Dear Johanna

My darling little niece. At three and a half years old, you will not understand most of this letter. That is okay. You do not understand most of the things that are said to you anyway. And even when you do, you do a terribly good job at pretending that you don’t. You will probably continue to do this for sometime. I still get away with it myself every once in a while.

I know that right now you are the center of your world. I am quite often the center of mine as well, and so we can relate to each other on that point, even though you do not yet know what it means to relate to someone. As the center of your world, you probably think that everyone else is here only to love you, that they should pay attention to you and stop what they’re doing whenever you want to sing, dance, or ask one of the 10,000 questions you pose in a week. But there will come a day, Johanna, when you will wonder if anyone wants to pay attention to you. You will wonder if you deserve to be watched, heard, or answered. Your parents will try to keep you from doubting yourself, but it will happen anyway.

I need you to know, little girl, that you are precious to me. You have done nothing to earn or deserve a special place in my heart, but you have it anyway. Because you are you and that is reason enough. Unearned love is the best kind of love because nothing you do will make it go away. Nothing. Growing up in the church you will hear many people tell you that you are a child of God. You will kind of know what that means, but not really, not until you are old enough to love a child yourself. It will be different then. It will make more sense. God will make more sense and when you are older and wiser and able to love a child you will remember what it was like to be one yourself. You will relearn what it means to trust and have faith.

There are days, Johanna Ruth, that you speak to my spirit. You remind me that a part of me is still three years old, even though the rest of me is halfway past 27. I like that about you. I like the way you ask for me when we’re all skyping at the same time and my face disappears from the screen. I like the way you wave at me with your feet through the iPad and I wave back with mine from 2000 miles away. I like that you dance for yourself and for others. That you sing without realizing when you’re an octave too high or you don’t know the words. I like that make up your own. Sometimes they are better.

Someday Johanna, someone will hurt you. I am already angry with them because of this, but I know that it will happen. It may even need to happen because you have hurt them first. Other times it will come without cause. I hope, Johanna, that you will learn from this. That the hurting and pain will not make you stronger (goodness knows you are strong enough already), but that it will make you weaker, that it will keep tender the heart that you fight so hard to protect, to hide, to keep to yourself. It is what we do when we want to be loved and begin to believe that we do not deserve it, begin to believe that love must be earned.

So I am telling you now, that you are enough. You are not perfect, but you are worthy of love. And you are a gift. Your life and excitement, your personality and spirit, they are treasures to me. We are alike, you and I, more than you could know. And that likeness itself is something I love.

As you work and you play, inventing stories and making cookies, reading books and tending to your babies, I hope that you feel safe. I hope that you feel seen. I hope that you feel loved. And I hope that you are becoming the kind of girl who will be a good friend to the children I don’t yet have. They will need someone like you to write the scripts for the plays, to tell them where to stand and what to say, to show them how to do it.

Until I see you again (and I hope that is soon), know that I love you just for being you.

Yours always,
Auntie Amanda

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