My children draw them with their fingertips, on every fogged windowpane, on every frost-glazed windshield, in the dirt of every baseball field, in the dust on my fireplace mantel, they draw hearts. In the winter, the radiator beneath the window in our bathroom keeps the glass perpetually veiled in a light fog. One recent morning, I walked in to see sunlight streaming down through a pane filled with hearts and the bold letters I L O V E Y O U.
It’s a message for me, and it’s a message for whoever comes into our home and needs to use the bathroom. It’s for everyone.
I wasn’t prepared for how much learning I would do as a mother, or that so much the wisdom I would glean would actually come from the wide eyes and open hearts of my children. The same children who fight me over taking a bath after spending an afternoon in the mud. The same children who can’t seem to understand why I insist on coats—or even pants—in the middle of a wintry afternoon in New England. The same children I still have to teach to properly cut their steak or tie their shoes. These very same children remind me to see the world as I once did—as hungry for the love of Christ.
Growing up, I had an aunt I had never met. She lived in another part of the country, and there was a fracture in the family history that I was too young to fully understand. All that my childish heart knew was that she had to know that she was loved, so I began writing her. I sent her the details of my birthday parties, pictures I made in art class, stories from school. Minutiae from the heart of a child, tucked into envelopes and sent on their way, to a woman I’d never met, who was occupied with her own grown children and busy life, miles away. It just felt like something I should do, so I did it.
Childhood, as I remember it, and as I see it with my own children, is a time of unabashed passion and fearlessness. My siblings and I created “art” and sold it around the neighborhood. We wrote songs, crafted impassioned pleas to save the environment, or encouraged people to love one another. I wrote and wrote and wrote—journal entries, essays, letters. I wrote my heart and sent it, in pieces, out into the world, without fear.
But, somewhere along the journey to adulthood, we learn to stifle such passion. We trade outward affection and openness for the safety and comfort of our inner circles. We learn that rejection hurts, so we preemptively reject. We learn that openness and an overflowing heart can be seen as immature, naïve, or foolish. Even in our hospitality, we stress over details: Is the house clean enough for company? Is the food good? Is this outfit okay? What if they don’t have fun? And we neglect to simply live out the glaring imperative that once burst from our young hearts: Love one another.
It’s not love one another, when we’re comfortable doing so. It’s not go and tell people that they are loved, when we feel like it. It cannot ever be, only love those you think will love you back. It’s hearts on a windowpane, it’s letters sent, it’s choosing to remember, daily, that you are loved and that you are called to love—everyone. The grocery clerk, the person you’re trying not to bump into on a crowded subway car, the person you married who chews louder than you can bear, the children who won’t go quietly to sleep without first drinking an entire day’s worth of water and getting up to pee three, four, five times.
Love is hospitality without pretense.
Love is allowing other people to leave their fingerprints on your walls, eat from your plates, and leave their dishes in the sink. Love is inviting people over and letting them in, even when your kids cleaned the bathroom and you know there are still watermarks on the faucet and toothpaste drippings down the side of the sink, and even when your five-year-old swept and didn’t pay attention to the tufts of dog hair that floated up from the dustpan as she ran to empty it, or when your ten-year-old helped make dessert and it’s more Cake Wrecks than Pinterest. Love is hospitality without pretense. Love is letting yourself love and be loved—as imperfect as you are, as imperfect as your whole life is. Love is letting the people around you know that you love them enough to open the door.
Truthfully, the unabashed recklessness of love is something that my adult brain struggles with but which my heart craves. I want to love when it’s hard, to love when there’s fear, to love when there’s work to do, and to love when it feels foolish. I want to love when they’re unlovable, and I want to accept, boldly, that I am loved when I’m unlovable too.
My daughter is painting pictures to sell as a fundraiser to help refugees. Although I’m not entirely sure she understands what being a refugee means, and I’m certain she doesn’t grasp any of the political angst and drama that swirl around the adults in her world, she certainly knows this: Her heart is telling her to do something out of love. On our dining table are her small canvases, some with mermaids, some abstract watercolors with pencil sketches of women’s faces lost in a sea of green and blue, some with pools of color and neatly penciled Bible verses. She sees me eyeing her work and asks if I like it. I do.
“Can you help me sell them, do you think? I was thinking of a stand outside—or maybe you can help me sell them online?” she asks.
All too quickly, my thoughts turn to worry, fear, busyness—every possible reason not to help her. They’re cute works of childhood art, but they’re not something someone would buy on the street. And what if she’s disappointed when no one buys them? How would we even go about donating the money to refugees? I don’t have time to research this. I don’t have time to help set up a stand. Plus, it’s cold outside.
In a world of me, myself, and I, where our culture continues to focus more and more on what separates and what divides, it’s a simple truth on a plate of dirty glass. You are loved.
She reads my hesitation and lets me off the hook before I can even answer. “It’s okay, you know. I can do it myself.” She tilts her head with a small smile and blinks at me. And I realize that she wasn’t asking me to help for her benefit at all—but for mine.
Right now, there is a cluster of child-sized, finger-drawn hearts on the back window of my minivan. They caught my eye and made me smile as I looked through the rearview mirror at the whimsical smudges, glowing in the aura of streetlights and turning my minivan into a moving billboard. In a world of me, myself, and I, where our culture continues to focus more and more on what separates and what divides, it’s a simple truth on a plate of dirty glass. You are loved.
When they fade, I may just write them again with my own finger, tracing the heart-shaped curves of the message, again and again, until it travels from my fingertip to my brain, to my heart once more.
Photo Credit: Simply Mella Photography.