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The Language of Your Soul

Text by: Christine Pethel

The sun was bright overhead, while a slight chill hung in the air, challenging the sun’s heat to warm the temperature. The briskness of my pace picked up, as I realized I was going to be late in saying goodbye. I wrapped my overcoat tightly around me, trying to fend off any breezes that were sneaking in through the open cracks because I didn’t have time to button the 52 buttons (well, it seemed like that many), all while juggling the oversized package I was struggling to hold firmly in my arms. For a moment, I questioned whether or not adding the extra two items, which were slightly larger than the others, had been necessary. Without even a second thought, I answered my own question with a firm, “Yes, of course. How could I have not? The letterbox stuffed to the brim with soft, chocolate chip cookies and the most recent Nicholas Sparks book was definitely an added touch. It’s her favorite recipe,” I thought, “and her favorite author. She’ll be ecstatic to have something to indulge in on the plane and thrilled to have the author’s newest release before she was able to find it.” She had been talking about that book for months, and her enthusiastic ranting about the cast of “fabulous characters and the lingering questions that would be answered from where he left off in the previous book” had been the topic of many conversations between the two of us. But I knew with the chaos that had surrounded packing up her entire life and gathering her courage for this new step in life, she hadn’t had the chance to buy it for herself. “Now she’ll have a few hours to fully indulge in this long-awaited novel, along with the other items I packed for her, to help pass the time on the long flight overseas, and to take her mind off the sadness of saying goodbye to those she is having a hard time letting go of.”

I was quite proud of myself, I wasn’t ashamed to admit, and couldn’t wait for her reaction to the thoughtful care I had put into her gift. I also hoped she understood this gift as a token of my love for her and a sign of how much I was going to miss her. It was my way of speaking to her through actions and not just my words. It was a way of speaking from my soul that which I couldn’t put into words.

I gently lifted the silver knocker and rapped on her door with excitement. Giving this gift, I realized, was also aiding me to avoid acknowledging the lump of anxiety that had been gnawing at my heart for many days, knowing how hard it was going to be to say goodbye to the friend I had spent every moment with for the past two years. How was I going to bare not having her in my life forever? Forever is definitely how it felt. “At least I was sending a piece of me as she embarked on her travels and started a new life,” I thought.

She opened the door quite vigorously, took one look at the gift, and then threw her arms around me, the gift wedged in between us, until it finally fell to the floor. For a few moments, I wondered why she didn’t want to just rip open the gift and see what was inside. How could you not want to see what was inside? It was beautifully wrapped in shiny, red paper with a pattern of deeper red brocade woven through it and adorned with a ribbon of the same design in alternating red, black, and white colors. As much as I tried to deny it, a part of me was a little hurt. I had put so much time into this gift, yet it seemed she didn’t even care.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

“You are so amazing!” she exclaimed. “Thank you for being here. I hate being alone, and I needed you to be here with me until the very moment I leave. Do you want to walk down to the bakery and buy a few last croissants and pastries, for memory’s sake? We could sip some hot cocoa and talk about the fun times we’ve had. I just want to spend time with you.”

I heard her words, but they weren’t sinking in. The sadness I had been fending off was now beginning to creep in, and the time we spent picking apart our desserts and sipping hot cocoa was a very uncomfortable moment for the both of us. I could tell on her face, and by her movements, that she, too, was distressed. Why wasn’t this going better for us? She was my best friend. I should know her better than this, and I should know how to make this transition easier for the both of us.

She left a few hours later, both of us feeling utterly strained, rather than connected.

Fast-forward one year... My dear friend was returning to visit family and friends for a few weeks. My excitement was insurmountable. Knowing we were going to be together again made it almost impossible to contain myself. Yes, throughout her time away, we had chatted quite frequently on the phone and the computer, sent hand-written letters to and fro, and emailed pictures of all that was happening in our lives. But it just wasn’t the same as seeing and being with her.

As I prepared for her visit, I wondered what I could do to show her how much I had missed her. My first thoughts centered around the myriad of shops I could visit to create a beautiful gift basket for her. That was perfect. She would love the reminiscence received through the items I knew she loved. And she would love that I knew her so well.

Then I stopped. “That isn’t her ‘Love Language’,” I reminded myself. “Her ‘Love Language’ is "Spending Quality Time" with people. It’s MY Love Language to "Give and Receive Gifts". If I really want to show her how much I’ve missed her, I must do so in how, and how often, we spend time together.” I had figured that one out a couple of months ago. The memory of her leaving on the flight one year before, and how uncomfortable it had been for the both of us, had disturbed me ever since. It must have been on my mind a great deal, because an opportunity for me to discover what had happened soon came into my path.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

It was the day I received a beautifully wrapped gift in the mail from my sister who lived far away. At that time, I was struggling with my emotions after the birth of my new, baby boy. With postpartum depression setting in, as well as the feelings of inadequacy of not being able to feed my child naturally and the lack of sleep over many, many nights, it was all I could do to hold it together. I didn’t have family around, and I was feeling very alone. My saving grace came in the form of the mailman standing at my door.

