He called around dinnertime, as the noise around me was reaching a hungry crescendo. We talked about his flight, his plans for a dinner meeting, his jampacked schedule the following day. And then he said what he always says, every time he closes a phone call, tinkering only with location, "I'm loving you in Miami."
"I love you, too."
He never says, "I love you." It's always the active verb, maybe a hyperactive verb, with him. Never just, "I love you." No. He's always actively loving me, no matter where he is. He works because he loves.
I put dinner on the table. We blessed our food and each other and we ate. Much like always. I'm loving them at the dinner table, I thought to myself. Up to the bathtub, the thought followed me. I'm loving these little girls as I bubble up their hair, tussle with tangles and braid it tightly before bed. I'm loving them as I pull clean pajamas over their heads, listen to prayers, and snuggle them to sleep. Help me, God. Help me to remember that with everything I do, I have the opportunity to love them and to love You. Help me to be conscious of actively loving.
Not long after I tucked myself into bed I heard the unmistakable sound. She was coughing, straining hard with every breath. After a very peaceful early winter, our littlest love was clearly in trouble. Mary Beth, my teenaged daughter, had already scooped Sarah up into her arms. I hustled for the nebulizer, my shoulders tightening with Sarah's every breath. I reached deep into the pocket that holds the medicine. One vial. Just one. The easy winter had lulled me into a false sense of security. That one vial would have to do the trick or we'd be bound for the emergency room. I took my baby from her sister's arms and gathered her into my own. Mask over her face, rocking gently on the bed, I whispered in her ear, "I'm loving you Sarah Annie, loving you while you breathe."
Dear Jesus, can you hear me over the hum of this machine? Please. Help her breathe. I ran the scenario through my head. Which ER? Should I have one of the big kids come with me? Why, oh why, did I not fill that prescripton so I'd have more than one vial in my arsenal? The treatment finished, I assessed the situation. Sarah was clearly struggling. She couldn't speak above a whisper and her eyes were wide with fright. My nebulizer is seventeen years old. I've been around this block a few times. Literally. I knew that sometimes it takes up to half an hour to get the full effect of the medicine and I knew that cool damp air would help her greatly. I bundled her up and put her in the van. And then I texted my husband.
"If you're up, call my cell phone. I'm in the van about to drive Sarah around the neighborhood. Asthma. I'll put the phone on speaker for her."
The phone rang and his voice filled the night air. He talked to his little sweetheart. She answered him, though he couldn't hear her wee whisper. And then he said, "Call me if you need me. I'll be loving my girlies in Miami." Power there in that active verb. He's loving me. Fueling me. And I'm loving his babies. Loving them well, with all my heart, all night long. Love is not passive.
We drove and drove for nearly an hour. She drifted to sleep. I lifted her out of the seat and into the house. I slept in my clothes, sitting up, with her in my lap.
I was on the phone with the nurse first thing. Why yes, I'd be happy to meet the new doctor this morning. Ten minutes? Certainly. I'll be there. I brushed my teeth. Put on my shoes. Scooped up my little girl in her footed pajamas and went off to meet the new doctor, grateful beyond words to have someone to help me help her. On the brief drive to the office it occurred to me that I must look a mess. Unshowered, no makeup, in clothes I'd worn the previous day and night, my hair all curly chaos from driving around with windows down in a fine mist. Whatever; it's just the doctor.
The doctor was lovely. Tall, blond, impeccably dressed. She was smart and kind and oh so professional. I was a sleep-deprived frump. She pretended not to notice. I reminded myself that loving is messy sometimes, and I was looking the part.
We got new meds. Sarah improved throughout the day. I stumbled sleepily. Soothing a frustrated boy hunched over fractions, I rubbed a shoulder. I'm loving you, Nicky. You'll get it. Just persevere. I listened with full attention as I heard the hurt in my big girl's voice. I'm loving you, sweetie. Those girls are mean because they are wounded; time will heal, I promise. In the late afternoon, I dropped off, picked up, dropped some more, and then circled back home. I cooked another dinner and fed my crew another meal. I tucked a very sleepy little girl into bed and stopped for a long while to hear her breathe freely. I loved and loved and loved. I can do this, I reminded myself. I can do this through the fatigue and the fear and the overwhelming sense of responsibility. I can do this because I am loved. I am loved by a husband chosen especially for me and I am loved by a gracious God who breathes His life and grace into the very real work that comes with raising nine children.
And just as I was drifting to sleep myself, he arrived home. He curled himself around me and pulled me close. "I'm loving you at home," he whispered into the dark.
"You always do," I answered, smiling into the night, grateful beyond words for his lesson in loving.