I’d been looking for it… I knew it would be in one of the many bins that Toby and I have gone through as we’ve been organizing the basement, but as the numbers of untouched bins dwindled, I could feel the fear creeping into the back of my mind that it was lost forever.
When I was a senior in high school, I was fortunate to go on a Christian Awakening retreat. I won’t give too much away, but at one point during the weekend, we were each read a letter from a parent. They were read at random and when the leaders began to read each one, all of us would quietly listen for clues that it might be ours. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting mine to be awesome. My mom and I both love to write letters, cards, and things of that nature… I knew this particular task would be right up her alley. My dad’s writing is wonderful too, but for an occasion like this, I figured mom’s would be more emotional and thus be chosen for its impact. I still remember sitting in suspense, then realizing slowly that it was my letter. It’s a brilliant thing to hear your parents love you, but it’s even more powerful in that retreat setting. As the letter concluded, I was expecting to hear “love, Mom” at the end… but it wasn’t my mom’s letter being read aloud… it was my dad’s. Tears ran down my cheeks and I can’t even fully describe the love I felt in that moment.
For years and years I kept the packet of letters from my senior retreat in the top drawer of my nightstand. College was a rough road for me and in the times of difficulty when I began to feel alone, I would close my door, take out my letters, and reread them all. My mom’s letter was wonderful and in addition to her own beautiful writing, she reached out to so many of the people in my life. I am still touched by the number of people who took the time to let me know I mattered to them… And each time I pulled out those letters, I was reminded page by page of how loved I was. But even years later, my dad’s words were different. Not only were they meaningful beyond measure, but they also transported me back to that moment when they hung in the air and wrapped me in his love.
When Toby and I separated a few years ago, apartment space was limited and my keepsakes ended up in a storage unit across town – including my letters. I can’t even begin to articulate how many times I would have loved to have pulled them out to reread them, but I had no idea which keepsake bin they might be in or how deep in the unit they were buried. This year as we’ve been reorganizing our lives, I’ve been quietly looking forward to rediscovering my packet of senior retreat letters… especially since the words my dad has written to me over the years are all I have left. I miss him every single moment of every single day and I couldn’t wait to sit with his letter and let his words wrap me in the closest thing I now have to his embrace.
With about 3 bins left in the entire basement left to go through, I opened a lid and there it was – my packet of retreat letters sitting right on the top. My stomach flipped. In about .0003 seconds, the contents were dumped out onto the table and I was methodically sifting through the letters looking for the piece of paper I’d been waiting to hold in my hands for the last 157 days. The familiar envelope marked “Parent – Dad” peeked through the stack and I got to read the words that never cease to touch my heart.
I read about how much my dad loved me. I read about little moments that he held dear and stored in his heart the way I do with my children. I read about how proud he was of me… and I paused. So much has happened in my life and I always wish that I were better. A better person. A better daughter. A better everything. As far as I’m concerned, my dad was the closest thing to perfection to ever walk this earth… I don’t think anyone can ever feel good enough for their hero.
But something new touched my heart as my dad’s words flowed through me this morning. These last few years have caused me to change a great deal. I feel like a completely different person today than I was two years ago. And the me from three years ago? Yeah – I’m not sure we even lived on the same planet. It’s a hard thing to feel the tides of life sweep so much of you away… or so I thought. Today as I read my dad’s letter with fresh eyes, I realized that the qualities he saw in me even as a 16 year old kid were still the cornerstones that I tried to build my life around.
Tears streamed down my face as I realized for possibly the final time that my dad has always known me better than I even knew myself. When he spoke of potential, he wasn’t talking about titles or pieces of paper to hang on the wall, he was talking about the bedrock of who I am and how I love. No matter my failures or successes in the eyes of others, my dad had always viewed my heart as the greatest success of all.
“As the pressures of life’s responsibilities increase, remember to always keep your beautiful smile… Your smile has always been special to me because it truly reflects the happiness you have always given me. Annie, always remember how much I love and care for you. No matter what the future should bring I will always, always love you. No one could ever take away, nor could I ever forget the countless warm memories you’ve given me. You are truly the BEST daughter anyone could ever hope for. All my love forever, Dad”