Now when he departed from there, he met Jehonadab . . . coming to meet him; and he greeted him and said to him, "Is your heart right, as my heart is toward your heart?"
And Jehonadab answered, "It is."
~II Kings 10:15 (NKJV)
Lately I have been thinking about how important it is to tell our loved ones how we feel about them.
I feel so privileged and grateful to be married to a man who reaffirms his love for me on a regular basis. As some of you learned from the love letters Keen wrote while I was in Nevada working on my book, he is not afraid to share his feelings or speak from his heart. Here is an excerpt from one of those letters: “You are so precious to me; the most important thing in my life – air to my lungs, blood to my heart, life to my soul. I feel so grateful, that out of all the men in the world, you chose – and continue to choose me as the recipient of your affections. I am the most blessed man in the world.” Just the other day Keen said: “I’m half of nothing without you.” His expressions of love feed my spirit and reach the deepest crevasses of my heart and soul, making me feel so loved and secure. That is the power of words.
The night before my sister Patricia died so unexpectedly last March while vacationing in Mexico, she and all of her friends were sitting around a table talking. For some reason, Patricia’s friends began telling her how much she meant to them, and the difference she had made in their lives. One by one they shared their heartfelt sentiments with Patricia, never knowing that it would be her last night on earth. Before she died, Patricia told Nikki how much their words had touched her heart.
Another example that comes to mind is when I received a phone call from my brother Joe (who is a doctor) telling me that our mother’s health was rapidly deteriorating and she appeared to be losing her seven-year battle to cancer. I still remember sitting in a restaurant with Keen crying my eyes out. I told him, “If Mom dies before I get the chance to tell her how much I love her, I just couldn’t bear it.” You see, although our family was very loving and affectionate (we’re big-time huggers), and every night we would hug and kiss our parents and say, “Good night, God bless you, sweet dreams, sleep tight,” for some reason we rarely said the words, “I love you.” Consequently, the thought of saying those words created a deep feeling of awkwardness for me. But Keen looked at me with gentle eyes of understanding and encouraged me to move past my fear.
So a few days later I made the call to my mom. When she got on the phone, I said, “Mom, I’m not saying you’re going to die, but if you did die and I never told you how much I loved you, I just couldn’t live with myself." Then I said, "I love you with all my heart, Mom.” Mom got choked up and replied, “Well, thank you, Eileen. That means more to me than you’ll ever know.” I went on to tell her that now that I was a parent myself, I understood what a difficult job it was, and that I had nothing but love, gratitude and the utmost of admiration in my heart for her. That conversation gave me a feeling of total peace, because my dear mother did not die without knowing – and hearing – that she was deeply loved and appreciated by me.
My mother and father, Peggy and Joe Van Kirk in 1979
Here is another example from one of the journals I kept when our boys were growing up:
January 15, 1990
Recently I was telling the boys how they need to tell me if something is bothering them. I said I didn’t want them to think: “Oh, well, she’s Mom. I can’t say that to her.” I make mistakes, too. The only way I know if I hurt their feelings or if they think a decision I make is unfair, is if they tell me. I told them that if they hold anger in, that’s not good. It’s like a splinter; if you don’t remove it, then it could get infected. I always want them to feel like they can come to me with anything. I don’t want to be intimidating to them or have them put me on a pedestal so they don’t feel comfortable in approaching me – or like there is something disrespectful about it. I always want to have a good line of communication with my kids, and I want to encourage open communications by positive reinforcement.
So the next day Josh (age 8) came to me crying. He said: “Sometimes I just feel sort of left out. Jared got $5.00 for feeding McQueen’s dog and Keener got a thermos, but I didn’t get anything. And you buy new clothes for Jared and Keen but I hardly get any.” I hugged him and cried and said I was sorry he felt left out sometimes and that made me feel sad, but I was glad he told me. I did remind him that he got to have a friend over the other night and about his big birthday party and some new pants he just got. He said, “I know, but sometimes I just feel left out.” I could tell these were his heartfelt feelings, and I didn’t want to talk him out of feeling that way. He was crying the whole time. He also said he wanted to go to Manhattan or somewhere with just me or Dad – all by himself.
So the next day Josh and I went to Manhattan and spent the whole day together. We had such a fun day. It was a special time and a unique experience for both of us to have that time alone. He kept saying: “I love you, Mom. You’re the best.” I told him I loved him, too, and he was so sweet and that I was so proud to have him for my son. I let him pick where he wanted to eat. Then he played some video games, had a giant cookie, and bought a new eraser and toy for himself, and I bought him a new hat (and one for Jared & Keener, too). Several times throughout the day he said, “I’m sure glad I told you I felt left out.” Then he added: “But I won’t just say it to get my own way.”
On our way home in the car, a song came on the radio [sung by Gordon Lightfoot] with the words, “If you could read my mind . . . what a tale my thoughts could tell. . . .” And Josh said: “Just like that, Mom. If you could read my mind, I wouldn’t have to tell you I felt left out, but you can't, so I do!”
When I asked my friend Shawn if it was all right for me to share excerpts from some of her letters, she wrote: “No problem about reprinting anything I have to say. I try and live by the idea that whatever I say can be said anywhere and to anyone. Sometimes that means I am eating my words so I try to say tasty things.”
I love the way Shawn writes and the fun stories she shares about her young daughter, Lucy, who is three years old. This next “Lucy story” fits in perfectly with the theme of my column this week:
“We are having a great start to our year. Lucy is happy to be back on a regular routine. She had a big meltdown on New Years Day, just one too many social events sans a nap. In the middle of a screaming fit, she stopped and asked me, "Mama, can I say stupid?" I said that she can but I would prefer that she not. So she let me know that I was a stupid stinky face. I love that she wants to ask permission to be "bad". Mostly, she just needed to let off steam. Now we are back to my sweet, happy girl.”
I think it’s so important for children and adults alike to tap into and express their truest, deepest feelings, whatever they might be. Several times throughout our married life, I have made the mistake of keeping something in because I didn’t want to cause a problem. But I have found that openness and honesty are so much more important than the fear of a conflict. Even if what you say (i.e. “stupid stinky face”) does result in an argument, at least the matter is out in the open where you can confront it and deal with it. Sweeping problems under the rug doesn’t resolve anything; it only leaves a big lump in the middle of the living room and causes those we love to trip and fall.
So whether what you have on your heart and mind is positive, or not-so-positive, I encourage you to give your loved ones the gift of honesty and truth. If something is bothering you or you feel “left out” – tell them. And by all means, don’t let anyone in your life leave this world without letting them know how much you love them.
“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.”
~ II Corinthians 2:4 (NKJV)