“If I don’t say this now I will surely break
As I’m leaving the one I want to take.” –The Fray
“Is there a chance something could happen?” she asked. “You know … with the surgery.”
I knew what my eight-year-old daughter was asking. Although it had just dawned on her that something could go terribly wrong, the thought had plagued me for weeks.
“Well, it’s possible, but not likely. People have surgery all the time and they come out just fine—actually, they come out better than before. I think that is how it will be with me. But we can pray.”
And so we bowed our heads my child let her fears and hopes be known.
I decided to keep my greatest fear to myself—the one where surgery sabotaged my plan of doling out daily bits of love, wisdom, and guidance as my children grow.
If I could bottle up my love I would. I thought to myself.
And then I remembered—there was a way to bottle up my love. I’d shown a group of 31 fifth graders how to do just that a few months ago.
It was a writing gift for someone special in the students’ lives. I’d written several sentence starters to help the children divulge the Important Things—words that need to be said but are often difficult to mutter. The children were instructed to complete three of the sentences on pretty paper, roll it up, tie it with a ribbon, and place it in a Mason jar. The sentence starters were as follows:
- I’ll never forget when you …
- I appreciate how you …
- I’m sorry that sometimes I …
- What I love most about you is …
- I have you to thank for …
- Five words to describe you are:
- Our family wouldn’t be the same without your …
As I read the writing prompts out loud, a sea of eager hands filled the room. The students couldn’t wait to share their responses—they wanted to say them right then and there. So we set aside the writing exercise for a moment and just listened to each other.
I was surprised that all the children in the classroom wanted to participate in the sharing session. I was stunned by their heartfelt responses that touched on difficult topics such as divorce, moving, illness, scary events, and poor choices the children had made. It appeared that these particular writing prompts didn’t require deep thinking or eloquent expression; the answers came easily. It also appeared that these sentence starters were not intimidating. Anyone could complete them. In fact, there wasn’t a single child in the room who wasn’t motivated to finish one of these sentences and bottle it up with love.
The exercise was such a success in my daughter’s classroom that we did it in our home for Father’s Day. Just like the fifth graders, my children found this exercise to be much easier than writing an entire letter. My daughters actually thought of multiple responses for each sentence starter and seemed to genuinely enjoy the activity. My older daughter thought to cut her responses into strips and tape them into curled circles. My younger daughter followed suit. It was quite brilliant because it made the gift last longer. I’ll never forget watching my husband’s large hands peel back the dainty pieces of tape to reveal something tender or sweet written by his children. I loved how he read the responses out loud. Some of the humorous reflections from my younger daughter made our family fall over with laughter. The jars created a special memory for our family that day.
As I faced the first of two surgeries in early July, I knew that making the jars for my family members would give me great peace. Just imagining my husband, children, and sister sitting around the kitchen table reading the contents of their jars while I was in the hospital gave me great comfort. And in the unfortunate event that I didn’t return, my family would have these little notes of wisdom and affirmation to read over and over until they became worn from excessive handling. Because of their potential importance, I tried to make my responses a little funny … a little serious … and very truthful. I did my best to tell my loved ones things I’d never told them before.
It only took me 30 minutes to type out the responses, cut them into strips, staple them, and place them in the jar with chocolate kisses and a flower. For someone very un-crafty, I thought they turned out quite adorable.
The jars came to mind as I laid in the recovery room after surgery. I’d woken up from the anesthesia quite disoriented and scared. I remember asking for my husband. The nurse said he would not be able to join me just yet. So I blindly reached for a hand, any hand. I found the hand of the student nurse in training who I’d grown quite fond of in our short time together. As she squeezed my hand gently, I thought of my daughters’ little hands opening their notes. I could see their smiles and hear their giggles. It gave me great comfort in my time of fear.
When I came home from the hospital I asked my sister what she thought of her jar of notes. Between taking care of the children and providing health updates to my parents, neighbors, and friends, she admitted that she’d only had time to read one note. But what she said next was quite powerful: “I loved the first note so much that I’ve decided to spread them out and read one slip a week. I am going to use them to brighten my days—in case I need a lift,” she explained.
