When our daughter, Louisa, moved from California to Missouri last summer, my husband and I took the opportunity to hand off some of the bins of her papers and memorabilia that had been taking up space in our garage. A couple of weeks after receiving these “treasures,” Lou sent me this text: “I went through those bins you sent down here, and I have a whole bin to send back because it is Katrina and Ted’s stuff. But I found this:”
Below this text was a photo of a weathered piece of notebook paper with the following heading:
“Chicken Pox Blessings – Louisa”
Seeing those words transported me back 20 years to the winter of 2001 and the time when chicken pox ran quickly through our missionary school in Moscow. Students and parents alike fell victim, and only a few families were spared the interruption of a chicken pox siege. In our family, this memorable period began innocently when one of Louisa’s friends came home from school with her. The girls played quietly together for a couple of hours, and a few days later we learned that Louisa’s friend had chicken pox. If we had plotted to expose Louisa to this illness, we could not have done better! Within a few days we detected the first spots on Louisa’s back and chest.
So it was that Louisa and I spent much of the next two weeks together as she bore the discomfort of sores, fever, fatigue, and itching and then began to recover and heal. Katrina and Ted brought home daily reports of more and more kids who had disappeared from the daily school routine. We knew it was only a matter of time before Louisa’s siblings would have it, too, but for those two weeks my world was small, and I was focused on Louisa.
As she began to feel better, I was moved to make a few observations—a kind of remembrance of this quiet time that we spent together. Thus came into being the list of “chicken pox blessings” that Louisa found nearly 20 years later. It continues as follows:
“A Mom likes to discover things about her children. Thanks to Chicken Pox, I have discovered, or rediscovered, some things about Louisa:
- Even when she is sick, she is active, and not one to lie around for awhile.
- She is innovative and creative, thinking of her own way to deal with itching. She kept her hands busy so she wouldn’t scratch, and gently rubbed her shirt over her chest and back to relieve itching.
- She tends to be patient or at least quiet, rather than vocal, during her illness.
- She doesn’t, as a rule, drink a lot of water!
- She can focus on one thing very intently.
- She enjoys helping, unless she is focusing.
- Her dream house has lots of room for Action, Art, Adventure!
- She prays, and appreciates prayer.
- She has a quick sense of humor (she “gets” Calvin and Hobbes)
- She is sentimental about “old stuff”
Other things were also a blessing:
- I got to spend lots of time with Louisa, and so did Ted
- We got to move the room around, so it was better for everyone.
Well, there was nothing written for that third point. Clearly, I had intended to go on, but in a household with one child recovering and two others going down for the count, something probably distracted me.
To my great regret, I did not begin a similar list of blessings for either Ted or Katrina. Ted has reminded me that they had each other to occupy them, and they even spent some of their time deciding how they would welcome Louisa home from school at the end of each day. Still, I consider it a pity not to have a list for each of my kids because the striking thing, as I read my observations about Louisa, is that much of what I discovered (or rediscovered) is still true. I treasure this reminder that those quiet slower-paced days of nursing Louisa through her illness allowed me to know my girl a little differently—a little better.
This experience helped to reinforce a piece of advice that I read as a relatively new parent when Katrina, our oldest, was still a baby. It went something like this: “Grab a cup of coffee, have a seat, and take some time to study your child while he or she is playing.” It was an attractive idea, to be sure. I like to sit. I like coffee. Sit in an easy chair, sip from a steaming mug, and watch—not just watch, but study—my little one while she contentedly putters about with her toys. What could be better?
I have often shared this advice with young mothers, but I usually add a disclaimer, because what I learned, from the few times I tried to do this, was that Katrina was quick to realize I was not busy with anything else, and she wanted me to be busy with her! My coffee cooled on an end table and I exchanged my comfortable chair for the hard floor as we played together. But—mission accomplished. I learned that quality time together was important to her—and it is still one of her love languages.
We are fond of telling parents “nobody knows your kids better than you do,” but it’s not something that happens automatically. The fact is that you know something better if you study it, and that includes a child. Study includes observing, thinking, and reflecting. Quite simply, it takes time, and time has become a most precious commodity, I think. But studying our children—however we do it—is time well spent. A friend of mine told me recently that her husband loved to just sit and stare at their baby son. “I just can’t stop looking at him,” he says. And I think, “Perfect. Study that little boy. Start now and keep studying him throughout his life. Learn all you can about him and help him learn about himself. It’s a powerful way of saying, “You are loved.”