As I opened the gift, tears formed in my eyes. The emotions I had been holding back, as well as the new emotions I was feeling because of this gift of love, came pouring out. I lifted up outfit after outfit for my newly born son. Also inside, my sister had placed the book, “Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems,” by Richard Ferber, and a few homemade items in the forms of flannel blankets, a wet wipe holder, a diaper bag, and a pacifier holder. I opened the card and read the most beautifully written note from my dear sister encouraging me with words of kindness, love, and compassion. She knew the struggles of a new baby and knew that it would be hard. But she also knew I was strong, someone she could look up to, and that I had the ability to get through it. She advised me to “just give it time.” She also sympathized with me about the loneliness of being away from family and felt that I needed a gift to know how much she was thinking of me.

I quickly picked up the phone. While I was profusely thanking her, she knew right away by the shakiness of my voice that I had received her gift. I said, “How did you know?” She said, “Because that’s the ‘Love Language’ you speak. It is in the giving and receiving of gifts that you find the most joy and feel the most loved. The more time and thought someone puts into the gift makes it that much more meaningful. I’ve known that about you and wanted to make you happy in the way your soul needs it most. Try it yourself. Try and find others’ ‘Love Languages.’ You will be surprised at the response you receive from them when you are talking to their soul through their ‘Love Language’.”

I was floored. Immediately smitten with the entire concept, I snatched up the book, “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. I read everything there was to know about it, and began analyzing everyone in my life, trying to recognize which of the five ‘Love Languages’ spoke most to their soul. Because I, too, wanted to touch someone’s life in their own personal way, just as my sister had done for me.

I figured out that my husband’s ‘Love Language’ was "Acts of Service"… by him, as well as for him. So, I began doing little things for him… packing his lunches more often, running errands for him, and recording his favorite TV shows without him having to ask. I was able to combine my ‘Love Language’ with his by making him fresh baked cookies (I made his favorite recipe, which was an act of service, and then because I was giving them to him, it was also a gift), and making him a “coupon book” with acts of service he could redeem whenever he wanted.

© Jessica Ceason Photography

My first daughter’s 'Love Language' is the "Language of Affirmations." This daughter always looks for affirmations from those outside of herself, such as, whether I loved her, or if I thought she did a good job on her soccer game, or her book report, even after I had already praised her for those exact things quite a few times. Before I had a “name” for why she did this, I would sometimes become annoyed (yes, I’ll admit it) at her need for constant reassurance… worried that her self-esteem was so low that she couldn’t find the reassurance “within” (which is an ideology I have now changed and no longer expect people to have… it is damaging to those whose 'Love Language' is Affirmations). But I knew she had a great self esteem. She just loved and needed to hear it all the time. When I began giving it to her without her needing to ask, however, our relationship became closer, she was happier, and she stopped feeling the need to ask for it as much as before.

My second daughter’s ‘Love Language’ is the "Language of Touch." She always wants to cuddle with me, hold my hand, shower me with kisses, and sit by me… all the time. Again, I became somewhat annoyed that this daughter needed for me to hold her, or lie by her at night. But she, too, changed for the better, as did our relationship because of my knowledge and frequent acknowledgement of her need for touch without her needing to ask.

But I changed too. All of our lives have changed.

I have now put into practice this concept with friends, acquaintances at my church, and those who teach my children. Through a few visits with them, I can usually pinpoint their ‘Love Language’ and try to act accordingly. There is now a swelling in my heart of the knowledge that I am fulfilling other people in the way they need. And I, too, am being fulfilled. It is a true concept, and I believe that when you give and receive unselfishly with others, you will, in turn, receive more than if you are only concerned with yourself.

I also don’t feel the need to judge others’ lack of “knowing me” based on the quality (or lack of quality) of the gift they’ve given to me, which is something I used to do. I have saved myself from unnecessarily and wrongly assumed disappointment, thereby making me a happier and more content person. It is enlightening for me when I can acknowledge that the other person has given me a gift by way of their own ‘Love Language’… that is enough for me, now. Because I know it is their soul’s way of speaking with me, and that they tried. I am comforted knowing that I have people in my life, like my sister, who know my ‘Love Language’ and will unselfishly give to me through my own ‘Love Language.’

My best friend arrived that cold, wintry day. We embraced each other heartily, as she handed me a small, but beautifully wrapped gift. I didn’t even care to open it, as I wasn’t concerned about what was inside. Not anymore. All I cared about was that she was there… that she had set aside time for me amidst her busy schedule of other visits, and that we were going to spend every moment of our time together doing wonderful and amazing things that we both loved to do. That was her gift to me. I began describing to her our agenda… visiting the new chocolate shop in town, taking the family sledding up in the mountains, roaming the old book shop we used to spend hours in, and escaping the cold by sitting by the warm fire drinking wassail (that I can’t seem to leave back at Christmas), catching up on our new lives, as well as remembering the old days. We left the airport, arms wrapped around one another, with two of the widest smiles one would ever see.