It was Thursday evening around 5pm. I was going to Walmart primarily for bread, milk, and a few other essentials, but as I walked into the giant superstore, I quickly remembered that I should pick up something for the kids for Valentine’s Day. As other tired-looking souls piled pink stuffed bears, cheap chocolates, and artificially-dyed carnations in their carts, I struggled to find what I thought were appropriate gifts for my family. I toyed with the idea of getting them each a new DVD or book, but ultimately decided against this after spotting a roll of pink, sequined ribbon in the clearance bin in the back of the store. “Maybe I can make them something,” I thought to myself. This thought frequently crosses my mind as I’m walking by any DIY/craft sections of stores. But I usually quell the dreamer in me by reasonably reminding myself how very often all of the supplies wind up unused and forgotten in the back corner of my closet where things go to die.
But this time the dreamer in me won. As I clutched the roll of pink sparkly ribbon in my hands, I envisioned myself hanging message-laden hearts along it on the back of their bedroom doors. “That’s better than any toy or trinket,” I told dreamer-Liz, tossing the spool in the cart. (But don’t you worry, I also got some over-priced balloons just in case the thoughtfulness of the gift might be lost on them.) I headed to the card section to find something for Jacob. I stayed away from the humorous selections (I ridicule the guy enough for farting as it is), and the romantic ones were positively trite (Happy Valentine’s Day to the most special person in my life. You are my love, my heart and my joy. What does that even mean, really?) I finally found one with a message I could stomach, all the while lambasting myself for being the writer who uses someone else’s words to express love to the very person she loves most. But I kept the card- I had to be realistic about this whole “make-your-own-gifts” thing. I have been known to fall asleep by 8:30 on weeknights.
After the girls were tucked in bed and Cohen was occupied with a game of Qwirkle, I gathered crayons, construction paper, scissors, tape, and ribbon and headed upstairs. Without thinking through my end goal (which is how I unfortunately start quite a bit of writing), I wrote We Love You Because…. on the first heart. I paused, biting my bottom lip in concentration. And now what?
I thought of all the things that make them special. Sophie’s joy, her hugs, her dancing, her spunk. Cohen’s compassion, his smile, his intelligence, his curiosity. But is that really why I love them? I thought to myself, crayon poised in mid-air. It might be why I’m incredibly proud of them, but that’s not why I love them. And as a matter of fact, I’m not necessarily sure I want THEM thinking that’s why I love them either. I’ll love Sophie on the days when her joy seems lost and she has no reason to dance, and I’ll love Cohen on the days he fails his math tests and orthodontic-gear covers his unbelievably cute grin. I do not love them because they are kind, joyful, and compassionate; I love them because they are mine.
Words are never more insufficient than when attempting to capture Love. In the end, I decided to write a multitude of things, telling myself They’re kids– you’re over-analyzing things— but I settled any remaining internal conflicts by making sure the concluding heart said: We love you because…. “You are just who God made you to be.” Because really, that’s all I want for them. I want them to cling to the creation they are in God. That’s why I’ve decided that my last words to them before bed every night (or at least the nights I’m awake enough to put them to bed) are “Thank you for being you.”
I love them because they’re mine, and all I want is for them to be themselves.
Valentine’s Day. They woke up and proceeded to play chase/punch/catch with the cheap balloons for hours on end. They listened to me during the 30 seconds it took for me to read them their messages and then they went back to playing chase/punch/catch. But for at least a brief moment they were tangibly reminded of my unconditional love for them.
May you be reminded in this moment that you are unconditionally loved by a Father not for what you do, but because you are His. I want the entirety of my identity, the essential way I define myself, to be as His kid. Because maybe then I’ll be able to come alive by his continual, unrelenting whisper of “Thank you for being you.”