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Faith Personal

If You Listen, They’ll Tell You How to Love

I stared out the window at the crate myrtles blurring into a thick stroke of pink, the hum of our truck stretching the seconds between his words and my reply.

“What do you want to do for your birthday?”

The question shouldn’t have carried much gravity. But we’d just waded through two years dense with change, and I wasn’t where I’d thought I’d be geographically, vocationally, or spiritually when I turned 27.

A pro at avoiding, I changed the subject by recalling childhood birthdays. They always consisted of a delightfully predictable set of elements: family, dinner, Mom’s fudge cake, and gifts. I never sought the spotlight or asked for slumber parties with Disney movies and nail polish.

There were times my parents stretched these boundaries, sensing a hard season in my life. They’d add oomph to the celebration, amplifying the message that I was loved. Like my 16th birthday, when they planned a surprise party at our neighborhood pizza joint. A photo of that night has hung in my childhood bedroom for over a decade now, so it’s not that I don’t like being celebrated.

I just don’t want to tell someone directly how to make me feel loved.

One thing that remained the same throughout my childhood, I told David, was my choice of the birthday dinner restaurant. With the exception of a handful of years when I was fascinated by the upside down crayon signature skills of the Macaroni Grill waitstaff, I always picked our hometown hibachi steakhouse, Kanki.

The nostalgia washed warm inside of me, and my lips released a smile. It wasn’t the food or the entertainment that made those birthday meals. It was the people and the tradition of it all.

This year, the melting of June into July came with the usual humidity and an unwelcome awareness of the tension between what I thought would be and my reality.

On the night of my 27th, we found ourselves again in the truck. David asked me to wear a blindfold on the way to the restaurant.

By the time we parked, I was hopelessly turned around. The car door opened and I gripped David’s palm, lowering myself onto what sounded like concrete but shifted soon to the swish of grass, the clack of tile, and then the tap of wood.

His arm lowered mine to his side as we stopped.

“Okay, you can open.”

We were standing inside Kanki. And my family was there to meet us. 

I looked at my husband, whose face was beaming with the sweet, accomplished she-loves-my-gift grin that every wife knows.

And as we sat down at the table, I felt beads well in my eyes. I knew he’d heard between the lines.

David heard a heart-drop, as Karen Ehman calls them, that June day in our truck. He listened for the words I hadn’t said outright and heard my sadness and nostalgia. He heard my need for that extra little oomph this birthday to make sure I got the message I was loved. And he found a fresh way to do that by recreating my most beloved childhood birthday dinner experience.

I know I’m not the only one who’s still heart-dropping in her adulthood. People are doing it all the time. We just have to listen.

It’s the pause your friend takes after telling you everything’s been “okay” with her marriage that month.

It’s the lemon pound cake recipe your coworker always brings up on the anniversary of her Mother’s passing.

It’s the lingering a moment longer by the stranger who struck up a conversation in line at the grocery store.

Like the climax of a song, these aren’t hard to identify. The challenge is paying attention. Let’s be women who listen between the lines to hear the cries of those around us. There might be an opportunity, one we’ve been praying for, to reflect God’s love in a way that people may not have even realized they needed.

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