My husband and I were fortunate to have opportunity and encouragement for studying our kids. Our life as a missionary family in Russia allowed for a lot of family time during the years when our children were still small. Over time, John’s increasing responsibilities led to training and education that was designed to help him better understand his own strengths and weaknesses. He enjoyed bringing the things he learned home to our family, so that the “discovery tools” he learned to use became part of our family discussion. We would even joke that “Dad has a new test for us to take,” or “Dad has a book to tell us about.” But we also knew that we were going to learn something new about each other and ourselves, and that was a good thing.
The phrase, “To know me is to love me” is familiar to many of us. It can also take the form of “to know him is to love him,” or “to know her is to love her.” It reflects the idea that anyone who knows a person will automatically love them…or if you know that person, you can’t help but love them…they are that lovable. The problem is that for plenty of people, the more we get to know them the less impressed we are. Love and appreciation do not always grow from knowledge of other people. All too often both love and any desire to know come to a screeching halt.
But turn that phrase around, and we have a truth that comes straight from God: To love me is to know me. Psalm 139:1-4 says,
“O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise:
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
You are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
You know it completely, O Lord.”
God IS love. His love for his creation, and for each of us in his creation, is extraordinary and nothing we have earned or deserved. It’s not that, by knowing us God can’t help but love us. It’s more like he loves us and can’t help but know us. And isn’t this what we all desire—to be fully loved, fully known?
I think our world is crying out to be known. We feel unheard, unappreciated, unwanted, and much of it begins with feeling unknown. We resent being lumped in groups and categories, without any knowledge of the intricacies that make each of us unique. And instead of building bridges to know each other better we build walls that keep the “unknowns” out of our life. And at the same time that we resent not being known, we think we know a lot about everybody else. The fact is that without the love and gracious forgiveness that only is possible because of our Savior, Jesus, gaining knowledge of one another that leads to understanding and the certainty of being loved is impossible.
There’s a lot we can do to help the people in our circles feel fully known and fully loved. I realize that’s easy to say, and not always easily done. If people are open and talkative, there’s a lot you can learn in a short amount of time, although there is probably more under the surface, still to be discovered. If people are like me, they are harder to know to know—I am an introvert, I tend to listen more than talk, I like my privacy, and my circle of friends is small. In knowing others, I tend to err on the side of caution, expecting other people to be as private as I am. But I do appreciate it when I realize that people have observed things about me and are willing to share those observations with me. This reminds me that there are ways of knowing people that don’t require invading their space, but rather the time to study them in different situations, building trust, looking for opportunities to ask questions in a comfortable way that leads to better understanding.
We can take that understanding a step further– The chicken pox siege gave me the opportunity to know my daughter better and to put my knowledge of her into words—words that were precious 20 years later. As an adult and a teacher, Louisa has learned the power of defining and communicating what she knows about her students to them…she helps them to see in themselves the things that she sees—their abilities, characteristics, and gifts that are God-given and make them the persons they are. Those insights, too, become precious over time.
A few months ago–at Christmastime–Louisa got married. She and Andrew had put three years into a long-distance relationship, and her move back to the Midwest was meant to give them an opportunity to spend time together in the same place. It only took a few months for them to realize that they did, indeed, want to spend their lives together!
In early October, when Andrew spoke to John and me about asking Louisa to marry him, one of my enduring impressions from that conversation this: “He knows her. He loves her and he knows her.” We knew that Louisa loved Andrew, and Andrew loved Louisa. By God’s grace, in loving each other, they were also eager to know each other. Knowing took time, but it made love all the more real.
Resources for knowing yourself, your loved ones, and others:
- Charles F Boyd with Dr. Robert A. Rohm, Different Children, Different Needs: Understanding the Unique Personality of Your Child
- Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages
- Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, The 5 Love Languages of Children: The secret to Loving Children Effectively
- Richard J. Leider, Calling Cards: Uncover Your Calling (set of cards with instructions)
- https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test (Myers-Briggs)