When my family moved back to the United States when I was about 8 years old, one of the biggest culture shocks to me was how much Americans said the phrase "I love you." It came when parents dropped their kids off to school, or as the concluding phrase to a phone conversation, or just because, during a casual shopping trip to the mall.
In my traditional and somewhat conservative Muslim-Arabic family, you didn't really say "I love you." Honestly, it was hard enough wishing my parents or brothers a happy birthday, let alone actually telling them that I loved them.
I remember one day after spending the afternoon with a friend whose mother always told her she loved her for no apparent reason at all, I asked my father why he never said that to me. His reaction of course was one that I had already anticipated. He said that he didn't need to tell me that he loves me because he shows me love every single day by having food in the refrigerator to keep me full, giving me money to buy things that I need, and making sure that I received a proper education, among many other things. He also added that if he said it to me all the time, it would lose meaning and value.
I agree that there was certainly no shortage of all of the ways that love was shown to me throughout my childhood and adolescence. My father gave up everything to bring us to America to give us an opportunity for a better life, and if that's not an ultimate act of love then I don't know what is. But why was there always that longing, tugging at my heart strings...
I spent those years of my adolescence locked in my room, angry and hopeful, reading about what love looked like, and felt like. Love felt cold sometimes, like when I kept my teddy bears close to me to make sure they stayed warm. It felt like my heart swimming in my chest when Anne finally professed and reciprocated her love to Gilbert on Anne of Green Gables. It looked like a puppet, as if there was a string somewhere under Mr. Rochester's left rib, tying him tightly to little plain Jane Eyre. I'll never forget my best friend from college, whose parents still held hands under the table as we ate our supper at our favorite Mexican restaurant. This couldn't just be something that you read about, right? Most people told me that I would live my life greatly disappointed, and for a long time, I was.
When I saw him, the gates to Heaven opened. I saw, heard, tasted, smelled, and felt love all at the very same time. Our serendipitous encounter that summer day was and still is an incredibly spiritual experience for the both of us, and one that has had the greatest impact on our faith.
In that instant, my entire life flashed before my eyes. If I sit here and write out to you all the details of that day, those months, these years, you might not believe me because I truly know that it is not of this earthly realm. But please believe me when I tell you that life is much too short not to tell the people that you love the most, "I love you."
I tell him every day, every night, and every time I think it. I tell him in public, and in private. When I rub his ears and push his hair out of his eyes, and when he holds my hand under the dinner table. I tell him when he's having a good day, or when I'm having a difficult day. I told him over and over when those pink lines on the pregnancy test read positive.
Love is in our daughter's name and even simply saying her name when she wakes up from a nap makes my heart flutter. When he lays on the floor with her speaking baby language, I tell them both how much I love them, and adore them. Goodness she looks so much like him, I constantly find myself staring at them with tears in my eyes, living this and experiencing this is so much more extraordinary than reading about it in a book can ever be, but everything to hope for. We are not perfect, and if we have ever felt frustrated at one another, nothing is more powerful than "I'm sorry, I love you." As much as we love taking risks, we hold true to never going to bed angry because the possibility of never waking up is much too great of a risk to take.
Forgiveness and love, these are the things that make up the core of our entire existence. God Himself not only showed us that He loves us, but also tells us multiple times. He tells us that He loves us. Those words have never ever lost value to me, no matter how many times I say them, because I mean them with all of my being and everything that I am. So while some may think that I say "I love you" too much, I say that you can never say it enough.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13