How many times a day do you tell your children you love them?
How often do you hear them say the same?
These words are a privilege, not a right.
This privilege, these beautiful words, came so easily from the mouths of our biological children. We were earning their love from the first moments of their existence. They easily fell into trusting the validity of our love.
But it has not been as easy with our adopted children.
Two years ago, before we had even seen our children’s faces or heard their names, we were praying for them. We were loving them.
Oh, it did not have the same depth or strength of the love which now flows from our souls, but we loved them from afar. God was starting to plant the seeds of an everlasting love in our hearts. He was starting the process of building a family.
But, our children were on the other side of the world and they were in the process of losing a family.
They were not thinking of us or praying for us or hoping for us. They were not loving us.
In fact, they might have even been blaming us.
We had to earn their love. And we had to teach them how to love in return.
From the very beginning, from the very first time we wrapped our arms around our children, we were teaching them love.
This…..this is what love feels like, we were showing with our arms.
This…..this is what love looks like, we were demonstrating with our actions.
This…..this is what love sounds like, we were voicing every time we responded to bitterness with kindness.
It was a foreign idea to our children. At first, they sometimes allowed the love, sometimes pushed it away, but never initiated.
We would tuck our boys in every night, and I would physically place their little arms around my neck and teach them how to hug. I would say, “I love you so much, boys. Now, Levi, you say “I love you, Mommy.” Micah, you say “I love you, Mommy.”
And they would parrot the words back. Sometimes, not every time.
I would kiss Leah and Naomi on the cheek, run my fingertips over their forehead, and whisper, “I love you” in their ears. They would lie still in their beds wondering at the strangeness of it all.
Slowly, oh so very slowly, my children would start responding. Maybe they would wrap their arms around me without my prompting. Maybe they would repeat the words I love you without my asking.
And slowly, oh so very slowly, my children were learning to trust my love. They tested it out. Hammered at it. Punished it. Pushed it away. And when my love never weakened or softened, they began to believe in it.
I have noticed something this last month. Something that pierces my heart and makes me catch my breath. Something I hope I never take for granted.
My children are telling me they love me.
Not in response to my spoken words, but of their own initiative.
Naomi was the first. She is the most openly affectionate. She tested out those words for the others, and when she found them sweet on her tongue, she started using them often.
“Bye, Mom! I love you!”
“Goodnight, Mom. I love you.”
The boys followed next. As I finish their bedtime prayers, and kiss their foreheads, and hug their little bodies close to mine, they will often be the first to say I love you.
And Leah. The most hesitant of all. The words have been wrestled from her tongue very sparingly. But they have come. And then, yesterday, as I was serving dinner and the boys were clamoring to eat RIGHT NOW, and Naomi and Hannah were singing a new song they learned at school, and Scott was pouring the milk and wiping up spills, and the dog was barking to be let outside, Leah came up and said, “Can I tell you a secret, Mom?”
I almost kept moving. I was about to whip the potatoes and set the table. Everyone was waiting on me. I almost let the moment pass.
But I stopped and bent down so she could whisper in my ear.
“Mommy, I love you so, so, so, so much. I really do love you.”
And then she squeezed my neck in a quick hug and continued on her way to wash her hands.
And I was left there, standing in my kitchen, holding a precious gift in my heart.
I do believe this is the first time she has spoken those words, completely unprompted or unsolicited. And, true to her nature, she did it on her terms. She stored up those words, like precious jewels, until she was certain of their validity, and then she proclaimed her love in a big way, pouring out the words in bountiful measure.
May I never take these precious words for granted. May they never become background noise to my busy life. May I always take the time to stop and hear the secrets my children are ready to whisper in my ear.