I slip a napkin note into my kids’ lunchboxes every day. Sometimes the note is as simple as a smiley face, other times I write silly jokes, but most of the time I write some version of: “I love you just the way you are.”
When that time of day rolls around for my girls to open their lunchbox, I imagine them reading the words they’ve heard a thousand times before but still never tire of hearing. “I love you. XOXO Mom.” It’s comforting to my mama heart – knowing that, no matter how their day is going, no matter who was mean to who, or how well they scored on that quiz, no matter what – they will receive a midday reminder that they are cherished. A tangible token confirming that I’m still here for them, I’m thinking of them, and I’ll be there for them when their day is done – to celebrate, to sympathize, to troubleshoot, to hug.
There’s something so human about needing to be reminded that we’re cherished, that we’re not alone, that no matter what, we have someone we can count on. There’s also something so very spiritual about it. We were created to love and be loved by God, so there’s this bone deep longing within us to know that God sees us, cares for us, is there for us. My deepest spiritual struggles have arisen when I doubt or feel the absence of this connection with God.
Such was the case earlier this week. My anxiety levels were high, as they get from time to time. I felt particularly distant from God. When I tried to pray, my words were stilted, my troubled mind couldn’t settle, and my heart felt parched and weary. Did God see, hear, and know? Did God care?
As I scrawled the note for my child that morning, “I love you always, no matter what,” I wondered what God would write on a lunchbox note. “I’m with you always,” perhaps. Or, “don’t worry, I’ve got this.” Or maybe, “Look up. Smile! I’m right in front of you.” I sighed, wishing God’s communication methods could be so simple and direct.
This thought stuck with me the rest of the day. What if God was leaving me notes? What if God felt distant, not because God had withdrawn, but because I had stopped looking? That’s when I noticed the master craftsmanship of the fluorescent hues streaking across the sky as the sun set that night, and the beautifully orchestrated bird song that serenaded my walk the next morning. That’s when I felt the kindness of God in the unsolicited compliment, and the provision of God in the unexpected help that showed up when I needed it most. Soon I saw signs of God everywhere – in the miraculous report of an answered prayer. In the calm that followed the storm. In the sacred stillness, the holy potential of my quiet workspace.
All of these moments, hidden in plain sight, became like lunchbox notes tucked into my day, written by the hand of God:
“I love you.” “I’m cheering for you.” "I’m right here with you."
Every evening when I open the girls’ lunchboxes to wash them for the next day, I find their note-scrawled napkins, always untouched.
“You can use this, you know,” I once tried to tell my youngest. “It’s a napkin, it’s meant to be used.”
She looked at me in horror, shook her head, and said, “I don’t want to mess it up, Mommy. It’s important to me.”
Gah! The warmth I felt in my heart, the love in her voice, the potent power of words scrawled on a napkin. It overwhelmed me, as did the wisdom of my little theologian, reminding me that the power is not just in the words of love inked on a napkin – the power is also found in the act of cherishing it. Reminding me that we’re only as far from love as we allow our memory to take us. Reminding me that I’m only as far from God as I allow my awareness to be.
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