. I was lost in the love. And, for now, that love is enough.