Love in the Little Things

Love is written in both sweeping gestures and humble details. We read it in atoning blood and flowering rose, in declarations of lifelong commitment and daily kisses. We need the weight of the former, and repetition of the latter to fill us up and make us strong. In love, the little things matter--

like "happy food,"

holding hands at the dinner table,

slow walks on hard days,


a freshly plowed field ready to grow nourishing food,


a pile of beloved comfort items offered to a sick mamma,

the sacrifice of a relaxed Easter morning to worship with the church-starved shut-in,

the simple gift of a handkerchief.

As with the steady drip drop of water onto solid rock, these little things leave a lasting impression where love collects into pools. Like the story of that handkerchief.

I remember the day I received it. On September 27, 2011, my Nona had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, which served me a double blow. The realization that the rock and matriarch of our family who never caught a cold had cancer was an impossible shock; the trauma of losing my Grandmommy to breast cancer eight years prior had awoken from slumber. I was six weeks away from giving birth to Sara, and mentally shaming myself for lamenting over Braxton Hicks contractions and sciatic pain when there was cancer in the world. And my dear friend, Ellie Blackburn, had just given birth to her fourth child.

That mild autumn night, I took advantage of Brandon's free evening. I left Micah in his capable hands, and drove the thirty something miles from Farmerville to Lincoln General Hospital in Ruston, Louisiana to meet my friend's tiny new addition. I meant to distract myself from my own troubles by entering into someone else's joy. But that is not what happened. Instead, my friend abandoned her joy to enter into my troubles--much like Someone Else I know.

When we found ourselves alone, she asked me how I was doing, and without meaning to I selfishly poured out my burdened heart at the side of her hospital bed. Weary though she was, she listened intently and passed me a soft, white handkerchief which I thoroughly saturated. A handkerchief is not typically a thing one borrows, but when she told me it had belonged to her grandmother, I offered to return it after a good washing. Ellie told me to keep it.

I used it once or twice after that, but it has mostly lain forgotten in my purse for two and a half years--until I needed it last month when I said goodbye to a dear friend who was stolen away by cancer. Crying into that handkerchief by Jenny's graveside, I was simultaneously far stronger and more broken than I ever could have imagined when I cried at Ellie's bedside--a recipe which yielded many more tears. I needed that little white cloth. It was such a comfort to me even in its smallness. The reminder of Ellie, who now lives hundreds of miles away, earned a smile from me that day. When it was time to set my face right after the service so I could embrace Jenny's family and say my goodbyes, I stuffed it into my coat pocket and forgot about it--

Until I had need of it again a few days later. I didn't need it for me. The kind of crying I was doing following Jenny's death required hand towels. A dainty handkerchief can only hold so much snot. I needed it for someone else--another dear friend who also lives hundreds of miles away. Madonna, a friend from college, was in town for a rare visit. We had a nice--if brief--time together at Jubilee Farm after not having seen one another for over a year. There was a private soul-baring, tear-inducing moment in the car as I drove her to where she was staying. Madonna apologized for getting emotional, which made me grin because it's something I would do--something I did that night in Ellie's hospital room. I told her not to apologize. I was honored that she would and could cry in my presence. I told her I wanted to be a safe place for her. I hope to be a safe place for all my friends. For strangers even. 

And then she asked for a tissue. Drat. I don't carry tissue because I'm allergic to it. I could only offer her fast food napkins my dad had stuffed into my glove compartment several months ago during one of our road trips to Baton Rouge. My handkerchief remained soiled in my coat pocket at home.

As Madonna wiped her eyes with the roughest, least durable paper in existence, I told her the story of my handkerchief--the friend who gave it to me and how it had brought comfort to my sore heart one night in a happy hospital room and one sad, sunny day by my Jenny's grave and how sorry I was I couldn't offer it to her. I made a promise--"The next time this happens, I'll be ready. I'm going to order some handkerchiefs for this very thing."

And I did. I "won" a set of ten pretty hankies on Ebay two days later.

It took some careful work getting the fragrance and stiffness out of them without having a reaction, but I managed. When I was done, I enclosed my favorite of the lot--the one with the embroidered pink flowers pictured here--in a package I mailed to Madonna. Late though it was in getting to her, I hope it brings her some comfort and reminds her that I'm thinking of her and praying for her. I carry the other nine hankies in a plastic bag in my purse, ready to give them away to anyone who has tears to dry and a heart to be heard. 

Opportunities for grand gestures are rare. You get married once, and then you prove your love every day in dying little deaths to give life to another. You birth a child, and then you spend the next umpteen years forgetting yourself as you intentionally observe, notice, and appreciate all the little things that make up the ever-growing human carrying around your DNA. Jesus Christ gave His life for us once, but never stops saving the soul who wants Him. He draws near. He enters in. He keeps count of every toss in our bed, every sigh of our soul, every tear that falls from our eyes--caused by everything from cancer to pregnancy discomforts--and stores them in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He has accomplished the big things--covenants and coming and death and resurrection--but He never stops wooing us with the small. He is the most observant Lover. There isn't a detail He could miss.

I remember once marveling to my cousin and family photographer, Morgan Tucker, that God seemed to care about and provide for all the details of our family photography sessions. She laughed and sagely responded, "God cares about pictures because we care about pictures."  

It's true, you know. Jesus cares about the little things because we do. He created us to appreciate them, after all. It is in these little things that we learn to ground ourselves in the rich soil of His love so that when big storms come we stay firmly planted. 

This Man inspires me and sets my heart aflame. I want to love like He loves. I want to smell like Him and feel like Him. I want people to think of Him when they are with me. So I will prepare nourishing meals, fold and put away his underwear, read her favorite book for the hundredth time, look into his eyes when he asks his questions, pray for those I cannot otherwise serve, and keep hankies on hand to catch the unexpected tears of strangers and friends. I will ask God to give me joy in the doing so the love hits its mark.

There are no grand gestures here, and I will never love as perfectly as I would like. I will fail, repent, repeat, but I will never stop aiming. For His sake. And the "I love yous" I sing will be soft, humble songs. They won't earn me any applause, which is good. In this the hearers know it's all for them and not at all for me. The goal of real love isn't to impress, but to leave an impression. It is to help a soul feel its value and a spirit catch a foretaste of the infinite love of our Lord. 

The world is more beautiful when we love in the little things like chocolate pudding and handkerchiefs and open ears and hearts. May we love as we are so gloriously loved.