More Than “I Love You”

Rachel Macy Stafford Girls

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Approximately one year ago, my husband’s company honored him for outstanding job performance, and we were awarded a trip. For the first time ever, we would be separated from our daughters for eight days.

There was packing to do and instruction lists to make for my mother-in-law who was going to care for the girls in our absence. There were clothes to organize for school, as well as for sports practices. But there was something more far more important than having all these things in place.

And I could not walk out the door until I did it.

I could not leave until I wrote love notes to my daughters.

I could not leave until I told them how many times I thought about them when we were separated. I could not leave until I told them exactly what made me proud to have them as my daughters. I could not leave until I told them everything I found wonderful, captivating, and beautifully original about them.

I told them all these things in a note that I taped to their bed frames before I left. I knew that when they came to bed, my words would be there to comfort them, even though I would not be.

I’d like to say I did this for the sole reason to comfort them, but the true reason was far more grave. I put the notes there just in case…just in case the unspeakable happened…just in case I never came back to tell them these things myself.

That was one year ago and my seven-year-old daughter’s note still remains in her room. She moved it from her bed frame to the “memory wall” she created one Saturday afternoon by herself from a drawer full of unused pictures.

Among pictures of herself as a baby, beloved family members, and long ago friends from places we used to live, hangs her mama’s love note.

One day, I walked by and saw her reading it. I don’t know if that was the first time, but I imagine it wasn’t.

Recently one night when we were having our cozy talk time, as I listened to her pensive thoughts and marveled at the beauty of her face in the darkened room, a heart wrenching thought struck me like a punch in the stomach. Why must an eight-day separation from my daughter provide the inspiration to write her a love note? Why must the fear of never returning be the reason I tell my child exactly what it is that I love about her?

As I was about to leave the room after talk time I called out one more time, “I love you,” just as I do every night.

But I wanted to tell her more. She needed to know more. She deserved to know more. And not because I am leaving. Please God, not because I am leaving anytime soon. Just because I love her, and she needs to know exactly why.

So I sat down and wrote these words

To my dearest daughter,

I love your kind, compassionate heart.

I love that you are kindhearted and sensitive, and you cry when your heart hurts.

I love that you don’t stay sad for long, but instead try to figure out how to make your heart heal.

I love that you cry for others who are hurt and try to figure out how you can make them feel better.

I love that you think deeply about things in life, and that you ask me questions and listen intently to the answers.

I love to hear you read aloud. It amazes me at how far you have come. I love that you never gave up on something that was difficult.

I love your pretty handwriting and the notes you leave for me.

I love how you teach your little sister so many things. You are so patient and loving with her.

I love how you are becoming more confident and sticking up for yourself and for others who are being mistreated.

I love how you think about God and how you try to use your God-given talents to help others.

I love how you support my dreams of being a Hands Free Mama.

I love how you are such a wonderful helper anytime I teach children at church, school or Girl Scouts.

I love it when you laugh so hard that you get tears in your eyes.

I love it when you think about your daddy when he is away and appreciate what a great dad he is.

I was about to conclude my love note to my daughter when the compelling words of one of my readers came to mind. She said this about her father:

Our family was ripped apart by the inability of a man to say, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong.”  These are words I have made a point of saying to my loved ones.  I have learned that words said in an unkind manner, even if they are accurate, are hurtful and warrant an apology. I find the words you write in your blog to be healing. In your own way, you are letting your children know you can sometimes be wrong, and you will find a way to make things right…and they are important enough for you to try.

Given that powerful bit of wisdom, I decided this love note was the perfect opportunity to say, “I am sorry” and admit my mistakes because I am certain that I don’t do it often enough.

As my thoughtful reader relayed from first-hand experience, the words “I am sorry” are beautifully healing. My daughter needed to hear them. She deserved to hear them. My love note continued:

I am sorry I don’t always take time to tell you these things that I love about you.

I am sorry when I tend to point out the things you could improve on instead taking time to celebrate the million things you do right.

I am sorry sometimes I lose my patience over things that are meaningless and unimportant.

I am sorry for raising my voice when I could just use a normal voice.

I am sorry that sometimes when I get angry with you, it actually has nothing to do with you.

I will try my best to do better on these things that I am sorry about and that hurt your feelings. Thank you for loving me even despite my mistakes. Thank you for  forgiving me.

I hope you know that being a good mom to you is my most important job, and I am thankful every single day that God blessed me with the job of loving you and raising you.

I am so proud that you are my daughter. Nothing makes me happier than to look at you, talk to you, and listen to you. You are the greatest gift my heart has ever known.

Once I completed the letter, I printed it out and read it to her. I shared it during our nightly talk time so we would have this time to ourselves with no interruptions.

I started by telling her that I had written her a note and wanted to read it to her. She smiled and quickly sat up as if she didn’t want to miss anything.

I began by reading all the things I love about her.

Her face immediately shined. The way she smiled reminded me of when she holds my neighbor’s excessively cuddly cat.  In her eyes, I saw tenderness and love; I saw growing self-confidence and pride; I saw happiness that only true connection with another living being can bring.

When I got to the apology section, she immediately dropped her head. Her hair hung forward, and I could not see her face. Although apologies are often uncomfortable for the giver, it appeared that being on the receiving end was difficult for her. That made me realize that I don’t apologize often enough.  I continued reading although it was difficult for both of us.

When I came to the conclusion of my note, her head popped back up and her beautiful smile resumed in full force.

I waited to see how she would respond. I could tell she was thinking. But instead of saying any words, she simply leaned over and hugged me.

For some reason, when I wrapped my arms around her, they felt lighter.  A weight that I hadn’t realized was there had been lifted.

And then without missing a beat, she began our nightly talk time discussion.

And since “easy and light” has never been the theme of talk time for this child, she began with: “How long do you think MeMe and PawPaw will live?”

Whew, talk about going straight to the heart.

We then snuggled in while I quickly prayed God would guide me in answering my daughter’s questions, questions that I ponder with great difficulty and emotion myself.

Our talk time began and covered much territory in ten minutes, but this time there was a renewed connection, a solid foundation that had not been there the night before.

Tonight not only did she know I loved her, but she knew every single reason why.

And that, my friends, makes for an incredibly soft place to lay your head.

When is the last time you told your child or loved one what you love about him or her? Grab a piece of paper. Make a list; it doesn’t have to be fancy. Just say what’s in your heart today. Tomorrow has no guarantees.


About the Author

Rachel Macy Stafford

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February 2015 – XO
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