By Dawn Gentry
When I was 12 years old, we often visited my grandparents’ home. But at least once my dad’s parents came to our home for an overnight stay. I needed to get something from my room while Grandpa was there, and the moment is frozen in my memory.
“Thanks for sharing your room with us,” he said. I paused and turned, one hand resting on the same antique dresser that is now in my home. “You know Grandma and I love you.” I wasn’t sure if it was a question or a statement, but I nodded and he gave me a hug. It is the first time in my young life anyone said the words “I love you” to me. So the image is stark and fresh, like a bracing wind as you step outside in winter.
How Would He Respond?
Fast forward 22 years. My dad’s parents had both died in the previous year. Now we are the guests, staying overnight in my parents’ home. My son is 9, my daughter is 4 years old. While there, we take a road trip to northern Indiana. Dad’s Buick is wide and seats six; my husband, son, and I take the back seat. I am directly behind my dad, who was driving. My daughter sits between her grandparents in the front.
The trip is probably an hour long and filled with Mom chatting about family history, church gossip, or her latest recipe. At some point the conversation wanes and it is quiet in the car . . . probably not long, maybe a couple of minutes. In the silence, and as if in slow motion, I watch my daughter turn to my dad and smile. “I love you, Grandpa,” she says.
Time stops as the scene unfolds. I am 34 years old and I have never heard my dad say “I love you” out loud. In that frozen moment, my blood boils, wondering how my dad will respond. After what seems to be hours but is less than five seconds, my dad looks down at his granddaughter and says, “I love you too.” I release my breath and time starts to thaw again.
Love Has Many Languages
I would wait another decade before Dad says those words to me. But my 4-year-old daughter’s choice to speak love broke the ice. I wonder now how many years my dad waited to hear those words from his dad—or if he ever did. I wonder what caused my grandpa to say them to me and if he had any idea how formative his words would be. My own kids will never have to wonder. We end every conversation with the words, “I love you.”
I’ve heard it said that love has many languages, and my family, past and present, communicates with several of them. My maternal grandmother used homemade fudge and a crisp dollar bill. My other grandma gave hugs and a listening ear. Both grandpas worked hard to provide for their families, one on a farm, one in a factory. My mom shows love by making cookies and planning meals. My dad shows love by planning vacations and planting a garden. One year love was spoken through the gift of a new piano. I always knew they loved me. But it wasn’t something we said out loud.
Actions may speak louder than words, but words of love should be spoken loud and clear. We learned that lesson over four generations.
Dawn Gentry is a passionate ministry-equipper residing in Johnson City, Tennessee.