And that is when I knew this exercise should not be reserved for holidays or surgeries. It should be done right now, today, for every living being we love and adore.
Because the truth is, sometimes it’s hard to articulate the words our loved ones need to hear.
And sometimes our days are so packed that we barely have time to say hello and goodbye.
And sometimes frustration, stress, and fatigue cause us to hold back loving words to each other.
But we cannot let these everyday obstacles prevent us from saying the most Important Things—those affirming words that bind us together, carry us through, and brighten our days.
Thirty minutes, my friends. Thirty minutes.
How about we forgo the tv sitcom? Let’s allow the emails to sit in the inbox. We’ll save the dishes for later.
Right now we have the chance to leave a lasting imprint on a precious soul.
I cannot think of a more important use of our time.
I cannot think of anything more precious in our the hands of our beloveds.
My dear friends of The Hands Free Revolution, recovering from two surgeries has brought me some unexpected gifts – the gift of reading, resting, and card sending. I have so much goodness to share with you—I think there is a little something here for everyone:
- The Abundant Mama’s Guide to Savoring Slow: Simplify, Embrace the Chaos & Discover an Abundance of Time at Home by Shawn Fink – If you are continually lacking time, constantly too tired to do what you want to do, or frequently feeling overwhelmed and maxed out, you will benefit greatly from owning this easy-to-read & implement book. Shawn Fink does not tell us to stop our busy lives—she inspires us to savor the life we have by guiding us in a new direction. Using real-life examples, clever savoring slow “invitations”, powerful mantras, and perspective changing insights, Savoring Slow helps us find more hours in the day—specifically, the hours that make life worth living.
- Nobody: A Book About Bullying in Schools Author Erin Frankel uses this beautifully illustrated picture book to tackle the subject of bullying in a very unique way. Not only are child readers offered the perspective of the boy being bullied, but they are also able to see the needs of all involved (the bully, the witnesses, and family members). This hopeful book is a powerful tool for talking about bullying, enabling children to see their unique quirks as strengths, and for helping children navigate their own feelings and relationships.
- Anchored: Finding Hope in the Unexpected – Kayla Aimee has written an unforgettable book about being thrust into the premie mom world, yet this book is about so much more. Touching on difficult topics such as infertility, marriage strain, and financial turmoil, Kayla leaves nothing out of her story. With a knack for story-telling, the gift of humor, and a voice of gratitude, Kayla describes loss and hope in a way we all can understand and apply to our own personal situation.
- Totlosophy – Dianne does not just create personalized stationary, she “saves memories” in the most beautiful way. I was introduced to Dianne’s unforgettable work when she saw me present at a speaking event in Indianapolis. She gifted me with a set of cards that contained a quote from my small nephew. It was something he pronounces correctly now so I cried when I saw the beautiful memory: “Can you put these wocks in yuw pocket?” I urge you to go look at all the beautiful quotes Dianne puts on watercolor art. My favorite card says, “Be a silver-lining spotter”. I have my own set and have a hard time parting with them. But when I do, the recipient always comments on the exquisiteness of the card. (See picture below.)
- This summer I have worn my ‘i choose love’ aqua bracelet every single day. For some reason, it has been important to keep that baby on me at all times. Last week, in those hundreds of beautiful & encouraging comments you left on the “Loss of Life” blog post, one reader reminded me why. She said she keeps these words visible and thought I could use them:
“Today I will choose love. Tomorrow I will choose love. And the day after that, I will choose love. If I mistakenly choose distraction, perfection, or negativity over love, I will not wallow in regret. I will choose love until it becomes who I am.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford
If you are like me and need a wearable reminder to choose love, there are now two colors! Check out the aqua green and the new gorgeous pink. ‘Only Love Today’ is still our most popular wristband and both the lavender & classic brown are currently in stock!
Thank you for being part of this incredibly supportive community. My recovery is strengthened each day by your presence and encouragement. Please let me know if you are going to fill glass jars to say The Important Things. It would totally make my day.